What Can We Learn from Rasmus and Wieters?

Recently, I examined the precedent Colby Rasmus is setting by accepting a qualifying offer, through a comparative lens.

In that piece, the types of players I compared Rasmus to were players of similar position and total plate appearances over a ‘three-year window,’ in order to contextualize what kind of player Rasmus is. It’s important to understand certain aspects of Rasmus as a player—and his free-agent market situation this year, too—because both he and Matt Wieters (Orioles) are going to be setting a standard for what the market is telling organizations about what types of players to anticipate accepting qualifying offers.

This time, I wanted to instead compare Rasmus and Wieters to a different group of players: those hitters who have received qualifying offers. The QO system was implemented in 2012, and since then, 31 position players have been proposed qualifying offers, though Rasmus and Wieters were the first two position players—not to mention the first players ever, regardless of position—to accept them.

If 31 hitters have been offered QOs and only two have agreed, that means that 29 other position players felt they could do better than a one-year deal with well-padded average annual value (AAV). More or less—with the exception of Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew—those hitters have been correct; everyone but Morales and Drew ultimately found long-term security within that off-season.

Was there something about Rasmus’ and Wieters’ outputs last season that made them worse than other position players’ seasons prior to receiving their qualifying offers? Or could there have been certain similar circumstances between both Wieters and Rasmus, as I outlined in this piece here over the weekend, that made both players more likely to accept a QO?

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Though WAR doesn’t tell the whole story by any means, for whatever it’s worth, both Wieters and Rasmus fell below the entire group’s average WAR totals—both for their seasons prior to being offered a QO (2015) and in the two seasons preceding it plus this past season (2013-2015).

For clarity: ‘the group average’ is referring to the averages of all of the hitters to ever receive qualifying offers.

WAR is a counting stat—and it’s important to mention Wieters has had the fewest plate appearances in the ‘three-year window’ around his QO (2013-2015) of any position player to ever be offered a qualifying offer in MLB history. Though Wieters is the only position player to receive a qualifying offer without recording 1,000 or more plate appearances in his QO’s ‘three-year window’ (2013-2015) prior to receiving his qualifying offer, he does fall very short of the group’s marks (3.48 WAR year prior / 9.51 ‘three year QO window’ the average totals for all 31 hitters). Wieters recorded just one win above replacement last season, and 4.4 over his 973 plate appearances between 2013 and today.

Rasmus got closer to both marks—2.8 WAR last season (2015) and 8.8 for the ‘three year window’ (2013-2015), but he too fell short of the group’s standards. Similarly to Wieters though, Rasmus was in the lower-echelon of plate appearances of all 31 position players in the QO group, so just using his static WAR total only offers limited insight when comparing him to the rest of the player pool.

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When each player’s WAR is metered (to account for different lengths of playing time over the ‘three-year window’ prior to each hitter’s qualifying offer), Wieters’ totals still are below the group’s averages, but Rasmus’ crack the total.

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While still fairly generalized, looking at wRC+ and fDefense gives some further breakdown of what’s behind Wieters’ and Rasmus’ WAR outputs in their ‘three year window’ before receiving QOs (2013-2015). In the aggregate, all of the hitters to ever receive a qualifying offer are 22% more productive offensively than league average offensive output. And—generally accompanying such above-average offensive production—the position players who have received QOs also average out to be a below-average defensive group.

Wieters’ last three seasons-worth of offensive production check in both below league average as well as well below the average of a ‘QO-worthy hitter’. That said, his high defensive postings at a premium defensive position—significantly above the average defensive production of a QO-recipient—bolsters his value significantly. It needs to be mentioned that a 96 wRC+ from a catcher with such consistently high defensive marks (and a Gold Glove in hate ‘three year window’) is actually immensely valuable, and I’ll get to those more apt ‘by position’ comparisons in a moment.

Rasmus was more of an average defender his last three seasons, but that’s better than the defense coming from most QO-offered position players. Rasmus has been a productive hitter for a premium-position defender at 17% above league average—which again indicates ‘by position’ comps should take precedence over comparing Wieters and Rasmus to an offensive-minded group—but even still, Rasmus’ 117 wRC+ is a touch under the 122 wRC+ group average for all 31 players.

Better comparisons can be made about whether Wieters and Rasmus are actually any better than other players who rejected QOs by looking at their numbers simply compared to players at the same positions. In Wieters’ case, that means comparing his outputs the year prior to his QO—and the ‘three year window’ around it (2013-2015)—to the same measures for other catchers who have rejected QOs. Aside from Wieters, there have been two: Russell Martin (rejected Pittsburgh’s QO, went to Toronto) and Brian McCann (rejected Atlanta’s QO, went to the Yankees).

[table[table "” not found /]>When you compare Wieters’ numbers to the other QO catchers—even accounting for differences in overall plate apperances—he still comes out behind. The degree Wieters’ ‘three year window’ lagged behind both Martin and McCann’s surprised me; I knew Wieters had missed significant time during that stretch, but it had included a 20-homer season, a Gold Glove, and an All-Star appearance.

Wieters hit for more power than Russell Martin in their respective QO’s ‘three year windows’, but otherwise was the worst of all three catchers in metered WAR (WAR/PA500), total offensive output (wRC+) and defensive value.

Wieters’ only redeeming factor when you consider how far below the entire QO-offered positional group’s averages he performed during his ‘three year window’ (2013-2015) was his defense. But that defensive output looks less significant when you consider Wieters’ defensive rates—while still above the entire ‘QO group’s average’—were the lowest three year defensive outputs for any catcher to ever receive a qualifying offer.

