Why Doesn't Colby Rasmus Ever Attempt to Steal?

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Colby Rasmus is having an excellent season, realizing a lot of the potential that was once projected for him. Except in the stolen base category.

Colby Rasmus is in the midst of a career year and a season that could see him given a sizable extension this offseason. He’s becoming the near-All Star caliber player that Toronto Blue Jays fans were hoping for when they traded for him back in July of 2011.

The defense is great, the power is legitimate, and a concerning strikeout rate is mitigated in part by a willingness to take a walk and balance out the on-base percentage. Other than a batting average on balls in play that seems likely to come down (Rasmus has a career high line drive rate but even then, he’s about .050 above his career BABIP rate), nothing in Rasmus’ profile suggests regression is imminent.

He’s been very, very good. FanGraphs has him at 3.5 wins above replacement, Baseball-Reference at 3.1 and Baseball Prospectus at 2.7. If he maintains this pace, he’ll be anywhere from a 4.7-win player to a 6.0-win player this year. That would put him firmly in the top-25 among all batters in 2012 and will likely do the same this year.

It’s all coming together for Rasmus, it seems. He is who we hoped he would be.

Except…

He hasn’t stolen a base this year. In fact, he’s only attempted eight stolen bases in 275 games at a Blue Jay. That’s after attempting 29 in 385 games as a Cardinal and attempting 73 in 351 minor league games.

This isn’t a complaint, to be clear – he’s been very good and it’s been great to watch him develop and improve. But it’s something that is very curious, and there are only a couple of loose theories as to why it may be the case.

After all, Rasmus is fast. At least, he covers a ton of ground in center field, has a quick, long stride and is generally a strong baserunner. FanGraphs Speed Score and Baserunning Runs back this eye test up, and this is a guy who was expected to be a power-speed combo guy (at least, those in fantasy circles had hoped for it).

Consider the following, from a February 2012 ESPN piece on Rasmus’ fantasy potential:

Baseball America ranked him as the fifth-best prospect in baseball in 2008 and the third-best in 2009. There was a time when, from an offensive perspective, Rasmus appeared to possess a power/speed skill set similar to Grady Sizemore's.


Or this, from a March 2012 piece from Sportsnet Magazine on Rasmus looking to have more fun:

He’s also targeting more than 25 stolen bases now that he’s on a team that lets him run.

Rasmus is one of a few Jays with a green light from manager John Farrell, meaning he doesn’t have to wait for the steal sign. If Rasmus sees an opportunity, he can take off.


Yet here he is, just four for eight on the bases as a Blue Jay. It’s possible that low success rate, however little it tells us in a sample size of eight, has given him a red light. He is also just 24-for-39 for his MLB career, though he was 60-for-73 in the minors. But if he’s as quick as he seems, it’s difficult to understand why he wouldn’t be given more chances, especially hitting lower in the order ahead of some weaker bats (when the opportunity cost of a caught stealing is lowered).

There are a couple of possible reasons, though none are easy to prove or convincing enough to close the case:

No. 1. – Rasmus has poor acceleration. This would be a reason to hold him back on the bases as he’d need a large lead or great jump to be successful. It’s certainly possible his apparent speed in the field is more a product of a long stride than quickness, though this is a thin premise given how there are counterexamples of bigger players or long-stride players who steal just fine and, again, he appears fast and runs the bases well in non-steal situations (for example, he has taken an extra base on 57% of hits when he was on base this year).

No. 2. – Rasmus is bad at reading pitchers. This is almost impossible to prove without speaking candidly with someone with the Jays, but the fact that heading into 2012 he had a "green light" would indicate that this is not the case.

No. 3. – Rasmus has gotten significantly bigger since the original scouting reports pegged him as a future base stealer. Again, there are counterexamples to bigger players not stealing well, but it’s possible the extra weight on Rasmus’ frame has made him less capable of making the 90-foot trek in an expedient manner. (Hat tip to Dan Moore of Viva El Birdos, whom I had reached out to for possible insight on Rasmus from his St. Louis time and suggested it could be a size thing.)

Compare this picture from his time in Springfield to this one from this season. It’s tough to really see in a baggy jersey, but he looks more solid and filled out in the upper half, to be sure.

But of all of the possible explanations, two curious points remain:

  • He’s not failing, he’s just not even trying.
  • He still runs well in all non-stolen base situations.

Unfortunately, the explanation for his lack of attempts probably lies somewhere between these potential explanations mixed with team and situation factors and perhaps some reason from inside the clubhouse or manager’s office. There’s no way to know (without access, anyway).

Rasmus has turned into what was expected, checking off most items from his initial scouting reports as a prospect. The lack of base stealing isn’t holding him back from an excellent season, and it’s not really of much concern. But it’s curious.

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