Colby Rasmus is bringing his defensive talents to Tampa Bay, vaulting the Rays overall defense back to being one of the best in the game as Rasmus, a center fielder, will likely contribute the majority of the time in left field.
Center fielders typically excel in the outfield corners, and some have made careers playing at the “easier” position. Carl Crawford, Desmond Jennings, Adam Eaton, Brett Gardner. The transition helps turn what might be average defense into superior defense.
That’s exactly what the Rays will bet Colby Rasmus can do for them in left field next season. After he was moved around the outfield last season, in only a half-season’s work in the left field corner Rasmus accumulated 14 Defensive Runs Saved in 2016, the third highest mark in baseball at that position. For players with a minimum 200 innings, no defender had a higher UZR/150 either (31.8), and it’s possible no one exhibited a stronger arm in left.
With no disrespect to Corey Dickerson, whose defense was more than adequate when Kevin Kiermaier was slotted in center despite a weak arm, this is a possibly steal of a deal for a superior corner defender.
Projecting the Defensive Runs Saved
We already know Kevin Kiermaier will be manning center night in and night out. He owns a career 81 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in 2886.2 innings as the undisputed (among Rays fans at least) best defensive center fielder in baseball, and one of the best to play the game. Barring injury, he should be worth somewhere around 30 runs above average alone over the course of 1100 or 1200 innings.
The corners will now likely see some sort of rotation between Rasmus, Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza.
Rasmus has been good for 34 DRS over his 8090.2 career innings, though much of that came last year when he put up a gawdy 20 DRS in only 869 innings. One wouldn’t expect that rate of defensive production again, but something in the 8 DRS range over 1000 innings across all three OF positions seems plausible.
Corey Dickerson will likely split time between LF and DH, but he’s a good enough defender to get plenty of reps out there when the team is facing a righty on the mound. Coming off his first season away from the cavernous Coors Field, baseball fans discovered he’s actually a good LF defender when he doesn’t have a massive outfield exposing his weak throwing arm. That might have earned him more time in the field for 2017.
Repeating his 2 DRS over 600ish innings seems too conservative of a prediction. We could see him doing something like 5 DRS over 800ish LF innings.
Steven Souza might stand to lose the most playing time in the outfield from the Rasmus signing, depending on how the competition shakes out among them. Averaging DRS and UZR suggests he’s almost exactly average on defense. He has considerable upside with the stick, so maybe he would be better suited to split DH duties with Corey Dickerson. If we’re being conservative, we shouldn’t expect much more or less than 0 DRS from Souza over any amount of fielding time.
That brings us to a team total 43 DRS over the course of the 2017 season. That estimate would put the outfield 2nd in 2016 behind the Royals, 2nd in 2015 behind themselves, and 3rd in 2014 behind the Red Sox and Royals.
Obviously the majority of this value comes from Kevin Kiermaier and him staying healthy throughout the season, but signing Colby Rasmus means the Rays should have three average or above outfielders at any given time, even when one inevitably goes down to injury.
Because of that depth, the Rays should have a better outfield defense than last year, and have a very good chance of having the best outfield defense in the majors in 2017.