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The Case of Colby Rasmus and the High Heat

It has been alleged that Mr. Rasmus cannot handle the high fastball, but does the evidence support that claim?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As readers of Bluebird Banter may or may or not know, I have a virtually limitless quantity of axes to grind with the Blue Jays broadcast team. To go too far into the issue would be far more entertaining for me than you, but ultimately it begins with a consistent disregard for irrefutable facts and the complete misapplication of even the most basic statistics. The constant mispronunciation of names as well as the unending fawning over the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays also definitely does not help in the scheme of things. There are other issues, but, as I said before, my rantings are more interesting to me than they are to you, so I'll leave it at that.

When watching baseball games I often find myself asking what exactly Buck and Pat are basing their statements on, because they tend to make claims that I would describe and both bold and unfounded. Something that has caught my attention early this season is the claim that teams have been attacking Colby Rasmus with the high fastball and that he has normally struggled with that pitch. Like many left-handers Rasmus does tend to be more of a low-ball hitter, but that assertion also struck me as the sort of thing that could have simply been pulled out of thin air.

In order to test the theory that Rasmus can't handle the fastball up high, I went to Brooks Baseball to check it out. Looking at it one way there might be something to the theory. First off he doesn't get a lot of hits on hard stuff, the following zone profile does reinforce the fact the Colby is a low ball hitter:

Additionally, we can see that Rasmus whiffs a tonne on the hard stuff up:

This is some fairly powerful stuff, perhaps even enough that we can score one for Pat and Buck. However, the astute observer will have noticed that all the numbers for Colby struggling with high fastballs are based on very small sample sizes. That's because the high fastball has not really been a tool pitchers have used to attack Rasmus very often. The following zone profile shows that he is much more likely to see hard pitches low and away:

Moreover, even when pitchers do give Colby something high and hard to deal with, the swing rate picture below shows he does a pretty good job at laying off.

At the end of the day, the best metric for evaluating this phenomenon is raw whiff rate. We know that on a per swing basis Colby is far worse at hitting high fastballs, but we also know that he is more disciplined in terms of laying off of them. His total whiff rate tells us if a pitcher has a better chance getting the whiff from Rasmus up top or down low on a fastball.

And the winner is... the Blue Jays broadcast team! If you are looking to get Colby out with a fastball, you should be looking up, especially up and away.

My experience as a Jays fan who enjoys dabbling in advanced statistics has made me incredibly jaded about any statement made by Pat Tabler or Buck Martinez, but that doesn't mean they are always wrong. I would make the claim they are wrong more often than not, but that's exactly the sort of open-ended unprovable claim that I'm trying to crusade against. Rather than turn myself into a hypocrite, I will instead tip my hat. In the case of Colby Rasmus and the high heat I was wrong to doubt the infinite wisdom of the Blue Jays broadcast team. This time I should have holstered my arsenal of numbers and snark and took them at their word.

This time.