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Not satisfied with the current product, the Cardinals are trying to change center fielder Colby Rasmus

Dec 9, 2010, 8:24 PM EST

St. Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers

A follow-up to this post can be found right HERE.

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The drama continues between the Cardinals’ coaching staff and young outfielder Colby Rasmus.

It was only six months ago that the now 24-year-old Rasmus requested a trade away from St. Louis because of a tarnished relationship with Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.  And it was only three months ago that Albert Pujols said the organization should “figure out a way to get him out of here.”

Colby didn’t feel that he was being treated like an everyday player and didn’t agree with La Russa’s philosophies on hitting.  Rasmus views himself as a power hitter — a 30-homer guy who just happens to steal bases.  La Russa, meanwhile, has preached that Rasmus try to become a more gap-to-gap type of batter and to use his legs to produce runs.

La Russa is apparently driving home that philosophy this winter with the help of an offseason program designed by Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire.  It calls for Rasmus to slim down, to stay off the weights, and to work on his quick-twitch leg muscles.

Brian Walton of The Cardinal Nation Blog gathered a couple of revealing comments on the program Thursday from Tony Rasmus, father of Colby and highly successful high school baseball coach in Alabama:

“Colby has been working on spraying the ball around the field this offseason via the Big Mac approach. Hasn’t been lifting since the plan is to be a slap hitter so there is no need for the added muscle. The goal I hear is to hit .300 and hit more ground balls and line drives the other way.”

While it’s odd to discourage any young hitter from trying to drive the ball deep, Rasmus has struggled with high strikeout numbers and has posted some rather alarming flyball rates in his first two major league seasons.  In 2010, he had the 11th-highest flyball percentage in the game, lofting batted balls 48.6% of the time.  McGwire and La Russa are probably thinking that a more contact-minded approach at the plate will help Rasmus become a better all-around hitter.

Of course, there’s the other side.  The side suggesting that a flyball rate might not always be a bad thing.  Jose Bautista and Adam Dunn ranked in the Top 10 for flyball rates this past year and still had highly productive offensive seasons.  Pujols had a 44.5% flyball rate.  Jayson Werth clocked in at 45.4%.  Paul Konerko’s was 45.0%.

Those guys are bonafide sluggers, but they can also be defined simply as great hitters.  Rasmus isn’t quite to that level, but he’s moving in that direction.  Or, he was, until La Russa and Mac decided this winter — or probably this past summer — to make a change in the young man.  More from Tony Rasmus:

“[Colby] weighed in yesterday at 180 lbs and is running 5 miles a day trying to get quicker and lose a little more. Wants to be at 175 by spring training. He is working the abs but nothing else in the weight room. Gonna try to be a Brett Gardner slap it and run.

Gardner is a nice player.  He swiped 47 bases in 56 chances this year for the Yankees and made himself into an undeniable full-timer.  The Yanks barely looked at free agent outfielder Carl Crawford this winter because they’ve become so comfortable with Gardner’s contributions.

Rasmus, though, can be far better.  He can drive the ball out of the park with the best of baseball’s young outfielders and that’s an ability that should not be diminished.  The home run, after all, is the best outcome for a hitter in any plate appearance.  Yes, any plate appearance.  More from Tony Rasmus:

“I’m curious to see this new hitting style at work. What they’re telling me is Colby most likely won’t hit 10 jacks this year but will be more consistent. I’m told that he will look alot like Jon Jay without all the pre swing motion. More like the Skip Schumaker and Jay stuff to left field. IT will be curious to watch.”

Colby most likely won’t hit 10 jacks.”  It’s not too difficult to read through the lines on that remark and to recognize that the elder Rasmus does not agree with the the Cards’ new approach. Especially when he names a guy like Schumaker, one of the least productive regulars in baseball.

