The St. Louis Cardinals' False Choice: Colby Rasmus or Jon Jay

When you grow up in a AAA town, you see a lot more prospects than you do big-leaguers. Most of those prospects never pan out. Some make it to the show and then peter out. Others have long careers. A select few may become All-Stars. No matter their big-league club, is always a treat to see a player you have seen as a minor-leaguer make it to the majors. Obviously, recent years have been filled with treats such was Adam Wainwright, Skip Schumaker, Chris Duncan, Chris PerezJason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Fernando Salas, David Freese, Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and Colby Rasmus

I saw Rasmus come through town as a member of the Memphis Redbirds and he impressed with his smooth style and multi-faceted game. Rasmus hit, worked walks, played sterling defense, and made a pair of nice throws that weekend. It was an impressive display that clearly demonstrated why Rasmus had the scouts drooling. My first time seeing Jon Jay was on an evening that featured a Ted Lilly rehab start for the I-Cubs. Jay stuck out that game, homering, swiping a bag, and playing good defense. Later in the season, I would be lucky enough to see not only Jay's first big-league hit but also his first big-league assist. 

I have a sentimental attachment of sorts to each of these young Cardinal outfielders. I'm the proud owner of a Rasmus t-jersey and have Jay's rookie card framed with the Topps jurist card of Chief Justice John Jay. Recent weeks have been difficult as those who make a living stirring the pot during the summer's dog days have created a faux narrative and a false choice regarding Jay and Rasmus. There is the "trade Rasmus" drum being thumped, setting the rhythm for the chorus of "Jay over Rasmus." The logic goes that Jay is better, so we should install him in center field and trade Rasmus for an upgrade elsewhere. As Alex Fritz demonstrates so humorously, this is a rather silly false choice. It seems the Cardinals have come upon a fork in the road to the outfield's future. The club would be wise to do as Yogi Berra so famously suggested: take it.

After starting off white hot, the young Alabaman has cooled down considerably, his season line falling to .241/.326/.404 for a wOBA of .325. Not the world beating of a season ago, but still good enough to equal 1.4 Fangraphs WAR. As Rasmus has been mired in a marathon slump, Jay's production has soared. As of this writing, his season line sits at .310/.360/.441 and his wOBA is .352. Jay has accumulated 1.8 Fangraphs WAR.

With 2010 in our minds, it is easy to remind ourselves that Rasmus is better than this with a bat in his hands and Jay is not that likely to maintain his current pace. In 2010, Rasmus had an up-and-down campaign that ended in a .366 wOBA and 4.3 Fangraphs WAR. Jay was on a hot streak last year similar to his current pace when the club traded Ryan Ludwick; almost immediately thereafter, his numbers fell harshly back to earth. And if anecdotal reminders weren't enough, ZiPS chimes in as well with its "Rest-of-Season" projections for the two outfielders.

 

Player

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

wOBA

BABIP

Jay

.287

.344

.411

.755

.333

.323

Rasmus

.257

.339

.439

.778

.342

.307

 

This "Rest-of-Season" projection from ZiPS informs its updated 2011 season as a whole projection for the two players:

 

Player

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

wOBA

BABIP

Jay

.299

.352

.427

.779

.343

.340

Rasmus

.247

.331

.418

.749

.332

.294

 

The big difference seems to largely be the batting average, as it is seemingly most responsible for the disparities between the two players' offensive production. Jay sits presently at a .352 BABIP and Rasmus at .284. The VEB community has gone round and round about how much to regress each and where the two will wind up come season's end. Allow me to throw a few more figures into the mix, using the Fangraphs splits that provide BABIP by batted-ball type.

 

Player

BABIP

GB BABIP

GB%

LD BABIP

LD%

FB BABIP

FB%

Jay

.352

.273

54.1%

.780

22.4%

.083

33.5%

Rasmus

.284

.213

35.9%

.717

18.5%

.144

45.6%

 

Moving forward, it seems a safe bet that, if Jay can maintain his batted-ball rates, he will have a higher BABIP than Rasmus. Whether that BABIP will be at or above .350 may well be up for dispute. For a player with a walk rate as low as Jay's--5.9% as of this writing--he will need to hit for average and for luck to be valuable on offense. As for Rasmus, he seems a rather safe bet to improve his luck on batted balls. And, when he does, combined with his excellent walk rate of 11.2%, he will be a very valuable offensive player. In fact, it is by and large Rasmus's walk rate that is buoying his offensive value as he endures this weeks-long mega-slump.

Even if Jay's luck fades a bit, he is a very nice player to have at a very reasonable rate. Even bad-luck Rasmus is a nice player to have at a cost-controlled pay rate, as well. If his luck turns, his production will be an absolute bargain. With the Pujols negotiations, Chris Carpenter's $15 million option, and Lance Berkman's free agency looming this Hot Stove, John Mozeliak and the St. Louis Cardinals would be wise to hold on to both players as the Redbirds could very well have a need for two young, cost-controled, and productive outfielders. 

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