For much of the calendar year 2018, we've been hearing about the Orioles interest in getting a left-handed outfielder onto the team to break up a unit of all righty batters. On Wednesday, they signed Colby Rasmus to a minor league contract, seemingly with the idea that he would be the favorite in that competition.
There were certainly other left-handed outfielders to be had however. Jarrod Dyson signed a meager $7.5 million deal over two years with the Diamondbacks, a baseball sum equatable to finding pocket change in the dryer. Meanwhile, more established players like Jon Jay and Carlos Gonzalez are still looking for work. Following the theme of the unexciting, the Orioles opted for Rasmus.
In a text message to MLB.com’s Britt Ghiroli, executive vice president of baseball ops Dan Duquette followed his usual mad libs template, saying:
“Colby Rasmus is a proven veteran player in the AL East who is a versatile outfielder with the power and speed to make a meaningful contribution to the 2018 Orioles.”
Granted, this is a minor league deal and no club is ever really guaranteeing anything with such a pact. But the momentum of bringing Rasmus aboard feels like the Orioles are going to give him every chance to be the starting right fielder against right-handed pitching. Rasmus is probably going to play a lot, and you may as well accept it now.
Rasmus is a weird cat in more ways than one. He was traded to Toronto from St. Louis after some discord with the Cardinals, and it appears he wasn’t well-liked with the Blue Jays, either. Though, in Houston, all signs indicate that he was a welcomed addition. I mean, if I wasn’t cool with my teammates and they weren’t cool with me, I probably wouldn’t celebrate a Wild Card win looking like I missed my flight to South Padre Island.
As a Tampa Bay Ray in 2017, Rasmus’ winter hip surgery carried into the regular season, where he only played in 37 games. Last summer, his hip flaring up again eventually landed him on the disabled list. In a weird turn of events, Rasmus up and quit baseball in the middle of July, despite posting a 132 wRC+ in his limited time with the Rays. Depending on your worldview, one can’t be sure if his reoccurring hip issues were the catalyst to his semi-retirement, or if Colby was just being Colby.
But Colby being Colby means a lot of things. It means that the Orioles are getting a guy with a career strikeout rate of nearly 27 percent, and who saw that figure reach a staggering 35 percent a season ago. His presence also carries the evergreen lack of on-base willingness. He’s far from a perfect player, but that’s why there’s only one Mike Trout.
Rasmus isn’t going to change to sway the fate of the 2018 Orioles, but he can help.
I’m old school in the way that I’d prefer every hitter ever had the ability to hit the baseball all over the field. But Rasmus is a dead pull hitter, and that’s what he wants to be.
Among players with at least 1,000 plate appearances since 2014, Rasmus has the fifth-highest pull rate at 52.9 percent. As someone who makes right field and fly balls a priority, Rasmus is probably going to like hitting at Camden Yards.
Rasmus never needed the launch angle revolution. He’s always been capable of lifting the baseball. Over the last four years, Rasmus is eighth in MLB with a fly ball rate of 45.8 percent, and in those 385 games, his fly balls have turned into home runs at the same frequency as Justin Upton. Though Rasmus owns a .229 batting average since 2014, it’s not entirely indicative of his hand-eye coordination.
In 2017, despite a nagging hip, 45.5 percent of his batted balls managed an exit velocity of at least 95 mph, placing him 19th among all big leaguers. As well, Rasmus’ 37.4 percent hard-hit rate since 2014 is 27th-best in baseball, better than Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson.
It’s kind of crazy to think that Rasmus, who posted a .365 wOBA last season, managed to hit the way he did, considering the his hip was likely an issue all season. On Halloween of 2016, Rasmus had surgery to shave down a bone spur and to repair the labrum in his left hip, and also had work done to repair a core muscle. Returning for spring training was his initial prognosis, though Rasmus didn’t appear in a major league game until May 2.
In what turned out to be a permanent placement, Rasmus went on the disabled list June 23 and never played for the Rays again. Looking at his swing, it’s obvious something didn’t look right.
This is Rasmus in 2015, the year he hit 25 home runs and posted a 118 wRC+. He’s got the big leg kick, showing off an explosive front side that has earned him a rather dangerous reputation. Rasmus is known to play the game the way he wants, and this is vintage Colby.
This was Colby in early May of last year, and it’s exactly how he looked up until his 2017 season came to a close. The leg lift is much less pronounced, and he looks much stiffer than he did two years before. That left hip looks like it’s holding him back.
But even if he was ailing, Rasmus didn’t abide to the pain. He swung the bat more than he ever did before (54.4 percent), though his ability to put the ball in play swiftly altered. He had a whiff rate of 20 percent, a career worst, as Rasmus also managed lowly deviations in his chase and contact rates. It’s miracle he did what he did dealing with what he was.
It never seemed as if the Orioles were going to splurge this offseason, despite the organization’s persuasion that they plan to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox. Were there players available with dynamics more detriment to making the hope of a playoff push a reality? Definitely. But Rasmus, both in the clubhouse and on the field, has traits that have been overlooked.
If Rasmus can stay on the field, the Orioles might have found some misplaced magic.