Yoenis Cespedes, Center Fielder

Yoenis Cespedes will return to the Mets, and from the team’s side of things, there’s almost nothing not to like about the arrangement. Even in the worst-case scenario where Cespedes just ends up a dead $75 million, he’s off the books before the starting pitchers hit free agency. And far more likely is that Cespedes opts out in a year, making him sort of an extended rental, without the long-term concern. Mets fans get to see their team spend, and they get to embrace a dynamic outfielder without bearing witness to a frustrating decline. If Cespedes opts out, the Mets can collect a draft pick. He’s better than what the Mets were going to go with, and Juan Lagares is still around to help, even if this means Alejandro De Aza has to disappear. The Mets’ chances of winning everything just got better.

It’s cause for celebration. Cespedes even turned down a bigger guarantee to go back to New York, because he likes it there, and this money might not otherwise have gone back into the team. Of course, Cespedes is unlikely to repeat his 2015. He blew past his career numbers, and with the Mets, he got to feast against some light stretch-run competition. People are aware that Cespedes struggled in the playoffs, and people are aware of his barely-.300 OBP. His game is power, and power’s inconsistent. But Cespedes has yet to be anything but an above-average player. The Mets know what they have in Cespedes as a hitter. What they don’t know, as much, is what they have in Cespedes as a defender. It’s probably the biggest question about his 2016.

Cespedes has mostly played left field. Now he’ll regularly be slotted in between Michael Conforto (who’s fine) and Curtis Granderson (who’s fine). He has a limited history of playing center field in the major leagues, and his time playing center in Cuba is probably of little relevance. It’s easy to see there’s some risk here, although two things help: the Mets’ strikeout-happy pitching staff, and the presence of Lagares on the bench for certain later innings. To some extent, the Mets are already protected.

How might Cespedes do as a center fielder? The first thing you might do is look at the numbers. In his career as a left fielder, he has a UZR/150 of +14. In his career as a center fielder, he has a UZR/150 of -18. DRS paints the same picture. So based on the first glimpse, this looks like it could be bad, and Cespedes does have more than 900 innings of center-field experience, which isn’t nothing.

That’s not where you should stop, though. That wouldn’t be at all fair. At the very least, you should weight Cespedes’ left-field numbers by his center-field playing time, for a more appropriate comparison. After all, he hasn’t split time evenly all four years. Do that and Cespedes’ weighted career UZR/150 in left field is +5. That takes a substantial chunk out of the difference.

Still, there’s so much more you can do. Like introduce some regression, given Cespedes’ limited center-field sample. Shin-soo Choo, in his full year in center field with the Reds, posted a UZR/150 of -17. (That team also won 90 games.) Cespedes should probably be a better center fielder than Choo was. There’s also now the matter of Cespedes having time to prepare for this assignment. Last year, he moved over to center field on the fly. The year before, he played only very occasional center field. The year before, it was the same thing. And while Cespedes started as a center fielder as a rookie, at that point he was adjusting to literally everything in the US. And he didn’t play so much center field after May. He just hasn’t had that much of a chance.

For more information, we have a few routes. As an example, since 2002, we have 16 cases of a player getting regular time in center field a season after getting regular time in left or right field. These are players who made adjustments similar to Cespedes, and in the first year, as corner outfielders, they averaged a UZR/150 of +8.2. In the second year, as center fielders, they averaged a UZR/150 of -0.7. They declined as a group, of course, because center field is a tough position, but this basically agrees with our normal positional adjustment of 10 runs between the spots. Based on this, the expectation should be that Cespedes will be okay. Neither great nor terrible.

There’s another possible approach, making some use of the Fan Scouting Report. I know this is a little more “experimental” since fans aren’t always experts, but what we have are fan evaluations of Cespedes’ tools in left field, and we also have fan evaluations of other individual tools in center field. I put all the center fielders together and ran some math to figure out which players were evaluated to be most similar to Cespedes last year. Two stood out as the closest comparisons: Marcell Ozuna and Leonys Martin. Ozuna finished with a UZR/150 of -3, with his arm making up for his range. Meanwhile, Martin finished with a UZR/150 of +15, although he did finish short of 700 innings. The interesting thing about Martin is this: for his career in center, he’s got +29 arm runs, and -2 range runs. For his career in left, Cespedes has +27 arm runs, and +8 range runs. Martin’s arm is what’s made him an elite center fielder. Cespedes’ arm hasn’t yet translated to his time in center, but there’s no reason to think it shouldn’t, and that’ll make up for some balls that drop in. The range, the routes — Cespedes isn’t going to look like Kevin Pillar. But his arm should compensate for some of that. It’s very clearly one of his strengths.