When phrased this way, it gives a new spin on whether or not Wieters truly should have accepted a qualifying offer, which has been debated since it was announced Friday he’d be accepting Baltimore’s QO. If Wieters has struggled with injuries the last few seasons, already giving teams trepidation into committing long-term money, while also producing outputs lesser than other QO recipients at the same position—perhaps he did to the right thing going back to the Orioles to rebuild value.

My one contest to that is the lack of presence of other catchers on the 2016 open market who are even in the realm on Wieters and what he’s shown he can contribute when he’s locked in and healthy. In general though, I do think a large factor in favor of Wieters testing the open market—regardless of the above comparative statistics or any other points in favor of him staying in Baltimore—is the lack of depth this year’s free agent class has behind the plate.

In the first article I wrote when it was announced Rasmus would accept the QO, I grouped together a list of the nine outfielders—including Rasmus—that have both received qualifying offers and seemed to be defensively comparable to Rasmus as well. Not including Rasmus, that group was Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon, Michael Bourn, Curtis Granderson, Melvin Upton, Shin-Soo Choo, and Dexter Fowler.

Below are Rasmus’ ‘three year window’ totals before his QO (2013-2015) compared to the group averages of all nine outfielders.

[table [table "” not found /]he comparable outfield group’s wRC+ average for their ‘three year window’ (123 wRC+) before receiving a QO is basically the exact same as the group average for all hitters, regardless of position, who have received qualifying offers (122 wRC+).

Rasmus’ well above-average power for his defensive profile is visible as always, as his .228 ISO is much greater than the .193 group average ISO of all the comparable QO-received outfielders’ three year windows. That said, his overall offensive output has been a tick below the group’s average in terms of wRC+, which hints at the holes in Rasmus’ offensive game that might lead to his market value being lesser than many of the aforementioned outfielders in the group.

These tables give insight into what’s behind some of those ‘holes’:

[table “[table "” not found /] style="line-height: 1.5;">** ‘(of 9)’ Refers to the nine similar outfielders to Rasmus who have also received QOs**

Rasmus has among MLB’s most polarizing batted ball profiles. He puts more than half his balls in play in the air—massively above the average of all outfielders in 2015, as well as the most of any of the comparable OFs who received qualifying offers—but gets away with it because nearly 20% of his fly balls leave the yard.

[table “[table "” not found /]tyle="line-height: 1.5;">** ‘(of 9)’ Refers to the nine similar outfielders to Rasmus who have also received QOs**

If over half your balls in play go in the air—and 20% of those fly balls leave the park—you must really swing and miss a lot to not be hitting a Chris Davis-esque amount of bombs, which is indeed one large issue with Rasmus’ offense . Rasmus swung through tons more pitches than most outfielders last season, as well as basically the entire group of comparable outfielders the year they were offered QOs. His contact percentage hovering around 70% is very low. Not surprisingly, Rasmus struck out in more than three of every 10 plate appearances in 2015, and his inconsistent ability to make contact has been the causative behind Rasmus’ stagnant offensive seasons.

[table “” [table "” not found /]le="line-height: 1.5;">** ‘(of 9)’ Refers to the nine similar outfielders to Rasmus who have also received QOs**

More oddities of Rasmus’ batted ball profile: what kind of contact he makes, and where he hits the ball. From just a ‘scout’s perspective’—that being an admittedly subjective one—Rasmus pulls about as many balls as I’ve ever seen at the MLB level. His Pull% would agree, and as a result he almost never goes to centerfield or the other way. In this day and age of advanced defensive metrics and infield shifts, that’s not a great way to get hits, though Rasmus remedies this somewhat by simply not hitting very many ground balls. Even so, Colby Rasmus has pretty clearly demonstrated himself to be an abhorrently low batting average hitter who relies on collecting extra bases the times he does get hits.

How does he get away with being this polarized? How do so many fly balls leave the yard? Simply by hitting the ball hard when he does make contact. Rasmus’ ‘hard hit’ exit velocity percentage is well above the average for MLB outfielders, and was the best of any of the eight other QO-received outfielders in the year prior to their being offered QOs.

This raw power comes at a real price though, and to get to his raw power—probably the power of a larger, corner-only defender—Rasmus really has to ‘sell out’ for hard hit fly balls to the pullside.

Putting it all together: Rasmus’ batted ball profile and contact rates are extreme. The type of hitter he is has caused him issue through prolonged offensive slumps, while we’ve also seem what can happen when a hitter like this gets hot for short streaks (see: 2015 postseason).

That said, I think this type of hitter is going to be a tough sell for a long-term deal (four or more years with significant AAVs), especially when the closest comparison (that’s been offered a QO, anyway) in terms of playing centerfield, hitting for power, and these types of batted ball rates has been Melvin Upton. We have seen how Upton’s contract has played out, and how unsustainable and generally not ‘up to snuff’ this type of inconsistent swing profile is when a team pays it like a top-flight open-market asset.

My interpretation of these numbers is that Wieters and Rasmus accepting the qualifying offer was more than just ‘bad luck’ in terms of a crowded marketplace at the same position (especially in Rasmus’ case). The answer is yes—there was some existing deficiency in both players’ outputs relative to all hitters who have received qualifying offers, and to some extent, players who had received qualifying offers who also played the same position.

I wasn’t surprised at this fact for Rasmus—seeing the player as much as I did this year, I feel pretty confident in my understanding he’s more of a piece that should be ‘correctly utilized’ as opposed to a franchise type guy—but for Wieters I was surprised at the lack of ‘three year window’ output, and/or that even a Gold Glove winner didn’t blow away other catchers who received QOs defensively.

We will never be able to know all the motivations behind why both players deferred from tradition and accepted qualifying offers. Viewing the argument of ‘should they or shouldn’t they’ through these comparative lenses makes me wonder if their camps looked ahead to the open market, compared themselves, and saw something that prompted them to consider all the factors of both players’ free agent situations and decide to give it another go in 2017.

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