On February 13, 2012, the Oakland A’s shocked the baseball world by signing Cuban outfielder, Yoenis Cespedes. They never make big money signings but this time they did, signing him to a four year, $36 million deal. That season, he seemingly led the Oakland A’s to their surprising division title and was thought to be a major candidate for the MVP award for leading the A’s offensive charge. Had it not been for some player on the Los Angeles Angels, I think his name is Mike Trout, winning the Rookie of the Year, Cespedes would have been an easy pick for that award.
During that same season, another Cuban outfielder was signed by a Major League team. This time it was the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 28, 2012 signing 21 year old Yasiel Puig to a seven year, $42 million contract. Puig played in rookie ball and A ball in 2012 before making his Major League debut with the Dodgers in 2013. From that moment on, Cespedes was seemingly forgotten and the birth of “Puigmania” began. Puig, like Cespedes did for the Athletics, led the Los Angeles Dodgers offense in his 104 games with them to a division title. Puig too, lost out on Rookie of the Year but he certainly did provide a strong case for that award.
And this year, Puigmania rolls on but another Cuban slugger has come in as well. Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox (on a six year, $68 million contract) has burst onto the scene, making the White Sox one of the story teams this year. And while it is likely that the White Sox won’t make a run like the A’s or Dodgers did, Abreu certainly will make his strong case for Rookie of the Year.
Each of these players are great, all of them with phenomenal talent. One question that has been brought up with the recent emergence of Abreu is which Cuban player is better. Judging everyone based on the stats that they have put up and seeing how each one stacks up by the common scouting method called, “the five tools,” (the five tools being hitting for power, hitting for contact, speed, arm strength, and fielding ability). I will try to present a case for which one of them is truly the best. Now granted, both Cespedes and Puig have had more playing time than Abreu, but that will be taken into account when judging them.
Hitting for Power:
This, to me, is one of the most interesting of the five tools to compare the players because each of them has quite a lot of power. Cespedes has yet to post up a Major League season where he has not hit at least 20 homers (he looks to be on pace for that number this year again with his 12 homers in 55 games so far), Puig hit 19 home runs in only 104 games last year, and Jose Abreu has done nothing but knock the cover off the ball so far this year hitting 17 homers in a mere 47 games. But as many people who go on this website I’m sure know, there is more to power than just hitting home runs. Extra bases count. Doubles, triples, home runs, all contribute to one’s ability to hit for power.
Looking at ISO, Abreu is far and away the leader in this category. His .353 ISO leads Cespedes (.218) and Puig (.232) by a very wide margin. But since his .353 ISO is in a limited playing time of only 47 games, I have decided to measure the ISO through the first 47 games of both the careers of Cespedes and Puig. Cespedes’ ISO through his first 47 games was .341 and Puig’s was .310. While I can see Abreu’s power diminishing somewhat from this extraordinary power number, I can’t see Puig and Cespedes quite matching his power hitting ability (even though Cespedes really punished the baseball in the 2013 Home Run Derby).
Edge: Jose Abreu
Hitting for Contact:
This too is an interesting statistic to judge because there are so many numbers to indicate contact hitting ability. One could look at batting average to see who the best is but of course that could easily be countered by BABIP. For example, Puig has the highest batting average of the three, hitting .327 but his BABIP (.385) is over .100 points higher than both of the other two. The other two players have BABIP numbers that are remarkably close to their actual batting average. Cespedes’ batting average is at .262 with a .261 BABIP while Abreu’s batting average is at .266 but his BABIP is at .276. But those numbers are just how good someone is at letting the ball hit the ground and reach base with a hit, not necessarily making contact with the ball.
Each player is good at making contact with the baseball. One would think that because Puig has the highest batting average, he is the best at making contact but that is actually not true. In fact, of the three players, he makes contact the least of all of the players. He just happens to hit the ball in such a way that he gets a hit more often than the other two do. In terms of overall contact%, Cespedes makes the most contact with his 74.8% contact rate, Abreu comes after him with 70.9% contact, and Puig is third with 69.9%. When the ball is inside the strike zone, Abreu is slightly better than Cespedes with his 83.3% vs. Cespedes 82.5% (Puig is also fairly close at making contact with the ball 81.6% of the time when it is in the strike zone). When the ball is outside the strike zone, Cespedes is once again the contact king with a contact rate of 64%, Abreu is trailing far behind with only 55.5%, and Puig is again in third with 53.3%. Now granted, Puig’s numbers are improving, but so are Cespedes’ numbers and Abreu is still only in his first season with plenty of time to improve.