I don’t think Cespedes has a chance of finishing at +15, mind you. Something like Ozuna seems more likely, and something like Ozuna would be just fine, because the Mets know Cespedes will hit enough, and his defense shouldn’t be a killer. Despite his physical gifts, he’s not a graceful defender, and sometimes that’ll be exposed when he’s playing in the middle. Hits will drop in, and a few will probably clang off his glove. Yet because of the arm, Cespedes will hold his share of runners, and he should also throw a few out. He should have the arm that Lagares, last year, had taken away from him. So I don’t quite think we’re looking at another Choo. And, one more time, that Choo team won 90 games anyway. That’s what the Mets’ll be shooting for.

If, for whatever reason, the arm just doesn’t carry over to center, that’ll be a thing. Lagares is still around, however, and that’s helpful. And Cespedes is going to have time to work on his routes and to work on his reads, and this is an opportunity he hasn’t really had. This spring will be nothing like spring 2012, so he ought to look more polished. He’s never going to look that polished, defensively. But the power arm makes up for defensive shortcomings, just as the power bat makes up for offensive shortcomings. Yoenis Cespedes is a hell of a powerful player.



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Noah Baron
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Noah Baron
4 months 1 day ago

I’ve pointed this out before: Almost all of the difference in Cespedes’ UZR/DRS between CF and LF is his arm.

Intuitively, this doesn’t make any sense; you’d think his arm would play at any position. But he’s presumably gotten almost all of his outfield assists from left field, a trend I don’t expect to continue.

I’d expect for Cespedes’ UZR in CF to recover simply because he isn’t going to stop throwing out runners now just because he’s playing center. As long as the arm is valuable, he should be decent enough in center field.

Paul22
Member
Paul22
4 months 1 day ago

The lack of heavy deferrals and the much higher AAV means the NPV was likely about the same. Also, the value of a 1 yr optout at Cespedes age is far more valuable than one at yr 2. Less competition in the FA market, and a higher LT threshold, and a repeat of 2015 to remove doubts it was an outlier, and Cespedes should do quite well. Pretty sure he will insure himself against an injury that prevents him from exercising the optout and getting more years/dollars, and the insurance alone could put him over 100 million if he cant opt out (over 3 years).

Only glove, no love
Member
Only glove, no love
4 months 1 day ago

That is a fascinating point about insurance. Has this been addressed anywhere?

It would really change how one thinks about the contract.

CliffH
Member
CliffH
4 months 1 day ago

No way in hell Cespedes is taking out insurance against an injury that would prevent him from getting more money by opting out. He already has a $50M insurance policy. Remember the insurer isn’t going to offer a policy if they are not expecting a substantial profit, all the more so with a very high dollar, high risk proposition that is not well understood. It would be literally insane for Cespedes to buy additional insurance over the $50 guaranteed contract he already has.

HarryLives
Member
HarryLives
4 months 1 day ago

There would have to be some really heavy deferrals to bring the NPV of a 5/$100 million deal to the NPV of a 3/$75 million dollar deal. Even if you assume that the $100 mil is paid out over 10 years, the NPV is still $10 million greater than the deal with the Mets (using a 5% discount rate). If you assume that he’s paid $20 mil a year for 5 years instead of $10 mil a year for 10 years, then the NPV is $20 mil more than the deal with the Mets. Of course, the opt-out has some value, but we don’t know whether the Nats offer had an opt-out. We don’t know whether any money in the Nats offer was deferred, either. Cespedes could still come out better financially in the long-run with the Mets’ deal, but it’s not bc the NPV of the Mets deal is close to the AAV of the Nats’ reported offer.

Trotter76
Member
Trotter76
4 months 11 hours ago

I’m no accountant, so I won’t pretend to be an expert here, but barring a career ending injury (always a possibility), if Ces doesn’t opt out, he would only need to sign a 2 year/$25M contract to match the Nationals offer … and that’s if there was no deferred money, which isn’t the case. For a player willing to bet on their own future performance, the ability to follow this contract with a 2 year AAV of $12.5M should be a slam dunk.

So it’s a lower guarantee, but come the end of 2020, I’d be very surprised if Cespedes hasn’t made significantly more than $100M between now and then.

dovif
Member
dovif
3 months 29 days ago

Except 75 mil is for 3 years of service and not 5. A 10/1year deal is much better than a 20/10year deal

Dave from DC
Member
Dave from DC
4 months 1 day ago

“In his career as a left fielder, he has a UZR/150 of +14. In his career as a center fielder, he has a UZR/150 of -18. …

That’s not where you should stop, though. That wouldn’t be at all fair. At the very least, you should weight Cespedes’ left-field numbers by his center-field playing time, for a more appropriate comparison. After all, he hasn’t split time evenly all four years. Do that and Cespedes’ weighted career UZR/150 in left field is +5. That takes a substantial chunk out of the difference.”