Tony Rasmus coached his son from birth until the draft, and probably even after draft.  He’s one of those all-in amateur baseball coaches who tight-ropes along the line of passion and over-involvement.  And the biggest prize of his coaching career — his son — is playing for the National League’s most successful franchise, and under a Hall of Fame manager with a reputation for high-strung hardheadedness.  That’s two hardheaded baseball men with two very different philosophies on what is best for young Colby.

La Russa might have the resume, but who knows Colby’s swing better than his father, a lifetime observer of his son’s flaws and fine points?

There might not be a great answer to that.  What is for certain is that the situation is sticky, maybe even awkward.  What if the elder Rasmus was the one behind that June trade request?  And what if that same request is made next summer, when the younger Rasmus is at single-digit “jacks” around the trade deadline?

It’s usually best to simply let the good ones play.

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UPDATE: Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has suggested that Tony Rasmus’ comments were part of a “hoax” or meant as tongue-in-cheek.  In fact, Strauss told me that I should take this story down.

I can’t do that.  Strauss has confirmed that it was indeed Rasmus’ father who made those remarks.  Whether they were sincere and Colby is working on a new approach, or whether they were made in an entirely facetious manner, it’s all very toxic.

Either the Cardinals are really trying to change his son’s batting style or Tony Rasmus is publicly mocking La Russa and McGwire.  I might argue that the latter is worse, given that Colby requested a trade just last summer and his father has butted heads with Cardinals coaches in the past.

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UPDATE: Strauss says that Tony Rasmus’ comments were made in a completely tongue-in-cheek manner and that Rasmus isn’t actually being asked to become a slap hitter.  Still, this feels a bit strange.  As Strauss notes, the comments read like a “joke with teeth.”

  1. Ari Collins - Dec 9, 2010 at 8:22 PM

    Reminds of when the Twins wanted Papi to, as he put it, “hit like a little b*tch.”

    • professorperry - Dec 9, 2010 at 8:27 PM

      I was thinking just that. Different body types, but I wonder ….

  2. paperlions - Dec 9, 2010 at 8:43 PM

    24 yrs old with the 3rd best wOBA of all MLB CFs, behind only Hamilton and Gonzalez, neither one of which look be CFs next year. Yep, lets screw with his approach. That’s a great idea.
    .
    This is another example of LaRussa trying to impose his will on someone and nothing more. Gee, how well do the three guys that worked with McGwire done? In 2009, Holliday ditched the changes Mac had him make and then started hitting again. They are trying to trade Brendan Ryan, and Skip Shumaker is a disaster at the plate and in the field. Yep, let’s send everyone out to work with Mac and have them change their approach.
    .
    I wonder how joyless the 2011 Cardinals will look, can Tony and Duncan possibly make the team less enthused to play baseball than they were last year? They are off to a good start.

    • Ari Collins - Dec 9, 2010 at 8:44 PM

      Not to mention the oddity of McGwire teaching people to hit fewer homers.

  3. Ari Collins - Dec 9, 2010 at 8:43 PM

    Just because he’s a CF doesn’t mean he shouldn’t hit homers. The fact that most CFs are slap hitters isn’t because that “works better” for them or something, it’s because it’s harder to find someone with two skills (defense and slugging) than one. And it’s what makes it all the more valuable when you get a guy like Rasmus.

    Maybe his approach starts backfiring on him at some point. Maybe he turns into Carlos Pena at the plate (the 2010 version), and then you can start preaching fewer strikeouts and more contact. But if it ain’t broke, stop trying to make it hit like a little b*tch.

  4. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Dec 9, 2010 at 9:24 PM

    The ball jumps off Rasmus’s bat. If Rasmus hits .300, homers will be there. Last season he had several 0,1,2 for 20+ stretches and way to many Ks. If Rasmus learns to put the ball in play, his average and power will both raise. The two hole in the lineup (hitting before Pujols) is his for the taking if can hit for average.

    His father thinks that this approach will cut down on his dingers. I disagree. I think it will increase them. The more balls he puts in play, the more balls will leave the park. No, that is not true for most hitter, but as I said ball jumps off his bat. Colby’s effortless swing drives balls way out of the park.

