Last week I wrote an article focusing on Justin Upton's strikeout problems in relation to his 2011 fantasy value. I concluded that I would rather draft a player like Andrew McCutchen instead. Since both players derive a lot of value from their speed, I felt on base skills were very important for their fantasy consistency. A player like McCutchen who walks as often as Upton with half the strike outs is more valuable as he should have an easier time getting on base and leveraging his speed. After writing the article I took a closer look at another young outfielder, Colby Rasmus, and realized that his case is one that could be considered in this discussion as well.
In 2009 at age 22, Rasmus got his first taste of major league action. His first taste also translated into a lot of action as he played in 147 games with 520 plate appearances for the NL Central champion Cardinals. His results were mixed that year as he ended up with a triple slash line of .251/.307/.407. He hit 16 home runs and stole only 3 bases on 4 attempts. After a minor league career in which Rasmus displayed consistently high walk rates, he only walked in 6.9% of his plate appearances while striking out in 20%. It was obviously the case of a youngster with raw skills and nice upside needing some work.
In 2010, Rasmus officially entered the fantasy radar. Over the first 3 months of the season, he tallied 16 home runs and 9 steals. If he wasn't drafted in your fantasy league, odds are he was added to a roster by June. If you did add Rasmus to your roster at that time, you missed out on his best work. After the calendar turned to July 1st, he was only able to total 7 home runs and 3 steals in the remaining 71 games of the season. Overall in 2010, Rasmus showed improvement over 2009 as his final triple slash line was .276/.361/.498. When considering Rasmus in your 2011 draft, it is important to look at whether he will be able to continue to improve upon those numbers.
First let's look at how much Rasmus actually improved from 2009 to 2010 (All statistics according to Fangraphs). As mentioned earlier Rasmus's BB% in 2009 was only 6.9%. In 2010, he significantly improved upon this rate and posted a BB% of 11.8%. This is a nice step forward for a young player. Unfortunately for Rasmus, his K% went in the same direction. After striking out in 20% of his plate appearances in 2009 that number increased dramatically to 31.9% in 2010. That was the 5th highest mark in the majors. Despite Rasmus's improved ability to take a walk he was only able to improve his BB/K ratio from 0.38 to 0.43. This range is a similar range to the aforementioned Justin Upton and it is tough to perform as a reliable fantasy hitter in this range.
Like Upton, Rasmus's struggling in the strike out department stems from his plate discipline and contact numbers. Let's compare his numbers from 2009 to 2010, also according to Fangraphs:
O-Swing% Contact% SwStr% Zone%
2009 25.6 78.6 10.4 50.9
2010 28.6 75.7 10.9 42.6
As we can see, Rasmus swung at more pitches out of the strike zone in 2010. He also made less contact when swinging at pitches and had a higher swinging strike percentage in 2010. This is not a recipe for success. While Rasmus did swing at less pitches as a whole in 2010, he cut back on swinging at pitches in the strike zone while swinging at more pitches outside the zone. Despite his increase in walks, Rasmus does not appear to have improved his hitter's eye.
In 2010, Rasmus's batted ball types did not change significantly as we see below:
LD% GB% FB%
2009 19.6 34.7 45.7
2010 19.4 32.0 48.6
The most significant changes in Rasmus's batted ball numbers came in the areas of HR/FB ratio and BABIP. His BABIP improved from .282 in 2009 to .354 in 2010. His HR/FB ratio improved from 9.4% to 14.8%.
From 2009 to 2010 Colby Rasmus did not improve his BB/K ratio. He did not begin hitting more line drives or fly balls. He swung at more pitches outside the strike zone, made contact on less total pitches, and connected on less swings. On the bright side, he walked a lot more in 2010 and saw more pitches per at bat. Despite this, a large part of his success appeared to be tied to his rising BABIP and HR/FB ratio. He may be able to sustain these numbers in 2011, but I wouldn't bet on it. I certainly wouldn't bet on him improving upon these numbers. Similar to Justin Upton, Rasmus must control the strike zone better and make more contact before taking the next step in his career. From a fantasy perspective, I expect Rasmus to put up numbers similar to 2010 in 2011. I see a slight improvement in his K% with a bit more experience this year being offset by a bit of a regression in his HR/FB ratio and BABIP. I wouldn't draft Rasmus looking for him to continue to significantly improve upon his fantasy numbers each year. It's possible he cuts down on his Ks and keeps the walk rate at 2010 levels, but I'd rather see some progress in this area before I spend a draft pick on him.