I’m missing something: why do we need to weight by playing time? UZR/150 is a rate stat, and the 4 year total doesn’t appear to be an average of the 4 rates. If it were, I would see why we’d need a weighted average, but if it uses the components from all 4 years and then rescales to 150, doesn’t that already account for playing time differences? Any help would be appreciated.

Kevin Krueger
Member
Kevin Krueger
4 months 13 hours ago

Sully, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is a quick and dirty attempt to compensate for the statistical variation inherent in small sample sizes of defensive statistics. The -18 UZR/150 is a rate stat, but the uncertainty on it is huge because of the limited innings and relative imprecision of UZR. So weighting the rates gives you more precision (at the expense of some accuracy) via a regression of sorts. Hope that helps!

Dave from DC
Member
Dave from DC
4 months 12 hours ago

Thanks, that does help. I’m not convinced of the methodology there, and would love to hear more about the rationale. Also, I’m puzzled by how weighting can drop his UZR/150 in LF all the way to +5.

theperfectgame
Member
theperfectgame
4 months 1 day ago

Is it a sure thing that the Mets can recoup a pick? If Cespedes opts out, he’ll only have 5 years of MLB service. Presumably he has a release clause written in so that the Mets wouldn’t just be able to offer arbitration in the event of an opt out. In that case (a release), wouldn’t the Mets be unable to extend a qualifying offer?

wobatus
Member
wobatus
4 months 1 day ago

Ken Rosenthal reports that yes, the Mets can extend a QO if he opts out and get a draft pick if he rejects.

dovif
Member
dovif
3 months 29 days ago

I don’t see why he need an opt out. If he does not think he will earn significantly more than 2/50. He would not opt out. He would only opt out if he was a top 15 player

wobatus
Member
wobatus
3 months 29 days ago

He could get that 25 average but over a longer deal.

formerly matt w
Member
formerly matt w
4 months 1 day ago

“Last year, he moved over to center field on the fly.”

And for ground balls that made it between the second baseman and shortstop.

Seth Samuels
Member
4 months 12 hours ago

Something I’ve wondered about a lot is the play-to-play variance of performance, as opposed to the average. In watching Cespedes play center last year, I actually thought he generally took good routes and covered ground well. He just occasionally made boneheaded plays like the one in game 1 of the WS, when he wasn’t sure if it was his ball or Conforto’s. In fact, my recollection is that his UZR was a little above average in center until he let a Michael Taylor groundball get through him and turn a one-run single into an in-the-park grand slam, at which point the numbers turned against him.

So here’s my question. Let’s assume for a moment that my observations are accurate. If Cespedes has average-to-above-average range, routes, etc, but once a month will make a mind-boggling miscue, is that better or worse than a CF who comes out to the same overall performance by having worse range but more consistent play? I’m not sure what the answer is. You’d rather have a pitcher who allows 60 runs on opening day and then throws 29 shutouts than a pitcher who gives up two runs a game for 30 starts, right? But you’d also rather have a hitter hit a home run in every game than start the season with 162 homers and then go 0-for-everything. This is something I’ve seen very little research on, and it’s a fascinating question to me.

Trotter76
Member
Trotter76
4 months 11 hours ago

Sounds a little like both Murphy and Colon in some ways, and I find this an intriguing question for the statheads around here.

Murphy was the same way you describe, both as a fielder and a baserunner. You’d watch him make routine play after routine play, and the occasional diving play into the hole and be tempted to believe he’s that much better than he gets credit for. Then all of a sudden he lets one go under his glove or forgets how many outs there are (despite it being on about 14 scoreboards that can be seen looking in ANY direction! This drives me crazy!). Anyway, the point is you hope it doesn’t happen with runners on in the 8th inning of a World Series game, but we all saw how that turned out. Maybe there’s something to be said for the unimpressively consistent player there.

As for Colon, I always feel like his ERA or even FIP doesn’t do him justice because he seems like from start to start he’s a 1.00 or a 7.00 pitcher, but never the 4.00 pitcher his overall numbers average out to.

Shirtless Bartolo Colon says in Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back to John Elway
Member
Shirtless Bartolo Colon says in Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back to John Elway
4 months 3 hours ago

Namor has the skills to play CF, but does his defense really matter much when Harvey Dent or Iron Man are pitching?

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