- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

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.