Lou Schuler linked to some interesting words from Andy Van Slyke in a recent Bernie’s Bytes post by Bernie Miklasz. I’m going to take issue with Van Slyke’s criticism because, in part, it seems to cloud history with phrasing and some inaccurate details. I’m certain this will be perceived as me being a Colby Rasmus apologist but something rings odd about this conversation.
When he originally excerpted it, Lou left out the first portion of the quote, self-praise:
“A 24-year-old Andy Van Slyke or a 24-year-old Jim Edmonds would have caught both of those balls,” Van Slyke said.
He’s referencing the plays Colby failed to make in the recent loss to the Giants including a 400′ flyball off reliever Ryan Franklin hit by Miguel Tejada. I agree that Colby should have caught that ball but would Van Slyke? Probably not since at 24, he wasn’t even a centerfielder. He was primarily a corner outfielder with the Cardinals appearing in no more than 27 games as a CF with the team. Did Van Slyke have the range to catch a ball like that? Probably. He had a successful career as a centerfielder in Pittsburgh but at 24 he didn’t break into the majors as a centerfielder.
I don’t ever remember him climbing a wall, going into a fence. He hates to leave his feet.
My memory is bad but thankfully a quick solicitation turns up this from mysterui where Colby makes a leaping catch. He runs into the fence nonetheless. That’s a bit of a throw away line but Van Slyke should be less trusting of his memory it seems.
Again some interesting words from Van Slyke:
Look it, I mean, you’re a center fielder. The fact is, you almost have to disrespect your body a little bit to elevate your game defensively in the outfield. You’ve almost got to face the fact that if you dive and you sacrifice your body a little bit, you’re going to make the plays that are going to get you on ESPN on the ‘Top Ten Plays’ or the highlight film.
I love highlight reels as much as the next person but why does Van Slyke seem focused on the acclaim rather than that it’s important to the team. Who cares if Colby makes the ESPN Top 10 Plays?
There’s no highlight films in Colby Rasmus’ game and until he’s willing to stretch himself a little bit more physically, I think we’re going to be very disappointed with him defensively.
Single season defensive metrics are tricky but there was consensus among John Dewan’s +/-, Total Zone and Ultimate Zone Rating that in 2009 Colby was a very good centerfielder. There was equal consensus that he was worse in 2010 and likely below average. So should we be disappointed by this? I don’t know what Van Slyke’s threshold is for Colby’s defense. Maybe he expects him to be a gold glover on a regular basis and thus is disappointed. But if he just expects him to be a little above average, then the quote seems strangely harsh for a player who had one very good year in CF and one mediocre/poor year in CF.
Here’s the money quote though:
my son (A.J.) played with him for three and a half years in the minor leagues and he said he never saw him run into the fence once in the minor leagues.
They both spent time in Johnson City during 2005 and in Quad Cities during 2006. After that, Colby skipped Palm Beach and jumped a full level ahead of AJ. So there’s some whitewashing of the truth going on in there regarding his Van Slyke’s son’s career. To add to that in 2006, the overlap between Colby (who went on to Palm Beach in the second half) and AJ (who started in the NY Penn League in the first half) at Quad Cities was likely limited. Van Slyke seems to imply that AJ tracked the early part of Colby’s career, which, if that’s what he’s implying or thinks, is false. AJ Van Slyke only “played with” Rasmus in the sense that they were both in the same farm system for three and a half years. They certainly weren’t on the same team for that long.
This particularly rubs me the wrong way because it lends credence to the idea that another knowledgable first hand observer (AJ) never saw Colby run into a fence. (Aside: Why is running into a fence the definitive measure of a centerfielder’s commitment?) I don’t follow what Andy Van Slyke is trying recall from conversations with his son – maybe both AJ and Colby spent some time in Spring Training together each season. There’s strong reason to believe, however, that they played less than 100 games together on the same team.
Van Slyke was asked specifically about Colby’s recent misplays on Bernie’s radio show so the conversation was contextualized in a negative fashion. That said his answer is hollow and misleading to me. Furthermore, it’s interesting to watch Colby seemingly scapegoated despite being off to a red hot start amid a sputtering Cardinals’ offense. The Cardinals are obviously willing to accept below par defense from important defensive positions (second base, anyone?) so what standard is Colby being held to and is it applied evenly? I didn’t hear the radio segment with Van Slyke and, in general, I think he’s right that Colby can and needs to do better on balls hit over his head. On the particulars though, Van Slyke was entirely wrong.