From his days clashing with Tony LaRussa in St. Louis to his batting average freefall in Toronto Colby Rasmus has disappointed more than a few fantasy owners. Meanwhile, his penchant for nagging injuries aside, Nelson Cruz has been a steady performer since his late-bloomer breakout in 2009. While Cruz is still in search of a new team, ESPN ranks him as the 49th outfielder and 182nd player overall. Mock Draft Central users are more optimistic at 32/104. He was picked 133rd in a recent experts’ draft hosted by RealTime Fantasy Sports. Coming off a career high 4.8 WAR, Rasmus is 59/234 on ESPN and 71/262 on MDC. He went 316th in the draft referenced above.
Coming off two seasons of below league average offense Rasmus exploded for 130 wRC+ in 2013. The big improvement came in his power, as his ISO increased from .177 to .225. Every metric suggests he made better contact. His line drive rate was a career high 22.0% and his HR:FB ratio increased from 13.2% to 17.3%. His average fly ball distance jumped from 273.47 feet to 284.86, and by Hittracker’s data, he did not luck out with many “cheap” home runs. While missing most of August and September held down his counting stats, he was eighth among outfielders in home runs per plate appearance.
Left handed pitching has constantly befuddled Rasmus, but he made some real strides last year. His strikeout rate was just a notch above his overall number. He produced 92 wRC+ and a .168 ISO with a .333 BABIP against southpaws. Not devastating numbers, but he held his own. His line drive rate suffered when facing them, but he maintained a 15.4% HR/FB.
Many of Rasmus’ ratios were propped up by a .356 BABIP. That is bound to come down, but not to the levels he displayed in 2011 (.267) or 2012 (.259). Even with those lean years, his career level is .298. His 29.5% strikeout rate seems inflated as well. His swinging strike rate was better than any other hitter in the top 15 in strikeout percentage. Some improvement here will lessen the impact of BABIP regression on his overall batting average.
For everything that went well in 2013, Rasmus lost a piece of fantasy value when he failed to steal a single base. He never had great, or even average, success rates in the majors, but other numbers suggest he did not lose all his speed. Defensively, he posted career highs in Range Factor and UZR. He also returned positive overall base running value. The decision not to steal seems to be one of strategy, not one dictated by lack of ability.
While Rasmus served some DL time last year he has generally been durable and plays most of the 2014 season at age 27. Nelson Cruz, on the other hand, has eclipsed 130 games once in his career and he turns 34 in July. Wherever he lands, he will miss the friendly confines of Rangers Ballpark. While there is some inherent advantage in home splits overall, Cruz fell off significantly once he hit the road. His career ISO split is .262/.194. His HR:FB ratio comes in at a 20%/13.5% split and in wRC+ it is 132/95. Outside of Texas, Cruz is only slightly better than Rasmus was against southpaws last year. Cruz has been good for a handful of steals each year, but he has a negative base running score in the last three. His defense and speed scores are also sliding. While he has a lower career strikeout rate than Rasmus, both his swinging strike rate and overall contact rate are worse.
Rasmus is not the complete player he was projected to be, but he offers far more certainty in a prime year than an aging and declining Nelson Cruz does in 2014.