Not satisfied with the current product, the Cardinals are trying to change center fielder Colby Rasmus

16 Comments

A follow-up to this post can be found right HERE.

*********

The drama continues between the Cardinals’ coaching staff and young outfielder Colby Rasmus.

It was only six months ago that the now 24-year-old Rasmus requested a trade away from St. Louis because of a tarnished relationship with Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.  And it was only three months ago that Albert Pujols said the organization should “figure out a way to get him out of here.”

Colby didn’t feel that he was being treated like an everyday player and didn’t agree with La Russa’s philosophies on hitting.  Rasmus views himself as a power hitter — a 30-homer guy who just happens to steal bases.  La Russa, meanwhile, has preached that Rasmus try to become a more gap-to-gap type of batter and to use his legs to produce runs.

La Russa is apparently driving home that philosophy this winter with the help of an offseason program designed by Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire.  It calls for Rasmus to slim down, to stay off the weights, and to work on his quick-twitch leg muscles.

Brian Walton of The Cardinal Nation Blog gathered a couple of revealing comments on the program Thursday from Tony Rasmus, father of Colby and highly successful high school baseball coach in Alabama:

“Colby has been working on spraying the ball around the field this offseason via the Big Mac approach. Hasn’t been lifting since the plan is to be a slap hitter so there is no need for the added muscle. The goal I hear is to hit .300 and hit more ground balls and line drives the other way.”

While it’s odd to discourage any young hitter from trying to drive the ball deep, Rasmus has struggled with high strikeout numbers and has posted some rather alarming flyball rates in his first two major league seasons.  In 2010, he had the 11th-highest flyball percentage in the game, lofting batted balls 48.6% of the time.  McGwire and La Russa are probably thinking that a more contact-minded approach at the plate will help Rasmus become a better all-around hitter.

Of course, there’s the other side.  The side suggesting that a flyball rate might not always be a bad thing.  Jose Bautista and Adam Dunn ranked in the Top 10 for flyball rates this past year and still had highly productive offensive seasons.  Pujols had a 44.5% flyball rate.  Jayson Werth clocked in at 45.4%.  Paul Konerko’s was 45.0%.

Those guys are bonafide sluggers, but they can also be defined simply as great hitters.  Rasmus isn’t quite to that level, but he’s moving in that direction.  Or, he was, until La Russa and Mac decided this winter — or probably this past summer — to make a change in the young man.  More from Tony Rasmus:

“[Colby] weighed in yesterday at 180 lbs and is running 5 miles a day trying to get quicker and lose a little more. Wants to be at 175 by spring training. He is working the abs but nothing else in the weight room. Gonna try to be a Brett Gardner slap it and run.

Gardner is a nice player.  He swiped 47 bases in 56 chances this year for the Yankees and made himself into an undeniable full-timer.  The Yanks barely looked at free agent outfielder Carl Crawford this winter because they’ve become so comfortable with Gardner’s contributions.

Rasmus, though, can be far better.  He can drive the ball out of the park with the best of baseball’s young outfielders and that’s an ability that should not be diminished.  The home run, after all, is the best outcome for a hitter in any plate appearance.  Yes, any plate appearance.  More from Tony Rasmus:

“I’m curious to see this new hitting style at work. What they’re telling me is Colby most likely won’t hit 10 jacks this year but will be more consistent. I’m told that he will look alot like Jon Jay without all the pre swing motion. More like the Skip Schumaker and Jay stuff to left field. IT will be curious to watch.”

Colby most likely won’t hit 10 jacks.”  It’s not too difficult to read through the lines on that remark and to recognize that the elder Rasmus does not agree with the the Cards’ new approach. Especially when he names a guy like Schumaker, one of the least productive regulars in baseball.

Tony Rasmus coached his son from birth until the draft, and probably even after draft.  He’s one of those all-in amateur baseball coaches who tight-ropes along the line of passion and over-involvement.  And the biggest prize of his coaching career — his son — is playing for the National League’s most successful franchise, and under a Hall of Fame manager with a reputation for high-strung hardheadedness.  That’s two hardheaded baseball men with two very different philosophies on what is best for young Colby.

La Russa might have the resume, but who knows Colby’s swing better than his father, a lifetime observer of his son’s flaws and fine points?

There might not be a great answer to that.  What is for certain is that the situation is sticky, maybe even awkward.  What if the elder Rasmus was the one behind that June trade request?  And what if that same request is made next summer, when the younger Rasmus is at single-digit “jacks” around the trade deadline?

It’s usually best to simply let the good ones play.

*******************

UPDATE: Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has suggested that Tony Rasmus’ comments were part of a “hoax” or meant as tongue-in-cheek.  In fact, Strauss told me that I should take this story down.

I can’t do that.  Strauss has confirmed that it was indeed Rasmus’ father who made those remarks.  Whether they were sincere and Colby is working on a new approach, or whether they were made in an entirely facetious manner, it’s all very toxic.

Either the Cardinals are really trying to change his son’s batting style or Tony Rasmus is publicly mocking La Russa and McGwire.  I might argue that the latter is worse, given that Colby requested a trade just last summer and his father has butted heads with Cardinals coaches in the past.

*******************

UPDATE: Strauss says that Tony Rasmus’ comments were made in a completely tongue-in-cheek manner and that Rasmus isn’t actually being asked to become a slap hitter.  Still, this feels a bit strange.  As Strauss notes, the comments read like a “joke with teeth.”

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
11 Comments

The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.