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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.

Image credit.