Cespedes Not Missing

While many baseball players are not able to live up to the expectations created before they arrive in the big leagues, Yoenis Cespedes has lived up to and probably has exceeded the expectations created around him. When he first started seeing major league pitching in spring training, some baseball experts expected that he may have problems with plate discipline. Cespedes has answered the critics by making more contact with non-fastballs.

Possible problems with Cespedes making contact were noticeable in his second at bat in spring training. Our own Mike Newman stated:

In his third and final at bat, Reds Jeff Francis made Cespedes look silly on a couple of changeups fading away from the righty. 

Mike then noticed that Cespedes was able to make some quick adjustments

As Cespedes extended the at bat, each subsequent changeup became a little easier for him to handle. It was fantastic seeing him make adjustments during an at bat. It may have even been more impressive than the actual home run itself.

This observation mirrors his season. He had a problem making contact and made some adjustments to get better.

The following tables contain his K% and BB% (IBB not included) in two-month groupings.

Month K% BB%
Mar-May 24.4% 7.6%
Jun-Jul 19.4% 5.1%
Aug-Sep 16.2% 7.4%

His walk rate is basically unchanged from the beginning of the season. On the other hand, he has been able to decrease his K% by 8% points. His plate discipline values back up the K% and BB% values

Month Swing % Contact % Swinging Str%
Mar-May 46.7% 66.0% 15.9%
Jun-Jul 47.7% 72.9% 12.9%
Aug-Sep 49.3% 77.3% 11.2%

He is still swinging at pitches just as much as he did at the beginning of the season. As the season has gone on, though he has increased the amount of contact he has made.

As noted by Mike Newman, Cespedes had problems with off speed pitches. Breaking the data down by pitch types shows how he has adjusted on different pitches.

Month Swinging Str% Contact % Swing %
Mar-May 23% 57% 54%
Jun-Jul 26% 54% 56%
Aug-Sep 13% 76% 54%
Breaking Balls
Month Swinging Str% Contact % Swing %
Mar-May 18% 66% 51%
Jun-Jul 17% 67% 50%
Aug-Sep 8% 68% 46%
Month Swinging Str% Contact % Swing %
Mar-May 13% 69% 43%
Jun-Jul 8% 83% 44%
Aug-Sep 9% 81% 50%

With changeups, he is still swinging at them about the same percentage of time as compared to the beginning of the season (around 55%), but has cut his swinging strikes almost in half (23% to 13%).

With breaking balls, he is not swinging and missing at them as much as he did earlier in the season. His main problem at the beginning of the season was balls in the dirt. Here are two examples of Cespedes facing a breaking ball from Felix Hernandez. The first one is from April 7th, where Felix was able to get Cespedes to chase three balls in the dirt that day. In the second plate appearance, which happened 5 months later on September 7th, Cespedes didn’t fall for the low breaking ball.

With fastballs, he made some adjustments early in the season that saw his contact rate increase. No one figured he would have problems with fastballs and he has not.

Yoenis Cespedes started the season with questions about his ability to hit non-fastballs. As the season has progressed, his ability to make contact with these pitches has helped him strike out less. The move of the A’s to signing Cespedes has worked out great, especially with his ability to quickly adjust to the major league pitching.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

17 Responses to “Cespedes Not Missing”

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  1. Bobbee says:

    Great article! And what an amazing athlete to have the privilege to watch. He is a special athlete, and it seems he is only going to get better. Can’t wait to see where he goes from here.

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      • Antonio bananas says:

        For a good prospect package and then he never lives up to expectations because beane understands the production curve as a player ages.

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      • Aaron says:

        Unfortunately, you’re probably right. They’ll trade Swish for prospects, and then send those prospects straight to Oakland for Yoenis. Repeat four years later with next big star.

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      • Antonio bananas says:

        It might not be the Yankees. I’m just guessing some wealthy team does it. This was my exact prediction when they signed cespedes. That he’d produce well for a year or two then in July 2013 or 2014 beane trades him to a desperate team. Cespedes declines, beane laughs, I brag, etc.

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  2. Bowie says:

    I was surprised at that he seemed to have more problems with the fastball than the non-fastball. Swinging strike rate against fastball is quite a bit higher than league average, no?

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    • Aggie E says:

      He has not needed to make adjustments to Texas pitching cause he has bashed my team from the start of the season and probably will these last 3 crucial games. i hope they just walk him a bunch…

      .396 BA 11XbH including 3 HRs

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  3. jwise224 says:

    Excellent analysis! The ability to see the data, read the article, then watch the action is great!

    Cespedes has really been a “best-case scenario” signing for the A’s. It’ll be interesting to see if Jorge Solar can be a similar player for the Cubs down the road. Also, Cespedes’ success should only continue to fuel the bidding for foreign players. The A’s either got lucky or really did their homework (probably the latter).

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    • bobbee says:

      How will it fuel the bidding if teams can’t really spend much more than $4M an offseason on international FAs?

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  4. DowntownChico says:

    Very nice article Jeff. It is to-the-point, thesis driven, and backed up by hard facts (which means I doubt you could ever get a job writing for ESPN). +1 for GIFs usage.

    The article does an excellent job of pointing out the best attribute Cespedes has brought to the Major Leagues, his ability to adjust. Two weeks into the season, there was a scouting report on how to pitch to Yo. Get ahead early, and finish him off with hard breaking stuff on the outside corner. But, by the time the report had been circulated around the league, Yo had already begun to lay off the low breaking pitch. It seems that pitchers never adjusted, and Yo has done a better and better job of hitting against the predictable sequence he has seen a steady dose of.

    I believe this to be the next step for Yo’s plate discipline: It seems most pitchers are immediately going to their best pitch on the first pitch, which allows them to get ahead of him. Due to the discipline he has shown, he is usually laying off the hanging breaking balls on the first pitch. It would be nice to see him sit back on early hanging breaking pitches, and punish the pitcher early in the count, if the pitch is there.

    I’ll be there tonight, hoping Yo continues to be Yo, and helps the A’s clinch extended October baseball.

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  5. Krog says:

    The only downsides for Cespedes have been health and defense. His UZR is atrocious. He has great athleticism but his route running is comical. Hopefully he can improve with experience. Right now he is a good player and exceeding expectations, but he may be able to become a great player next year. He’s been a great bargain for the A’s.

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    • Delirium Nocturnum says:

      His defense in left – a position he had not played previously – has improved significantly. Granted, I’m not checking UZR for his latest rating – nevertheless, it appears true to my eyeballs.

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      • Hayden says:

        That’s exactly right, Delirium. His routes have been pretty bad, and in July or so I remember a couple games in a row where he should have been able to cut off doubles. But he’s definitely getting better and has gotten to a couple of balls very few left fielders would ever get to — he has athleticism to burn. I’d put my money on Cespedes and Reddick as the best pair of corner outfield arms, too (of course Crisp can hardly get the ball back to second, so it all evens out).

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      • bobbee says:

        His UZR in the last couple of months has been a tick above 0, I believe. IIRC he was somewhere around a -12.0 in mid July or so, and he’s now at -9.6. My eyes seem to back this up as well, granted I’m no scout, but it’s pretty clear he’s starting to figure things out out there.

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  6. jim says:

    i’d love to see a full, healthy season from cespedes next year. billy beane did it again

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  7. Antonio bananas says:

    What age does bat speed slow? I would guess that already at 26, his window to be elite is already closing.

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  8. andys says:

    He’s not missing? hoo. Thank God.

    Good thing they found him.

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