    • paperlions - Dec 9, 2010 at 10:06 PM

      I hope so….but it seems more likely that he’ll be lost at the plate and start taking strikes and swing at balls. Most players can not change their approach much, they do well what they do well….it’s like telling Moyer to scrap his approach and start throwing 98 mph because he gives up too many hits…just because you think a guy SHOULD use an approach doesn’t mean he can…and if he’s not using it, it usually means he can’t.
      .
      Every player should be more selective at the plate, but most guys simply can’t develop the same discipline or pitch recognition as a Pujols or Youkilis just because you think it would be a good idea.
      .
      I think LaRussa should be more supportive of young players and maintain a more encouraging “hey isn’t baseball fun” attitude to help his players relax so they don’t seize up in big moments as is so common for his teams…but that doesn’t mean he is capable of doing it.

      • timstl - Dec 9, 2010 at 10:40 PM

        The problem is he already looks lost at the plate for long periods of time. He loses the strike zone way too often, and ends at bats looking lost. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of stretches where he looks great, but he could be so much more. Not to mention his defense– he could be Edmonds, but he’s too frequently just shy of making the great play.

      • paperlions - Dec 9, 2010 at 10:46 PM

        I know….but how do we know these stretches aren’t the result of lectures from LaRussa or McGwire?
        .
        I think he does what he does…then someone gets in his ear and he starts trying to do what he is asked, but he can’t or doesn’t know how. Colby doesn’t come across as the sharpest knife in the drawer (or even the second sharpest). There are some guys you just point at the field and let play; Rasmus seems to be one of those guys.
        .
        Like the base stealing thing, the guy is super fast and a great runner in general, but he is bad at stealing bases…bad jumps, can’t read pitchers, whatever, he’s horrible at it. Either teach the guy to steal or don’t have him do it.

  5. Tim's Neighbor - Dec 9, 2010 at 9:28 PM

    As a Cubs fan I approve of this message.

    • PanchoHerreraFanClub - Dec 9, 2010 at 11:55 PM

      If anyone thinks it is a bad idea, a Cubs fan liking pushes it into the good idea range.

  6. JBerardi - Dec 9, 2010 at 11:17 PM

    Not hitting ten home runs next year may be a little drastic, but Rasmus has got to cut down on his K rate. He’s not going to have a BABIP in the .350 range every year, and when he doesn’t, he’s going to find himself in Carlos Pena territory. We’ll see what happens, but I don’t hate this decision by the Cards.

  7. thoran85 - Dec 10, 2010 at 12:21 AM

    I believe a few Cardinals beat writers have reported that this story is not true.

    …But if it is this would be terrible news to any Cardinals fan

    • Drew Silva - Dec 10, 2010 at 12:28 AM

      I’m keeping up on it. Strauss has confirmed that it was Rasmus’ dad who made those comments, so I’m going to keep it up. Strauss also called it a “hoax,” but gave no details on what that might mean. The comments had multiple elements. Which parts were of the hoax variety?

      Until that can be answered I think the story stands.

      • paperlions - Dec 10, 2010 at 7:33 AM

        Because of LaRussa’s behavior (boorish, stubborn, crotchety) the last few years, this story doesn’t stretch the bounds of credibility. Rather, it sounds EXACTLY like an edict that LaRussa would issue; he’s a control freak and would rather be in control of every little thing and lose than not be in control and win (i.e. he’d rather lose his way than win some other way). Add in the FOs strange decision to replace the best defensive SS in MLB with a 2B instead of using him to replace their 2B that can’t field or hit…and it is hard to have confidence in the current regime’s understanding of what wins baseball games.

  8. Adam - Dec 10, 2010 at 8:01 AM

    Do LaRussa and McGwire understand that running 5 miles doesn’t make you faster? Distance running actually develops slow twitch muscles. It might cut his weight, but running distance every day isn’t going to make him faster. That’s what sprint work is for.

    On another note, good to know LaRussa is still a jack-ass.

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