Analyzing Yoenis Cespedes

Yoenis Cespedes struggled at the plate this year for reasons unknown to most. Analyzing why he struggled in 2013 versus why he was deemed excellent in 2012 all comes down to sabermetrics. Cespedes’ biggest enemy was actually… himself. Through research and statistics, Cespedes swings at too many inside pitches in an attempt to hit more home runs. The pressure from his overshadowed rookie season may have come back to haunt him this past year. His batting average dropped from .292 to .240 and his OPS fell from .861 to .737 all because of a few changes Cespedes made at the plate. The statistics easily point out the causes for Cespedes’ struggles and how he might be able to fix them for next season. Even though it may seem that Cespedes was a much worse batter in 2013, that is not the entire case. He actually was much better at making contact with pitches thrown to the outside of the strike zone, boasting an increase from 59.5 % to 63.7 %.

   1.  Swinging at Inside Pitches Too Often & Taking Too Many Strikes
Cespedes took a swing at way too many pitches inside the strike zone this season. A number that increased from 65.3 % to 71.8 % from 2012 to 2013. In comparison, when Adrian Beltre took a swing at 71.6 % of inside pitches in 2005, he hit .255 with just a .716 OPS. In addition, when swinging at such a high amount of inside pitches, Cespedes’ hit a lower percentage of them as well — going from 84.0 % in 2012 to 80.4 % in 2013. As a result of his tendency to swing more often at inside pitches, he saw an increase of strikes by 2.5 % (1233 of 1979 in 2012 to 1407 of 2169 in 2013). More strikes lead to more strikeouts and a lower batting average. His strikeout rate increased from 18.9 % to 23.9 % just over the course of a single season.

Swinging at the amount of inside pitches that he did, power pitchers took full advantage of his swing, resulting in a .196 batting average. Against finesse pitchers, Cespedes averaged a .263 batting average. (power pitchers are defined as the top third of pitchers when combining the amount of strikeouts and walks. finesse pitchers are defined as the bottom third) When Cespedes fell behind in the count, he proved to be an easy out; with two strikes and any amount of balls, he batted a horrifying .130. Also, Cespedes is often too eager to swing at the first pitch of a plate appearance when he does not have a trace on the pitcher’s style or location. Swinging at the first pitch resulted in a .209 batting average whilst taking the first pitch resulted in a .252 batting average.


2.  Pulling Too Hard for Home Runs
Cespedes certainly tried to hit as many home runs as possible this season; he did pass the previous year’s number of 23 by three and his power assuredly grew. As evidenced by his spectacle at the home run derby, Cespedes possesses a strength like few others in the MLB. However, he often tried too hard to get the ball over the wall, resulting in an increase in fly ball rate from 39.9 % in 2012 to 45.6 % in 2013. The pressure to improve from critics and fans alike might have pushed Cespedes into trying to hit more home runs than he possibly could. Given his time on the DL due to nagging hand injuries, it surprised most that he even hit this many home runs — either because of lost time or wrist pain.


                                                             The power is definitely still there

 3.  BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play)
Cespedes was also just plain unlucky in 2013. BABIP measures the percent of batted balls that end up as hits — either because of defense, luck, or positioning. Basically two-thirds uncontrollable to the batter and one-third placement of the bat. Cespedes ended the 2013 season with a .274 BABIP; whereas the standard and league average nowadays hovers around .300. In 2012, he finished with a .326 BABIP — a lot luckier than this past year. The second reason (pulling for home runs) most likely factors a moderate amount into the regression too. Unfortunately, the causes of BABIP can disguise a player’s true skill level behind solid defense, timing, and bad luck.

The real Yoenis Cespedes is most likely somewhere in between his two major-league seasons but much closer to his rookie season than 2013. Yoenis Cespedes thrived in the spotlight but collapsed under pressure in 2013. His statistics in the 2013 playoffs alone describe his love of the spotlight (.381/.409/.667). Not only does he play well in the playoffs, but he also crushed everyone else in the home run derby this year. Expect Cespedes to be a big bounce-back candidate in 2014 after he can look at why he struggled at the plate. Upon arriving in America from Cuba as a free agent, Cespedes was hailed as a five-tool player and “arguably the best all-around player to come out of Cuba in a generation.” Don’t give up hope on the Athletics’ outfielder just yet.

For more articles like this, visit my baseball analysis and news website: The Wild Pitch

All statistics courtesy of baseball-reference and FanGraphs:

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2 years 7 months ago

Good stuff, and I also believe that Yoenis can still crush the baseball a really long distance. He is going to be a valuable baseball player for a while.

However: How much of Yoenis’s low BABIP can we contribute to luck, really? I know league average is around .300, but BABIP should be taken case-by-case. In YC’s case he had the 5th highest FB% in MLB last year at 45.6%. High FB% is going to lead to lower BABIP, especially combined with a low 16% LD rate. Maybe he is just a lower BABIP guy. I think time will tell a better story, but I’m not ready to chalk the low BABIP up to luck just yet.

2 years 7 months ago

Im agonizing over whether or not to hang on to Cespedes for the upside or replace him with Hunter Pence, the much more reliable, but less upside, keeper choice.

Hopefully Cespedes recognizes these issues and improves.