Monday, April 15, 2013

Colby Rasmus and Velocity

Ben Nicholson-Smith had an excellent piece that showed that the Blue Jays, specifically Colby Rasmus, have been facing top notch fastball velocity in the early going of the MLB season. In the article, Rasmus claims he hits faster pitches, specifically fastballs, better. I have always been interested in Rasmus from a distance (I haven't been as big of a fan of him as many, especially the Blue Jays evidently), and wanted to test the claim Rasmus made and look at some of his other tendencies as a hitter to see if we could figure out the puzzle that often is Colby Rasmus.

So using Pitch F/X (specifically Brooks Baseball's Tabular Data by games) I looked at all the pitches Rasmus has seen against starters in 2012 and early in 2013. If for some reason someone wants to look at those pitches and make their own observations or charts, you should be able to download my spreadsheet by clicking here.

Out of those 1495 pitches, Rasmus has seen 80 pitches over 95 MPH. He swung and missed at 9 of those (11.25%). He has put 15 of them in play, 12 of them for outs, and 3 of them for no outs. BABIP plays a role obviously, especially in a sample size this small, but it doesn't seem that he is having a lot of success on top notch fastballs (not that we would expect anyone to have a lot of success with 95-99.5 MPH fastballs).

He has seen 581 pitches at 91 MPH (about MLB starter average) or harder (regardless of classification). I count 40 whiffs in the 501 pitches between 91 MPH to 95 MPH (7.98 %).

I count 122 four-seam fastballs thrown below 91 MPH and count 7 whiffs out of that group (5.7 %). So it would seem that Rasmus gets better the slower the fastball is, which again, is what we would expect normally, but shows that Rasmus' confidence in squaring up 95 MPH fastballs is probably overstated (of course, no hitter is going to say "I just give up whenever I see 95 MPH fastballs because I don't hit them as well").

Of course, much of the context of Rasmus' confidence in hitting harder pitches was versus breaking pitches. When you again sort pitches into bins just by velocity and ignore classifications:

85-90.99 MPH: 466 pitches in total, 52 whiffs (11.1 %), 14 run scoring plays (3%)

80-84.99 MPH: 257 pitches, 44 whiffs (17.1 %), 2 run scoring plays (.7 %)

75-79.99 MPH: 151 pitches, 20 whiffs (13.2 %), 5 run scoring plays (3.3 %)

Slower than 75 MPH: 39 pitches, 1 whiff (2.6 %), 0 run scoring plays

So we see that the 80-85 MPH range is really his trouble spot. This is where many of the sliders and changes are going to be. However, when you slow it down a little more, where most curves are going to be, he has more success. Overall, his whiffs came on an average velocity of 86.67 MPH, while his run scoring plays came on an average velocity of 87.84 MPH. So it seems that, while he is better against softer fastballs than harder fastballs, he is somewhat right about liking harder pitches. However, if you look at the balls he has put into play, the ones that have turned into outs average 88.5 MPH, but the ones that were not turned into outs were 87.28 MPH. So the relationship is definitely complicated.

Because it may just be breaking pitches versus fastballs, without having to deal with classifications, spin may give us a little bit more of a look. High spin pitches are usually going to be fastballs and changeups, while low spin pitches are usually curveballs and sliders:

Whiffs: 184.63 degrees
Runs Scoring plays: 215.844
Outs: 199.35
No Outs: 184.88

Again, we see the somewhat inverse relationship that may just be affected by BABIP.

I find it interesting to look at the release points of opposing pitchers for hitters to see if we can find what hitters end up having problems seeing. So here are the release points by opposing pitchers on Rasmus' run scoring plays:

Here are the release points on Rasmus' whiffs

It is tough for me to see much of a difference (other than the obvious one, he is struggling against more sidearm type left-handers, which we would expect all lefties to do), especially since the sample sizes are different sizes. With that said, I find it fascinating how much he is missing on right-handers that have a very "out" or 3rd base side of the rubber release point. Usually, you would expect him to see the ball better from those pitchers.

It still may help us to look at his strike zone:

As we would expect from looking at his velocity data, he is really good on pitches up and in. The problem doesn't really seem to be bat speed or any kind of hitch in his swing (or the timing that comes with his leg kick). Even though he predictably struggles with harder fastballs, he gets around on average ones. The problems come on balls low, whether away, inside, or down the middle (or just middle to outside in the strike zone). He doesn't respond to hard/medium breaking balls very well. This may help us see why he is missing so much from "out" right-handers, as they may just be feeding him braking balls outside, which he can't really hit anyway, even if he sees it.

When we break down his stance and his swing (screenshots below), we see nothing that tells us he should have such problem with low breaking balls. He doesn't have a weird open stance:

He keeps it straight as the pitch is delivered, and even leans in to give him some reach:

And he has good plate coverage:

There doesn't seem to be anything obviously mechanically wrong with his swing. As hinted to by himself, he may just have problems recognizing pitches.


  1. Clint,

    Watching Rasmus the past couple years, and without any analysis other than what i've seen, my guess is he has trouble not only recognizing pitches but laying off crap he shouldn't be swinging at.

    It seems to me he not only wants a fastball but actually believes the pitch is in fact a fastball (when it actually turns out to be a crap breaking ball in the dirt).

  2. The data seems to support your observations in my opinion

  3. liked the write up, thanks.

    your point about whiffing against right handers with an out release point is a great's just weird.

    now if he can figure this out, recognize/lay off the balls, he's got the swing to be the hitter everyone thinks he can be...

    but surely the jays/other teams know this as well...question is, what the heck have the jays/rasmus done about it? Is he even aware this 'issue' exists?

    I read that Nicholson-Smith article and I wonder of all those fastballs pitched to him, how many are out of the strike zone to set up the crap they know he'll swing at. In other words, some in the strike zone but mostly out of the strike zone to set up the 2 strike low breaking ball.

    I should note it seems most of the homeruns he has hit as a Jay are middle of the plate, here you go, I know you love fastballs here so don't ask why i'm throwing it in the sweet spot for ya type homeruns. And relievers are usually relievers b/c they're often 2 trick ponies, sometimes 1 (fastball) so Rasmus getting and hitting a fastball for a homerun does not surprise me.

  4. As a cardinal fan, I have been extremely interested in Rasmus since he was top prospect in the minors. All my knowledge is anecdotal, and based purely on my direct observation. It does appear that his pitch selection is the key to his plateau in development. For lack of a better term, Rasmus appears to be an arrogant hitter. That is, in love with his own swing and his ability to excel without adjusting much. Of course, that is a typical shoot from the hip response from a fan.

    That beins said, I do have a question about the jays hitting
    approach. Am I not correct that they still espouse a free swinging, power based approach that is less based on obp and more on slugging. From my limited observation, strike outs appear to be the least of the Jays hitting strategy worries, but some discipline does have to come into swinging at pitches that are in a hitters sweet zone. I found Colby to be a very undisciplined hitter after having some success in STL, and quite honestly, a pattern of lackadaisical approach. Yes, you want hitting to be more instinctual, but anyone good hitter will tell you that adjustments are key to sustained big league success.

    AGain, Thank you for the interesting analysis... Any thoughts on Rasmus's Jay's approach along with Rasmus's failure to adjust.

  5. Thanks for the comment.

    I dont want to speculate on the "Jays approach" because for one, we cant really know intent without being in the room. Secondly, I think you have to seperate the "approach" by the Jays in two parts. On a meta level of how they evaluate players, and how they teach players.

    For example, they may acquire impatient hitters and try to make them more disciplined, or any other combination.