Yoenis Cespedes: Rookie of the Year in Any Other Year

According to reports, this is how Billy Beane feels.

The casual fan will be excused for not knowing this, but Yoenis “La Potencia” Cespedes is having a phenomenal rookie year.

The Cuban import entered the league this past offseason with a fanfare rivaled only by that of Yu Darvish, who had the weight of his own nation’s media trained on him. But Cespedes — he of the plucky YouTube training video, he of the flight from totalitarian Cuba — has been just as worthy, if not more, of the media’s eye.

His rookie campaign started with a little old fashioned oh-em-gee — three home runs in the opening Tokyo series against the Mariners — but then the excitement petered out as an injury, a muscle sprain in his left hand, stalled his season.

But do not let that trick you. Not only is Yoenis Cespedes crushing the ball this season, he is hitting like one of the best rookies in the league — and if this were any year but Mike Trout‘s, then he’d be in serious Rookie of the Year contention.

After that first series against the Mariners, Cespedes did not slow down. He finished the month with a 123 wRC+, and since he returned from his injury in May, he has done nothing but mash:

Entering the season, we did not know if Cespedes’s skills would translate to the majors. He had the second-best hitting stats in Cuba for several years running, but since Cuba’s league is literally closed to the world, we can only estimate the league’s talent level. But, as I noted in January, even if Cespedes was MLB-level talented, it is unclear what his numbers should look like:

It has been said that the CNL is around the level of competition of High-A ball, which is great and fine, except we have no idea what an elite player would look like if the Dictator of High-A ball forced said player to stay in High-A.

If Evan Longoria or Albert Pujols were trapped in High-A until they were both 28, what kind of stats would they have? We do not know. Perhaps the chief determinate of them becoming elite is that they have moved up levels and matured along the way? Or perhaps their talent would have continued to grow despite their weak competition?

Well now that he’s in the major, crankin’ dongers, it is safe to say he has power and he has a little speed too (8 SB, 2 CS). The early signs on his defense (-12.0 UZR) are not great, to say the least, but for a relatively athletic guy like Cespedes to be punished so hard for a lack of range makes me think he is taking bad routes and getting bad jumps more than he is slogging around like an armored personnel carrier. (Perhaps A’s fans can weigh in on this?) Those kinds of more mental problems might go away with further instruction from MLB coaches (but then again, his Spd score is 1.4 below the league average for center field, so who knows?).

Unfortunately for Cespedes: Mike Trout.

This is the Year of the Trout, and the Angels center fielder will either win the AL Rookie of the Year uncontested, or he will collapse like no other player has collapsed in a long time. So far this season, Trout has 81 weighted runs created (wRC, no plus). Cespedes is second with 50 wRC. Add in the reportedly strong defense of Trout, and the AL is an open-and-shut case.

It is important to note, though, that Cespedes — given his injury — has almost 100 fewer plate appearances this season. But even if we prorated the rookies’ wRC per 600 PA, we still have Trout in a commanding lead:

So Anthony Rizzo, in his short 120 PA in the majors this year, has been Wow. And if Trout were a rookie last year, Cespedes and Will Middlebrooks would be vying for the rookie hitting crown.

In fact, if Cespedes were to post these numbers any time in the previous 11 seasons — 2000 through 2011 — he’d still be in the top 10 for wRC:

And given the different run environments (and the run-less O.co Coliseum Cespedes plays in), Yoenis’s numbers look even more impressive.

At the same time, though, the season is quite unfinished. Cespedes has a .350 BABIP — and though his profile suggests he will be a high BABIP hitter — there is a good chance that will come down. And in June and July, he has had nearly a .400 BABIP. ZiPs projects him to hit .341 wOBA through the rest of the season, which would bring his current .383 wOBA down to .365 wOBA. That would put him at 78 wRC through about 500 PA (or ~93 wRC if prorated to 600 PA).

That is still an undeniably great rookie season — and a wonderful catch for the Athletics, no doubt. If he ends with a non-prorated 78 wRC, Cespedes will not land near the top 10 rookies of the decade, but he’ll have nice company in the form of 2000 Lance Berkman (77 wRC), 2000 Alfonso Soriano (75 wRC) and 2009 Andrew McCutchen (75 wRC).

Here is a look, for giggles, at the top 10 rookie wRC since 2000:

Mike Trout is on a faster wRC pace than rookie Albert Pujols. Good gravy. But Trout will have to get even more playing time than the season likely offers in order to catch Pujols’s rookie wRC. In other words, Albert’s rookie dominance lasted over quite a few PA, something which has yet to be seen with Trout.

But for Cespedes and for the Athletics, this has been a great beginning to what will hopefully be a long and fruitful career. Considering the A’s are paying Cespedes $6.5 million, and even with his -12 fielding runs, he has been worth $6.6 million, it is easy to say his signing was a wise one, if not highly fortuitous, and his rookie season a successful one.

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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.