Edge: Yoenis Cespedes
Speed (Base running ability):
If anyone is expecting Abreu to be the best in terms of speed and overall base running ability, I’m going to tell you right now to not get your hopes up. Abreu isn’t awful in terms of base running but he is far from great. This is basically between Cespedes and Puig. With more time under his belt, Cespedes does have more stolen bases but they are both equal in caught stealing. Cespedes has stolen a total of 23 bases and been thrown out 12 times (a 66% success rate) while Puig has stolen 16 bases and been thrown out 12 times (57% success rate). Abreu has not attempted a steal yet. Then when looking at actual speed in terms of miles per hour, Cespedes has been clocked at a high of 19.4 mph while Puig has been clocked around 20 mph so Puig has a slight edge in terms of raw speed but not necessarily an overwhelming advantage. To settle the divide, a look at the sabermetrics should settle who is better.
To say the least, Yasiel Puig is reckless running on the bases. He runs very fast but he often runs into outs. So needless to say his BsR is hurting. He has a career -5.2 BsR with his low being in 2013 when he had a -4.2 number and his high being this year at -0.9. Yoenis Cespedes is much smarter on the bases. He doesn’t run himself into outs as frequently as Puig does and so his BsR career number sits at 2.9 with a low of 0.6 in 2013 and a high of 1.4 in 2012. And if that isn’t enough to show that Cespedes is better, his career Spd sits at 5.3 while Puig’s is at 4.8. For the record, Abreu’s Spd is at 2.8 and his BsR is at -0.7 so like I said, he isn’t bad but he just isn’t a very fast guy.
Edge: Yoenis Cespedes
Defensive ability is always thought to be one of the toughest things to measure because there is no real perfect way to calculate it. Another thing making it difficult is that while outfielders Puig and Cespedes basically play the same position, Abreu does not. Since he is the only first baseman in this mix of players, we will look at his numbers first.
When stacking him up with the other first basemen, Abreu really doesn’t seem half bad. In terms of UZR, Abreu is 7th among all first basemen with at least 300 innings played with his 2.2 UZR which is slightly above average. In terms of Defensive Runs Saved, Abreu is 24th among all first basemen with at least 300 innings played with his -4 which is deemed below average. So by no means is he bad, he just isn’t great. Now in the outfield, Puig and Cespedes are different stories.
Puig and Cespedes are both very good defensive outfielders. In his career, Puig has been better defensively posting up a career UZR of 3.5 while Cespedes has put up a 2.7 number. When it comes to Defensive Runs Saved, Puig again holds an advantage with his +7 mark to Cespedes -1. All in all, while Abreu is a decent first baseman, Puig is a very good defensive outfielder (not deserving of a gold glove but none the less is the best defensive player of these three).
Edge: Yasiel Puig
Defensive ability isn’t just catching and fielding the ball, it is also having the arm to make big plays. But it is tough to tell who is best because there aren’t many numbers to point to actual arm strength. Puig has some of the more highlight reel arm throws, in terms of both good throws and bad throws, and so his arm has garnered the most attention of the three. Abreu, being a first baseman generally just has to do underhand flips to the pitcher covering the bag at first and occasionally start a double play feed so his arm is really not tested as much. So again, Abreu is eliminated from the conversation almost before it started. It is again between Puig and Cespedes.
Like I said, Puig has made some of the more highlight reel throws but him being in Los Angeles and in the center of a massive media hub might have some effect on that. Cespedes has made some very strong throws but being in Oakland where not much media attention is seen, he doesn’t get as much time on the highlight reels. Still, the arm of Cespedes is not to be denied. Again, he has played in more innings than Puig has so it would be expected that he would have more outfield assists than Puig, and he does. He has 25 assists, 13 more assists than Puig’s 12. He also has two more throwing errors with three compared to Puig’s 1. But the numbers show that in spite of those throwing errors, Cespedes rARM (Outfield Arms Runs Saved) is much higher, being a 12 as opposed to Puig’s 4. The other statistic to rate an outfielder’s arm is the ARM (Outfield Arm Runs), another stat designed to show runs saved based on throwing ability, that still has Cespedes higher with 13.8 to Puig’s 4.1. So sure Puig has made some good throws, but his arm is not better than that of Yoenis Cespedes.
Edge: Yoenis Cespedes
By judging each player by the scouting five tools, Cespedes does have an edge both in actual scouting reports and by the numbers. Cespedes has the best arm, base running ability, and contact ability while Puig is the best fielding and Abreu is the best power hitter. If only judging by the five tools, Cespedes appears to be the better player but when looking in terms of actual production, Puig has done the best over his career to this point. Posting a 7.2 WAR, Puig matches Cespedes’ exact same WAR in 160 fewer games. Puig also has the highest wOBA of them all (Puig has .415, Cespedes has .344, and Abreu has .396) and the highest wRC+ of the three (Puig with 172, Cespedes with 120, and Abreu with 151). Puig is also the youngest of the three at only age 23 while Cespedes is 28 and Abreu is 27 so there is more time and room for improvement.
And in conclusion, this article would not be complete if I also did not compare the bat flips of the three. So here they are:
And Abreu’s bat drop (I’m sure that he is working on his bat flip though):
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