Razzle Dazzle

I'm concerned about writing this post. Earlier this season, I compared the 2010 Cardinals to the 2005 Cardinals. Things went badly thereafter. The last time I wrote an ode to a centerfielder, he fell apart at the plate.  But I never much liked him anyway so. . . o well. 

I feel the need to again proclaim the awesomeness of our centerfielder from the parapets. I've been following Colby Rasmus since 2005. I'll admit a bias when it comes to Rasmus but bias is not an indication of inaccuracy.  Merriam-Webster defines it as an inclination of temperament or outlook. (I don't think I've cited a dictionary so plainly and clumsily since I was 8.)  So admitting that bias shouldn't be a reason to dismiss the argument that follows.

But before I get to singing the praises of our current centerfielder and, perhaps, in a transparent attempt to appear even-handed, there are aspects of the game that Colby could improve upon. Most noticably has been the 2010 narrative of his arm. Clocked in the 90s out of high school, the arm strength is not a problem. Based on the games I've watched this year, his technique leaves a great deal to be desired as he often throws flat footed and without his weight behind the motion. This leads to not only inaccurate but weak throws as it relies solely on his arm. 

The other criticism I'd level is based more on 2009 than 2010 but still seems to hold true. Rasmus remains a very self-contained player. See the ball, hit the ball. Catch the ball, throw the ball. The subtle things that he can do to help elevate his teammates seem lost on him. In 2009, there were multiple instances where Colby would be scuffling in the dirt as a pitch escaped the catcher when he could have been signaling the runner.  Subtle, certainly not critical, but an area for improvement nonetheless.

Now, criticisms aside, I can lather the praise. Colby Rasmus is in the midst of a tremendous season. Despite the acknowledgement that of being a "good" outfielder, I think the degree of his excellence is often missed.  A quick look at his wOBA (.409) shows him as the best centerfielder in the major leagues. Let that sink in for a moment. He's currently the BEST centerfielder offensively. B-E-S-T. On the Cardinals, there's Pujols and Rasmus and then a precipitous .050 wOBA drop to the rest of the team.

To turn to more conventional and recognizable statistics, he's got a .966 OPS and an ISO over .250. He's got the 6th highest ISO in the majors.  He's on pace to hit ~30 HRs.  There's no other Cardinal in the top 30 of isolated power. Rasmus has shown the plate discipline that was his calling card in the minors as well. He has 14% of his PAs end in a walk this moose season.  I'd quibble with his current UZR rating that has him at -5 after a +10 season last year. Assuming he's a neutral defender with a .400 wOBA at CF, Rasmus is a 6 win player. 6 wins. There's no one else on the team outside of Albert that is playing like that. Rasmus has room to regress and still remain, arguably, the most valuable commodity on the team.

* * *

I feel a great deal of nostalgia for Baseball Prospectus. They were my first and most formative introduction to sabermetrics outside of LBoros and VEB. Writers like Nate Silver, Keith Woolner and Clay Davenport were/are tremendously talented at analyzing the statistical aspect of the game in new and interesting ways. For me, the last great sabermetric hurrah at BP was Dan Fox's foray into baserunning.  His attempt to quantify the marginal additions beyond stolen bases from advancing on groudners, flyouts, etc was an important and overlooked aspect of the game.

I'll preface this discussion with the admission that this data doesn't correlate well year to year. That is to say that most baserunners are going to significantly trend toward average within the year to year variance.  The true outliers (guys like Chone Figgins for example or, conversely, a Molina) will tend to stay there but the middle is a very muddled, encompassing picture. As a descriptive tool, however, it's quite intriguing to me.

Unsurprisingly, the Cardinals have been quite poor as a set of baserunners. They're down about 6 runs on the bases with just two regulars (Pujols and Rasmus[!]) as a net positive.  This plays nicely with the ongoing storyline of bad baserunning mistakes this season. It's something that occurs at the tail end of the team's WAR balance sheet but it's been a problem thus far.

* * *

Thanks to all who came out to VEB day yesterday. It was fascinating to put faces with online monikers. I'll have to be nicer now that I've met some of you in person.

Just kidding. I'll still be as much of a robotic jerk as I've always been but now you'll have a mental image to curse at!

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