Devil’s Advocate – Rasmus vs Jay

by on July 8, 2011 · 24 comments

Before the haters out there get too excited, this isn’t really about pitting the two against one another.  Instead, the point of this post is to try to explain why Jon Jay has such a positive perception among fans while Colby Rasmus produces more of a mixed reaction.  When fans of Jon Jay laud his good play, they aren’t necessarily slighting Rasmus, but time and time again there are Rasmus fans jumping needlessly to his defense.  If you don’t know what I mean, then just try following the #stlcards hashtag on Twitter one night when both men play.

Colby Rasmus:  Career slash line of .260 / .335 / .445 / .780.  He’s a five tool CF with good power and the ability to hit anywhere in the lineup.  He’s only 24, and he likely won’t be eligible to be a free agent until 2015.  He was good for 2.8 WAR in his rookie season, and he followed that up with a 3.2 WAR sophomore campaign.  If you put his best oWAR (4.3 in 2010) with his best dWAR (1.7 in 2009), you see that he has the potential to be an All-Star caliber player.

Jon Jay:   Career slash line of .297 / .347 / .427 / .781.  At age 26, Jay is in only his 2nd season, and he’s proven that he can consistently hit both RHP and LHP for a high average, although he has demonstrated more power against right-handers.  Although the book on Jay is that he lacks great speed, he compensates by getting excellent jumps on balls hit to the outfield.  He is currently leading the NL right fielders in both range factor per 9 innings (2.62) and fielding percentage (1.000).

Devil’s Advocate:  Jay is the kind of player that many fans want Rasmus to be.  While Jay seems to track down everything hit in his direction, Rasmus seems to shy away from contact with the outfield wall.  What Jay lacks in athletic ability, he makes up for with hard work, hustle, and savvy play.  Rasmus has a tremendous upside, but he tends to appear disinterested, and his baseball IQ has been questioned at times.  The Cardinals used a 1st round draft pick on Rasmus, and there are high expectations placed on Raz as a result.

My Take:  The Cardinals are fortunate to have both Jay and Rasmus, and many teams would be thrilled to have as much depth in the outfield as the Cardinals do.  Maybe Raz doesn’t get the best jumps on balls hit in his direction, and sometimes he doesn’t appear to be going 100%.  On the other hand, maybe he’s so fast and smooth that he just makes playing CF look easier than it really is.  Just because Jay may appear to be working harder to get to a ball doesn’t mean that he really is.  Looks can be deceiving, and speed is one of the more deceptive traits an athlete can have.

It’s also easy to forget that even though Rasmus has 1 more year in the big leagues, Jay actually has a little more experience.  Jay is a couple years older, and he attended college, so it wouldn’t be unfair to give Rasmus another couple years to mature.  It might also be fair to consider how Rasmus is playing this season within the context of his place in the lineup.

  • Hitting 2nd (180 PAs) – .272 / .350 / .399 / .749 with 2 hr & 14 rbi
  • Hitting 5th (79 PAs) – .219 / .278 / .384 / .662 with 2 hr & 3 rbi
  • Hitting 6th (80 PAs) – .273 / .392 / .591 / .983 with 5 hr & 19 rbi

His OBP, slugging %, and OPS are markedly higher in the 6th spot than anywhere else.  Maybe 80 plate appearances don’t quite constitute a large enough sample size to confirm anything, but it certainly appears that Colby likes that slot.  I’d vote for keeping him there.  That’s not to say that Jay couldn’t put up similar numbers in that spot, but it’s hard to argue with the results that Jay has produced from the #2 spot.  Putting a guy with a career .354 OBP in front of Albert Pujols sounds good to me.

Sure Rasmus was a 1st round pick, but Jay was a 2nd rounder, so it’s not like we shouldn’t expect quite a bit from him as well.  It just seems that despite his productive play, Rasmus hasn’t done or said all the right things to endear himself to the fanbase the same way Jay has.  That’s fine with me, because that’s not the most important part of his job, and he still has plenty of time to work on that aspect of it.  Hopefully he starts by teaching his PR-hungry dad to keep his mouth shut.

Final Analysis:  It is a luxury to have a 4th outfielder who hits .300, plays really solid defense, and doesn’t cost a fortune.  It’s also a luxury to have a really talented, young CF with All-Star potential.  I’m just glad that the Cardinals have both, and nobody really has to make a choice between the two.  It’s not a problem to appreciate one or the other without pitting the two against each other.  Then again, if that’s the biggest worry that Cardinal fans have, then things could be much worse.

TIDBIT:  If you really insist on criticizing Rasmus about anything, I’d suggest starting with his inability to consistently use/hit the cutoff man.  It’s impossible to tell whether he is indecisive, reluctant, or simply philosophically opposed to making the throw, but there are times when he simply airmails the cutoff man to no purpose at all.  If that’s the worst thing he does on a regular basis, then I’m fairly certain CF is in good hands.

