There were plenty of expectations placed on the Toronto Blue Jays heading into the 2013 season. The word "expectation" has not been kind to the team, as the reality of the situation is that the Jays have not lived up to them.
With that in mind, picture yourselves before the first pitch was thrown on this mesmerizingly disappointing Blue Jays season: You look up and down the lineup and the rotation without finding one major glaring hole; you see names like Dickey, Bautista, Encarnacion, Reyes, Johnson and wonder which of them would prove to be the team's most valuable player come the end of August.
I bet Colby Rasmus' name did not immediately pop up in your mind.
Nevertheless, in a season defined by disappointment, there have been a few silver linings, and the Jays centre fielder would certainly fit in that category.
Rasmus has very quietly put together his strongest and most complete campaign as a Blue Jay, outperforming the All-Stars like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
It's safe to assume that none of the starting pitchers on the Jays roster have been as productive as Rasmus, Encarnacion or Bautista, so let's compare these three players, starting with the straight, standard offensive statistics:
Encarnacion: .273 / 31 HR / 93 RBI
Bautista: .259 / 28 HR / 73 RBI
Rasmus: .273 / 18 HR / 60 RBI
If Rasmus is not on the same level as Encarnacion and Bautista for typical run production stats, he's at least in the same ballpark. While Encarnacion and Bautista have both created just over six runs per game, Rasmus currently sits at 5.9 RC/G. If scoring runs are the name of the game in baseball, Rasmus has been one of the Jays' top performers.
However, scoring runs is just one part of baseball, and Rasmus has separated himself from his teammates with his defensive significance.
Significance is a great word to describe Rasmus' overall effectiveness in centre field.
The old-school saying is that defence up the middle is hugely important to success on the field. Basically, having strong defenders at catcher, shortstop, second base and centre field is more important than having defensive stalwarts at any of the other positions.
Rasmus has patrolled the Jays outfield incredibly effectively in 2013.
While there are certain intangibles with having a reliable and confident centre fielder, there are some metrics that reveal Rasmus' defensive performance in 2013.
Last year, Adam Jones won the AL Gold Glove for centre fielders, and Mike Trout is widely regarded as one of the best defensive centre fielders in the major leagues.
Defensive runs saved above average is a stat that essentially attempts to assign the number of runs a fielder saved or cost his team. Here are the defensive runs saved above average stats for Rasmus, Jones and Trout from 2013, along with their defensive wins above replacement:
Adam Jones: -3 / 0.1
Mike Trout: -9 / -0.8
Colby Rasmus: +7 / 1.1
Statistically, Rasmus is only one of the top pure centre fielders in the majors in terms of defensive ability.
If Rasmus was competing with Encarnacion and Bautista for who has been the Jays' best player in 2013, defence has set him apart.
Both Encarnacion and Bautista have fairly average defensive numbers, with -1.3 and 0.0 dWARs, respectively. While Bautista is dangerous and flashy in right field, his position is much less crucial to a team's overall defence, making Rasmus much more valuable.
Diving into more detailed statistics shows that Rasmus has been as valuable or more valuable than the typical Jays "stars." He trails only Bautista in total wins above replacement, leads the team in defensive wins above replacement and leads the team in wins added.
While the numbers support Rasmus' breakout season, sadly, the easiest part of declaring him the Jays' best player from 2013 is that his play has been encouraging rather than disappointing.
It's a testament to the team's struggles that Rasmus, who has had a solid but not spectacular season, has been the roster's most reliable performer.
All statistics via baseball-reference.com.