40 Responses to “Yoenis Cespedes: Rookie of the Year in Any Other Year”

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  1. Cespedes played CF early in the year then they moved him to left after the hand injury. IMO, he looked better in CF right before the hand injury. He’s not a natural LF, so he looks pretty bad out there right now. Poor routes, etc. He’s played CF the last week with Coco Crisp out and he’s been just fine. Just needs time to adjust to playing CF in the Coliseum and in other AL parks.

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  2. VORP is too nerdy says:

    Agreed. Especially since he took over for Coco, Cespedes has shown a lot of range in CF. His LF play, on the other hand, was pretty uninspiring. Earlier in the year it didn’t look like he was getting very good reads on the ball. Now that he has had time to adjust to playing at O.co and around the league, he looks like he’s getting better jumps.

    Cespedes doesn’t have the typical build of a centerfielder; he looks more like he belongs in the NFL as a running back. Still, Jim Edmonds didn’t either, and he turned out to be pretty awesome.

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    • George says:

      To continue with this comparison: history provides us with an NFL running back in the OF (Bo Jackson) that showed a somewhat similar profile, i.e. high ISO, low BB%, high K%, ridiculously effort-filled swings and speed/range. Cespedes may not have the cultural impact what with his lack of monday night football appearances, but his current line (if sustainable) is probably even better. His avg/obp/slg are all currently higher than any of Bo’s career highs, and his K% is about 2/3 of Bo’s (~20% vs. ~30%).

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  3. Danny says:

    lol @ Hinske and Posednik.

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  4. Anon says:

    Cespedes is James Loney v2.0???

    Also, why use wRC prorated to 600PA? Why not just use wRC+?

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    • wRC is a counting stat — akin to RBI — whereas wRC+ is a rate. Honestly, we could use either, but wRC tells how good for how long, while wRC+ just tells us how good.

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      • Anon says:

        I know the differences between counting and rate stats.

        I was asking about the use of wRC/PA*600. Prorating wRC to 600 PA changes the stat from counting to rate. With wRC+ already existing as a rate stat for wRC, what is the benefit of prorating wRC instead of using wRC+? Doesn’t wRC+ have other adjustments as well that make it better for comparing different leagues and years?

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    • AA says:

      James Loney was awesome in 2007. And only 2007.

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  5. Casey McLain says:

    wRC+ isn’t a rate stat and it doesn’t accumulate. It’s a comparative stat. The ROTY award is given by accumulation and rate combined.

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  6. Robbie G. says:

    Given Cespedes’ success, one would think that all 30 teams will be quite interested in pursuing any successful veteran Cuban Leaguers who become available this offseason.

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  7. Matt R says:

    As an A’s fan I can attest to his range being fine for CF. As stated earlier, the speed and raw ability is there and he will only get better as he receives more coaching. And addressing his high BABIP, for most players this is a sign of getting lucky but if you watch even Cespedes’ singles, you can see there is a reason for this; he hits the ball HARD. Probably 75-85% of his singles are blistering line drives and grounders that may be fielded if hit by a player who doesn’t swing as hard and have as much brute strength as Yoenis.

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  8. brendan says:

    bad routes. his range ratings were poor even before he moved to LF.

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  9. John Smith says:

    Cespedes’ excuse for his poor reads was that he’s never played in a stadium with multiple tiers, and he has had trouble reading the ball because he’s used to it hitting sky much earlier. That might be a cop out somewhat; your first read is off the bat, and I assume there are screaming fans behind home plate whether you play in Cuba or the United States (probably more, considering it costs less than twenty-five cents to see a game in Cuba). As far as the LF v CF debate, the people posting here are treating the A’s like the Yankees/Rangers/Dodgers. A’s players rarely get to play their natural position. The other left-field options are not great, considering Seth Smith’s extreme lefty-righty split and Gomes’ poor defense (and bad knees). Anybody seriously talking about Crisp playing left forget 1) he’s a veteran signed for a lot of money (for the A’s at least); 2) he’s whiny about playing left and 3) he has a noodle arm. To get value for what is about 13% of their payroll, to make him happy, and to keep runners honest Crisp playing center when he plays is the best fit for the A’s until and if they can get someone to eat a portion of his salary.

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    • PL says:

      Are you really accusing a guy who moved to America 4 months ago of “copping out” on, well….anything? lol

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      MLB players/veterans do still lose the ball in the lights and even in the white colors in the crowd, as evident by some complaints about the white towels being waved by fans.

      In HS we got to play at Busch Stadium, and on the middle decks there were “white dots” (reflections) from the sun on each one. After I pitched I went to RF … and prayed no one would hit it out there.

      My guess are the balls he has difficult picking up are the lower height fly balls. More distractions and less time to read it.

      Of course, MLB rookies are coming to very large stadiums from small ballparks as well, so it may not be that big of a reason.

