Yoenis Cespedes‘ defense currently ranks third in the MLB, according to UZR/150. Here’s how the third-most valuable fielder in baseball sometimes likes to play routine outfield grounders:
Those throws happened in back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday night. Cespedes is now the league leader in outfield assists, with nine. Nobody else in the MLB even has eight. What’s more impressive is that eight of Cespedes’ nine outfield assists have come in the last three weeks. Yoenis Cespedes has more outfield assists in the last three weeks than any other outfielder has all year.
And four of them have come against the Angels. They’ve had enough:
Ok Cespedes. We get it. You have an arm. #Angels
— Los Angeles Angels (@Angels) June 11, 2014
Although it took Cespedes until the middle of May to register an outfield assist, his strong arm should not come as a surprise to anyone. Looking back through scouting reports from 2012 when Cespedes defected from Cuba, you can see the arm strength repeatedly touted as one of his best tools:
Shows solid arm strength that could support right field. Can take a while to get rid of the ball and will need to quicken release and improve accuracy. Might be a half tick better than average. Grade – 50/50
Cespedes has a 60 arm, which would be a weapon in center field and plenty to play right field if he loses a step or for a team that wants to sign him but already has a plus defensive center fielder. His arm stroke isn’t fluid, as it’s shorter than most outfielders and gives his throwing mechanics some funkiness. Regardless of how he does it, his throws have plenty of carry and scouts have generally been pleased with his accuracy.
“I don’t care how it looks,” said one scout, “as long as it gets there and gets guys out.”
Well, it’s getting there, and it’s getting guys out.
As previously mentioned, Cespedes is third in the MLB in UZR/150, trailing only Alex Gordon and Jason Heyward, with an outlandish total of 30.1. For reference, Manny Machado‘s amazing 2013 defensive rookie campaign carried a UZR/150 of 31.8. Cespedes has already amassed more defensive value in left field this season (6.2 UZR) than he did his first two seasons combined (4.4 UZR). And it’s come almost entirely from his arm.
Ultimate Zone Rating consists of three defensive components for grading outfielders. A range component, an error component, and an arm component. Take a look at how Cespedes has graded out this season:
Cespedes’ range has been slightly above average. The same scouts who lauded Cespedes for his arm also mentioned that he takes less-than-optimal routes but that his speed helps make up for it. His one fielding error puts him just slightly below average and it’s obvious in the first two GIFs leading this piece that Cespedes can be a bit clumsy in the field. But, like his speed making up for his route running, his arm strength can make up for his misplays in the field. His arm alone has already been worth five and a half runs this season, tops in the league and equal to over half a win in WAR.
So, how else, other than those two throws against the Angels, has Cespedes accumulated his basically arm-only top-three UZR total?
To the GIFs!
5/14 – Gordon Beckham
The tomfoolery begins with a little help from Eric Sogard. This is the only one of Cespedes’ nine outfield assists in which a relay throw was necessary. Conor Gillaspie smacks a two-out double off the wall in left field. Beckham tries to score from first to tie the game, but Cespedes plays his home wall in Oakland perfectly and delivers a dart to Sogard, who in turn delivers a dart to catcher Derek Norris. One down.
5/23 – Brett Lawrie
Lawrie leads off the fourth inning with a single down the left field line. Cespedes actually takes a pretty clean route to this ball, but the most impressive thing is his plant. Cespedes saves himself a split second – the difference here between Lawrie being safe and out – with an efficient one-step plant and throw. He puts it right on target to second base and Nick Punto makes a nice tag to erase Lawrie’s leadoff hit.
5/25 – Jose Reyes
Two days later, in the same series against Toronto, Cespedes guns down one of the fastest players in the MLB in Jose Reyes. The bases are loaded with no outs here and Jose Bautista singles to left field. One run already scores on the hit and Edwin Encarnacion is on deck. Jose Reyes really has no incentive to test Cespedes’ arm, but does so anyway. Mistake.
5/28 – Miguel Cabrera
Here’s Miguel Cabrera, decidedly not one of the fastest players in the MLB. Cespedes tries to play the bounce off the fence, but instead the ball dies when it hits the wall. Cespedes makes up for this by barehanding it, saving himself a split second in the process. He hits Sogard on one bounce and nails Cabrera.
There were two outs in the top of the ninth inning when this happened. Cabrera tested Cespedes’ arm for the sake of potentially manufacturing an insurance run. Instead, he failed and the inning was over. Josh Donaldson hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth and the Athletics won.
5/31 – Chris Iannetta
Here’s where things really start to get interesting for Yoenis Cespedes. This is his fourth outfield assist in eight days. The score was tied 0-0 with no outs in the top of the second. Again, I’m not sure why Cespedes’ opponent tried to test his arm so early in the game with no outs. Had Iannetta stayed at third, the bases would have been loaded with the top of the Angels order coming up and no outs. Instead, Iannetta went for it and didn’t get it.
Pay attention to the date, score, and more specifically, the inning of this next clip.
5/31 - Kole Calhoun
Yup. Yoenis Cespedes’ fifth outfield assist in eight days was also his second in three batters. This one makes a little more sense, given there were two outs, but the circumstances don’t matter. Test Yoenis Cespedes and you lose.
The Angels sent five batters to the plate this inning. Four singled, one struck out. Nobody scored, thanks to Yoenis Cespedes. As Mark Simon of ESPN pointed out, Cespedes was worth five Defensive Runs Saved in this game alone. Only 13 outfielders have accumulated more than five DRS all year.
6/6 – Chris Davis
Something must have been wrong with Yoenis Cespedes. He nearly went a whole week without an outfield assist! One thing worth noting in all of this: Cespedes’ teammates have done a great job helping him out with athletic tags.
There were two outs in the bottom of the eighth here and the score was tied 3-3. When you consider the situation, it’s not a bad idea for Davis to try to stretch this single. When you consider who’s playing left field, it starts to become a bad idea.
Yoenis Cespedes has been one of the most valuable defensive outfielders in baseball this season. Let me rephrase that: Yoenis Cespedes’ right arm has been one of the most valuable defensive outfielders in baseball this season. He has gunned nine runners on the basepaths. Five have come at home plate. He has more outfield assists in the last three weeks than any other player has all year.
The Angels and their Twitter account may have had enough of him, but the rest of us surely haven’t. Keep on firing, Yoenis.
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