Monday, February 07, 2011

Will Colby Rasmus Survive in St. Louis?

At the tender age of 23, Colby Rasmus put up a slash line of .276/.361/.498 good for an OPS+ of 132. But even so, he and Tony LaRussa, his manager on the St. Louis Cardinals, did not have a rosy year in 2010. And the way Rasmus handled the situation prompted a calling out from Albert Pujols. Such a year from a young slugger would prompt dreams of future glory (or even higher glory than what he already achieved). But there is this nagging feeling that this won't end well. Just what is the problem?

Well, from LaRussa's standpoint, there are all those strikeouts. Rasmus struck out 148 times in 2010. His 31.9 percent strikeout rate was by far the highest in Colby's professional career and much higher than the 20 percent rate with which he struck out in 2009. That is a bit alarming. While nobody should confuse Rasmus with Mark Reynolds, the strikeouts are something for LaRussa to be unhappy about. There is also the matter of the center fielder's defense which dropped alarmingly in 2010. Both and Fangraphs show a deep decline in the young outfielder's fielding from 2009 to 2010. Since we only have two years worth of data, we have no idea yet if this is a trend or a one year result from nagging injuries that might have plagued Rasmus. The other thing LaRussa can point to is the high number of times Rasmus was thrown out trying to steal. But then again, if the guy is getting thrown out, stop sending him, no?

But still, the Fan thinks there is more to this than we are being told. Could this be political? Could Rasmus run contrary to the conservative right leanings of the leadership of the Cardinals? You can't discount the possibility. You also can't discount that Tony LaRussa has had plenty of other ball players over the years that became a boil on LaRussa's butt. LaRussa always wins those battles because he can. You can't argue with the manager's success, so his power base is legitimate. So the question is whether Rasmus is a victim or does Rasmus have some growing up to do?

You have to look at some history to get a little clearer picture. Prior to 2010, scouting reports always indicated that Rasmus had above average make-up. What does that mean? It means a lot of things. It means that he has the right attitude for a ball player, he works hard, he's a good citizen. Scouts don't give those kinds of endorsements lightly. So if Rasmus got high marks for his make-up prior to 2010, what happened to him in 2010?

Some times things just don't click between a leader and some of his charges. The Fan has been in those positions. Some times, it becomes a relief for both parties when the employee transfers out to a different department. Perhaps the best thing for Rasmus is to get himself included in some kind of mega-trade. Or the player can dig down and succeed despite the problems he may have with LaRussa.

The Fan finds it interesting that so far, none of the early projections predict Rasmus will have as good a year in 2011 that he had in 2010. Are they too suspicious of the situation? Or are there simply flaws in the game of Colby Rasmus. People say that the game is all about adjustments. It seems obvious that opposing pitchers found some sort of weakness in Rasmus's approach and that caused the strikeouts. Rasmus will need to make an adjustment and get his strikeout rate again down to the 20 percent level or it will be hard to maintain the performance he had in 2010.

The situation in St. Louis is fraught with story lines this coming season. Will LaRussa winning the balance of power fight and his insistence on the Puntos and Theriots of the world work out? Will this be Pujols' last season in St. Louis? Can Lance Berkman play the outfield? And yes, will Colby Rasmus survive in St. Louis? History seems to show that he won't. This fan isn't optimistic. Which is too bad because the kid has a bright future with scads of talent.

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