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  10. Stranahanahan says:

    As an A’s fan who watches nearly every game, here’s my two cents:
    -To repeat what Cup said above, Cespedes is way more comfortable in CF than the corners. He has looked completely lost in LF recently, but in the last few days while filling in for Crisp he’s shown the ability to cover a lot of ground. I think A’s fans are very split on whether or not he’ll be able to stay in the OF, but I believe he can stay there, he’s too good of an athlete to be relegated to DH.
    -On that note, his speed is underrated. The guy could probably run something like a 4.5-4.6 40. He also runs the bases like a beast, he’s incredibly well skilled in that area. Hopefully that speed will translate to the OF as he gets more comfortable in new stadiums.
    -As others said above, he seems to be the kind of hitter who will be able to maintain a high BABIP. He hits the ball incredibly hard. When he hits groundballs they shoot through the OF. And he’s not a pull hitter so teams won’t be able to play shifts on him either.
    -All in all, he’s one of the most entertaining baseball players I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching play.

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    • PL says:

      DH’s do not sprint 70 yards to make a catch like Cespy did the other night.

      He’s a CF, and only a CF. DHing him was only done because of his hamstring injury, and you want to play it safe with those.

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  11. PL says:

    Trout should be a shoo-in for not only ROY, but MVP as well. Someone said he’d be a perennial 40-40 guy, but his ceiling might be 50-80. He’s like Rickey & Wille in a blender, he’s ridiculously great at all facets of baseball. Cespedes is a scary monster at the plate, with a fearful swing that hasn’t been seen since Gary Sheffield in his prime.

    What I don’t get about Oakland is that Cespedes is terrible at LF but excellent in CF, and Crisp is excellent in CF and excellent in LF. Crisp whined and pouted and hit like a 3rd grader when they started him in LF, but he’s actually been raking lately so maybe they should try to switch them again.

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    • majnun says:

      Lol @ 50/80

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      50-80 is impossible. If you hit 50 homeruns, you will not be on first base nearly often enough to steal 80 bases.

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      • Dustin says:

        I thought Trout was good enough to steal first base??

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      • Jason says:

        Realistically, I agree with you. But let’s do a little math.

        Arod, 1996, his first full season. .358 avg, 124 1B, 54 2B, 1 3B, 36 HR, 59 BB, and 15 SB (4 CS). 215 total hits, 237 chances on 1B or 2B, 51 HR+SB. Relevant info: that’s an 8% attempt rate, 6.3% success rate for stolen base opportunities.

        Trout, this year to date. .347 avg, 73 1B, 21 2B, 5 3B, 18 HR, 36 BB, and 33 SB (3 CS). 117 total hits, 130 chances on 1B or 2B. That’s a 27.7% attempt rate, 25.4% success rate for stolen base opportunities.

        Now, let’s use Arod’s most productive combined HR+SB season, 1998: .310 avg, 131 1B, 35 2B, 5 3B, 42 HR, 45 BB, 46 SB (13 CS), 213 Hits, 211 chances on 1B or 2B, 88 HR+SB. That’s good for a 28% attempt rate, 21.8% success rate for stolen base opportunities, and a 40-40 year.

        For Mike Trout to hit 80 SB in a season, assuming the 210 opportunities from Arod’s 40-40 year, he’ll need to increase his success rate to 38.1%. We’ll gift Trout with the extra AVG to bring that HR total up to 50 without decreasing his SB opportunities.

        A little comparative reference, in his entire career, no less a base stealer than Ricky Henderson only had 4 years where he was that successful at stealing bases. In one of those years, he hit 28 HR, with 87 SB. In his first partial year, in 89 games he stole 33 bases. Mike Trout has 33 SB now with 83 games played this year.

        So, 50-80 is unreasonably far fetched… but not impossible.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        The last time I saw the number 50/80, people were talking about a young Eric Davis.

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      • Robbie G. says:

        God, Eric Davis was so good in 1987.

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  12. Crash Jones says:

    Any talk of Cespedes being a DH only right now is ludicrous. He is awesome in CF, and as I read earlier in a comment “uninspiring” in LF.
    I’ve seen every A’s game this year. He could play Football by his build and watching him play is a lot of fun. His swing is vicious and he’s making contact at higher rates as the season goes. As of yesterday he had the highest batting average in the AL after the all-star game.
    I also read in a comment earlier about his singles being hit HARD. So true. Players dive at the ball and it’s already by them.
    Back to his fielding..when he play’s center, I have seen him make all the right reads and some fine catches. He hasn’t misplayed anything. Not so in left.
    I hope he stays with the team the length of the contract and beyond as he, barring injury, is gonna be a fine player for years to come.

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  13. BASEBALLFAN says:

    Simple question, to all that wish to answer. Do you think a 350BABIP is for real?

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  14. Scott says:

    I did see him get two infield singles the other day. He hit the ball hard to the 3b/SS and just hustled his way to first barely beating throws both times. With them playing back because of his power, 20 of those a season should help substane a higher babip ala Ichiro.

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