Colby Rasmus: The Perfect Astro
It's January of 2015. Jeff Luhnow slinks quietly into the room, being sure not to cause too big of a stir. He can't let word of his masterpiece slip yet.
The Houston Astros general manager has been tinkering in his lab, attempting to craft the perfect Astro for his squad. He has collected the parts, forming a Frankenstein-esque work that would give Mary Shelley pause. It must be perfect.
Luhnow knows which traits he most wanted the beast to have. Home-run pop. A high fly-ball rate. Not afraid of that third strike. A lethal machine that, when it makes contact, is going to do some damage.
But at the same time, Luhnow is aware that he can't create a monster that is too perfect. After all, his team is a rebuilding squad. If the specimen has no deficiencies, then why would it decide to stick with a team that didn't figure to contend in 2015?
Finally, Luhnow steps away from his creation. The mask comes off, and the lights come on so that he may appreciate it in its full beauty. Then, with one flip of long, flowing red locks, the monster comes to life. Luhnow has created the perfect Astro, and his name is Colby Rasmus.
Why Rasmus Made Sense for the Astros in the Offseason
In the month of January, the Astros started just stockpiling dudes who could mash. There were Evan Gattis, Jed Lowrie and his minuscule soft-hit rate, and Luis Valbuena, all within a short period of time. The team had reworked its offense, acquiring four separate starters, all of whom could bust a long one at any time.
Rasmus fit in perfectly with the rest of the group. The power had always been there, having posted isolated slugging percentages above .200 in three of his first six seasons. However, following a stint on the disabled list in 2014, Rasmus' effectiveness declined, and he found himself on the bench a good chunk of the second half of the season. That's what happens on a lot of clubs when you strikeout in one third of your plate appearances. That kept the price down on a powerful outfielder in his prime when he hit free agency, allowing the Astros to pounce.
Even with the down 2014 season, it was clear that -- somewhere -- that former first-round pick who had huge 2009 and 2010 seasons still existed. It just took the man who drafted him in the first round, all the way back in 2005, to see this. That person was, of course, Luhnow, when he was the scouting director for the St. Louis Cardinals. Rasmus' power hadn't just magically evaporated. He just needed to rediscover his stroke, and that he did in 2015.
Why Rasmus is so Vital to Houston's Success
Fast forward to October, and two games into the postseason, Rasmus already has a pair of home runs. He's doing what they brought him in to do, and he's been rocking that success the whole year.
Over 485 plate appearances, Rasmus hit 25 home runs while sporting a .238/.314/.475 slash. This posted his isolated slugging at .236, the highest mark of his entire career. Sure, he still struck out 31.8 percent of the time, but he added an element to his game that had sagged the past few seasons.
From 2012 to 2014, Rasmus's walk rate never went below 7.5 percent or above 8.1. He was consistently at around the league-wide mark. While there was nothing wrong with this, it meant that Rasmus would be heavily dependent on his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) in order to post a respectable on-base percentage with a strikeout rate as inflated as his. That presents a problem, as BABIP is a fickle beast who doesn't care about your feelings.
This year, though, was different. Rasmus was able to draw walks in 9.7 percent of his plate appearances, putting him in line with Lowrie and Valbuena along with hold-overs George Springer and Chris Carter. Because all of these guys strikeout as often as they do, they need that walk rate to manufacture base runners. This was a crucial addition to Rasmus' game.
The other thing that Rasmus did that helped him fit so perfectly with the Astros was give the middle finger to ground balls. Prior to 2015, Rasmus had never posted a ground-ball rate below 32.0. This year, that plummeted to 28.4 percent thanks to a 51.6 fly-ball rate. That fly-ball rate was the second highest in the league among batters with at least 400 plate appearances, trailing only his teammate, Carter. Fly balls lead to fewer base hits, but when they land, it's often for extra bases. They're not asking him to hit singles. They're asking him to make an impact.
Why Rasmus Should Frighten Postseason Opponents
What's scary about Rasmus for the Kansas City Royals and potentially the rest of the playoff teams? Rasmus is in the middle of a scorching hot streak that could very well carry him to some postseason hardware.
The two home runs in the playoffs aren't all he has done. From the start of September to the end of the regular season, Rasmus posted a .289/.385/.614 slash with 8 home runs in 97 plate appearances. His walk rate spiked to 13.4 percent as his hard-hit rate moved to 36.4 percent. Dude is mashing with no regard for human emotion on the part of the opposition.
In Game 2, Rasmus goes up against Johnny Cueto. Cueto is a reverse-splits pitcher who sees his strikeout rate rise against left-handed batters. That could prove difficult for Rasmus because of his propensity for whiffs. However, Cueto also allows a 34.3 fly-ball rate to lefties, potentially lending some loft to Rasmus's game. Then you consider Cueto's second-half 4.38 xFIP, and a little sweat comes to the brow of Ned Yost.
After that, Rasmus faces Edinson Volquez. Ruh roh. Volquez struggles mightily against lefties with a 4.63 xFIP, thanks in large part to a 40.9 fly-ball rate he allows to hitters on that side of the plate. The fewer strikeouts a pitcher gets, the more they should fear Rasmus, who slashed .267/.332/.581 against finesse pitchers this year. Volquez has a below-average strikeout rate against lefties. This hot streak that Rasmus is riding may not be done just yet, and that is a frightening proposition for teams that already have to deal with Springer, Carlos Correa, and Jose Altuve.
At the end of the year, Rasmus's contract will expire. He may walk away from the Astros so that they can use some of their younger talent in the outfield. It's possible that 2015 will be the only season in which this wondrous marriage exists. But if this is the only taste that Luhnow gets of his creation, he'll still be able to know that he did, in fact, create the perfect Astro.