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Cardinals fan since I could hold a fishing pole steady. Accidental blogger. Opinionated. I could care less about what you think of me. Constantly confounded, bemused, and confuzzled (ie I'm a pc and a mac). I'm an IT infrastructure analyst with a penchant for breaking tech toys. I ate a sabermetric primer for breakfast. I love playing "All-powerful GM of MLB". The 2010 Cardinals represented a good, practical definition "cognitive dissonance". The 2011 version got by on duct tape and a prayer, and I'm fine with that. They just need new tape for #12 in 12.
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{ 24 comments }

chuckb July 8, 2011

Reading this makes my brain hurt. For one thing, you’re using, I guess, b-ref’s WAR numbers rather than fangraphs’ which has Rasmus at 4.3 WAR in 2010 rather than 3.2. Second, you’re using fielding percentage and range factor to put a positive spin on Jay’s defense. Fielding percentage? Really? UZR/150 for Jay’s career is minus 6.3. I’ll put that up against fielding percentage any day of the week.

Rasmus is distinctly the better player, is younger, and has much more growth potential. As you point out, Jay’s a nice 4th OF and a nice luxury to have. But let’s not pretend that Jay and Rasmus are perfect substitutes for one another. If the Cards jettison Rasmus, as I think La Russa is intent on doing, the team will take a severe step backward by replacing him in CF w/ Jay.

It appears as though you’re cherry-picking your stats in order to fit the conclusion that you wanted to reach — that they really have the same value to the team.

Dennis July 9, 2011

I would argue that you missed the point. I never suggested that Jay and Rasmus were equal, equivalent, or substitutes for each other. I simply started with some positive things to say about both players. The “Devil’s Advocate” portion is basically a composite of everything negative I’ve heard fans say about Rasmus that really don’t make much sense in my mind. I then went on to explain just how good Raz really is, and I also explained how he could be much better (batting 6th). I realize that fielding % isn’t important to some people, but I still think it matters when comparing players in the same position. Of course, I wasn’t comparing Jay to Rasmus when I mentioned it.

PH8 July 10, 2011

First, thanks for reading Chuck. Happy to have you visiting the site.

Second, I think there is some incongruity between the title of the post pitting player vs player and then saying they’re not being compared. At the least, it is easy to immediately jump there, particularly in this format. Then there’s “Jay is the kind of player that many fans want Rasmus to be.” – which is both opinion and quite comparative. I don’t mind that opinion, just pointing out the inconsistencies.

Third, having read, well, all of Dennis’ stuff (which *HAS* compared Raz and Jay in several), I can confidently say that this post was not disparaging of Rasmus. At least not as much as some of his others. ;)

Dm July 9, 2011

Clear problem with using RF and fielding percentage; you used that to argue Jay has good range in CF. He doesn’t, he is a corner.

Dennis July 9, 2011

I didn’t argue that Jay has good range in CF. Maybe you should learn to read a bit better.

PH8 July 10, 2011

Dennis’ got you there, he did state he was referencing those categories for Jay as a right-fielder. Not sure it called for a personal attack.

Dennis July 9, 2011

Of course, I could just point out that Rasmus has a lower UZR/150 this season than McCutchen, Victorino, Young, Maybin, Bourn, Stubbs, Pagan, and Coughlin. Fortunately for Raz, there is one qualifying CF with a lower UZR/150 – Matt Kemp. This is all based on information obtained from Fangraphs, so maybe I’m just cherry picking here.

PH8 July 10, 2011

Agreed, that’s no indication that he is a great fielding center-fielder. But he’s the best the Cardinals have.

I know you’ve said you aren’t comparing Jay the CF with Rasmus the CF, but Jay’s UZR/150 in CF in 2011 (in an admittedly small sample size) is -17.1.

Neither one is setting the world on fire, but I’d bet on Raz in CF before I did Jay.

Dm July 9, 2011

Oh, okay, I suppose I should have interpreted citing league leading range factor as an argument for poor range. My bad.

Because I need to learn how to read better, could you explain to me why fielding percentage is important? I’m assuming this isn’t 1987 anymore?

PH8 July 10, 2011

Fielding percentage is important in a certain context, IMO. More on that later.

Dennis July 9, 2011

Errors matter.

PH8 July 10, 2011

Errors do matter. They’re just not predictive. More on that later.

Dm July 9, 2011

Sure. Using them to support an argument regarding defensive value is silly, though.

PH8 July 10, 2011

This is not entirely true and you know it. You’re not putting in the time to properly elaborate your point.

Dennis July 9, 2011

How silly of me. Errors and defense? Surely not. Just like that error Colby made tonight was irrelevant. Of course it had nothing to do with his defense. Thank goodness his UZR/150 is good enough that the extra run that scored didn’t actually count.

PH8 July 10, 2011

My snark-meter is really acting up.

dm July 9, 2011

Sure they matter, but they aren’t a proper measurement of defense.

