Angels need to use caution in converting Cory Rasmus to a starter

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There is something to be said when a team makes an under the radar move that on the surface looks to be unsubstantial, but turns out to be a big win down the road. For the Los Angeles Angels, they may have tripped headfirst into a jackpot with their 2013 acquisition of pitcher Cory Rasmus.

Acquired on July 29, 2013 from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for reliever Scott Downs, the move seemed fairly innocuous. The Braves needed a left-hander in their bullpen after injuries depleted their southpaw corps and Rasmus, at 25-years-old, wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire, despite some solid success at Triple-A early in 2013. So the Angels took a flyer on an arm that was slowly losing potential, but had a little something to work with.

It was a gamble that has seemingly paid off.

Rasmus became a fixture in the Angels’ bullpen down the stretch in 2014, posting a 3-1 record with a 2.68 ERA in 24 relief appearances with the Halos. That performance included a very solid 9.2 K/9 ratio and a 1.162 WHIP.

That also earned Rasmus some consideration when it became time to find a spot starter at the end of August. In his first game started since 2011 at High-A Lynchburg, Rasmus went four strong innings against the Oakland Athletics, allowing 1 hit and striking out six on the night. Overall, Rasmus would see five more starts on the year, posting a 2.37 ERA, a 0.842 WHIP, and a 9.0 K/9 ratio when starting ballgames.

Overall, his splits between the two roles were fairly comparable, showing that Rasmus made a nearly seamless transition.

According to Matthew DeFranks of MLB.com, that has the Angels considering transitioning Rasmus to a role as a full-time starter in 2015. Given not only Rasmus’ easy transition to the rotation and the success the team has already experienced converting Matt Shoemaker to a starter, one could hardly fault the Angels for giving this option a look.

However, they may want to exercise some caution in regards to Rasmus and reading too much into those six starts.

Notably, those six starts all saw Rasmus throw four innings or less, basically making them long-form relief appearances, with Rasmus knowing he was on a tight pitch count and innings limit. Granted, you’d expect that kind of usage for a guy that has pitched exclusively out the bullpen for three seasons and most of his minor league career. You have to build up that endurance.

That said, there is a reason why Rasmus has not started a game at any level since 2011. He missed all of 2007 and most of 2008 after shoulder surgery, and then missed almost all of 2011 with more injury concrns. That led the Braves to convert him full-time to the bullpen, a move that seemed to agree with him, both at Triple-A and in the Majors, and he was being groomed as a potential closer. Converting him back to the rotation without the aforementioned innings build-up in the minors won’t do much to waylay those injury concerns.

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  • Additionally, Rasmus has always exhibited control issues in the minors, especially since the previous mentioned missed seasons. Since 2011, Rasmus allowed 88 walks in 160.1 innings of work at the Minor League level, good for a 4.93 BB/9 ratio. Over the entirety of his minor league career, Rasmus owns a 4.3 BB/0 ratio. Somehow, he put all of that behind him once he was recalled by the Angels, posting a much more respectable 2.73 BB/9 at the Major League level in 2014. Now that could be the result of someone finding something to correct in his delivery, but it certainly bears watching.

    The Angels are obviously going to do their due diligence here and make what they perceive to be the best career move for Cory Rasmus and for the team. They will certainly weigh the long-term worries about injuries to Tyler Skaggs and Garrett Richards into their decision, as well as the availability of other players on the trade and free agent markets. With that in mind, they’ll likely come to the same observation I just made above, in that while Rasmus deserves a chance, he certainly cannot be counted on to save the rotation either.

    Sometimes you double down on a good win. Other times you cash out and stay ahead. In the case of Cory Rasmus, it’s all about how you want to hedge your bets.