At least that’s what I (and many others) read in Bill James’ abstract (part II), but then again, I need to learn how to read better, so I could have misunderstood.

Dennis July 9, 2011

Sure. Typical regurgitated stuff from a Bill James disciple. Spare me.

PH8 July 10, 2011

Behave children.

I’m not sure if it’s appropriate or not, but I feel the need to chime in on many of these – as I have many scattered thoughts, I’ll do them individually as replies – if you don’t like that, tough. My site. :)

PH8 July 10, 2011

So here’s the thing (at least, my unsolicited opinion on it) that neither of these two can quite communicate.

Dm likes UZR and UZR/150.

Dennis likes fielding percentage and errors.

Really, they’re complimentary, in a way. UZR is more predictive of an entire defensive play, rather than just whether the player caught it or not. UZR asks, did the player get to the ball (Range Runs), did he catch it (Error Runs), and – for outfielders – did he throw anyone out (Arm Runs)?

So obviously if a player makes an error, it affects his UZR. Where UZR fails, is that it’s dependent upon a large sample set. So to look at UZR, even for a half-season as in this case, can be a bit misleading. That’s not to say it’s inaccurate, it just requires more data points to accurately judge a player’s arm, for instance. If he throws a guy out one night and not the next, how does that affect his score?

Where errors fail is in the context – and this leads back to that discussion of pitcher wins. If a pitcher gets a win but allows nine earned runs, just judging the pitcher on his win isn’t helpful in determining how well he pitched, right? Well, similarly, and using Rasmus and Jay in my example for the sake of argument (Dennis, I know you weren’t comparing them! ;) ), if Rasmus gets to a ball at the wall and drops it while Jay would’ve stopped short of the wall and played the carom because he never had a chance – does that make Rasmus an inferior fielder? Not in my book. That’s why errors are just as imperfect a measure as any saber stat that gets pooh-poohed. Sure, it’s a perfect counting stat, but it’s not telling us the whole story.

I think that’s the disparity between Jay supporters (those who think he should be the every day CENTER fielder) and Rasmus supporters – and vice versa. Ultimately, as I hope I’ve briefly illustrated, neither is perfect, and I don’t think supporters of either measure would argue they are, but put a lot of those things together and you can get a good idea of what’s going on.

So errors tell us a short story, UZR is the book – at least that’s my viewpoint on it. It seems to follow that in some manner, these parties agree, since Dennis used range factor in the post above (range is in UZR too!). And Dm, although shorting it and not going to the extent that I have, agrees that errors play a part in evaluating defense – it’s just not the only measure to be used.

I’m probably wrong.

Bill@TPA July 22, 2011

Stumbled on this when I was looking for stuff about how Rasmus is lazy. But I just don’t think errors or fielding percentage tell any kind of story at all. Or rather, it’s SUCH a tiny part of the larger story that it can only be misleading. It’s like saying “I don’t like total bases, so I’m only going to look at a guy’s triples instead.” There’s just no point.

Dennis July 22, 2011

Bill, I usually take that attitude with errors and fielding percentage as well, but this is one of the rare cases where they are extremely relevant in my opinion. If you look at the kinds of errors that Rasmus makes and consider them in terms of the game’s situational context and what he’s capable of doing, there’s a bigger story. First, he didn’t make the kinds of mental mistakes that lead to errors 2 years ago that he does now. Second, he isn’t playing with great confidence, and some of his errors appear to be due to a desire to overcompensate. Something like UZR or runs saved won’t tell you what his errors will, although it’s not just his number of errors that is the issue. That’s why I consider E’s and fielding % important indicators, because for Colby they appear to be indicators about his state of mind and overall level of play. If he can find the right situation, I believe the errors will go away, and he’ll be a top 5 CF in a year or two. It’s the mental part of the game and lack of baseball identity that he’s struggling with right now, and the errors (and the way he gets them) are a strong indication of where his mind is. Maybe that’s reading a lot into this topic, but just try watching his body language on the field. Compared to what he was 2 years ago or even 3, he doesn’t look as comfortable and hasn’t all year.

Bill@TPA July 22, 2011

OK, that makes much more sense. I agree that if a guy’s suddenly making a lot more errors than his norm (or a different sort of error, but as you noted, that’s about observation rather than the stats), that’s a concern.

Here’s the thing, though: unless I’m reading this wrong, his fielding percentage has actually gone up (just slightly) each year he’s been in the league, while his UZR/150 has gone from great, to bad, to Delmon Young. So I’m sure (without having been able to watch him much) he IS having all the problems you describe, but it seems like UZR shows it and fielding percentage doesn’t. What am I missing?

Dennis July 23, 2011

Fielding % doesn’t show the mistakes that aren’t credited as errors. I feel that those things tend to even out for pretty much all outfielders over the course of the year, but Rasmus has certainly made more than in previous years. His UZR is affected, but it’s not necessarily obvious why, even when you break down the UZR components.

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