Yoenis Cespedes: Worst to be Best in Home Run Derby

On Monday night, Yoenis Cespedes became the 26th player to win Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby, joining the ranks of such elite power hitters as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr. and … Wally Joyner.

Cespedes edged Bryce Harper in the finals and put on one of the most impressive performances the Derby has seen, starting off by hitting 17 home runs in one round and hitting 32 overall, both feats which tie for third-best in the Derby’s history.

This year’s lineup featured, as it always does, some of the game’s premier power hitters, including robot humanoid Chris Davis and two-time Derby champ Prince Fielder.

Behold, a fully functional (however unsortable, to the great dismay of the author) table of this year’s Home Run Derby participants and some relevant first-half batting/power statistics:

 

Player G PA HR ISO wOBA wRC+
Chris Davis 95 393 37 .402 .458 193
David Wright 90 399 15 .225 .389 154
Michael Cuddyer 74 317 16 .239 .409 149
Bryce Harper 58 242 13 .259 .381 145
Robinson Cano 95 409 21 .266 .351 127
Pedro Alvarez 85 334 24 .266 .351 127
Prince Fielder 94 422 16 .190 .355 123
Yoenis Cespedes 79 341 15 .195 .307 94

American League captain Robinson Cano was given the liberty of choosing three men to represent his team in the world’s annual derby of batsmanship, and he chose Cespedes. An interesting choice, as Cespedes has not been even a league-average hitter this season according to wRC+, but probably not one unwarranted through the eyes of Bud Selig as Cespedes taps into the Cuban market and is still one of the game’s more exciting young players.

And so, in the true nature of sport, Cespedes – the most unlikely of victors given his struggles this season – went out and won the whole damn thing.

Upon Cespedes’ win, I naturally went to his FanGraphs page and noticed his wRC+ was under 100, provoking me to silently think to myself: “I wonder if any other Home Run Derby champion failed to be even a league-average hitter at the time of his crowning?”

Behold, a fully functional and regrettably still unsortable table, this time of past Home Run Derby winners and their relevant first-half batting/power statistics:

 

Winner Year G PA HR ISO wOBA wRC+
Luis Gonzalez 2001 87 388 35 .391 .483 192
Frank Thomas 1995 66 305 21 .333 .472 189
Prince Fielder 2009 88 387 22 .299 .442 174
Jason Giambi 2002 86 381 22 .283 .438 174
Ken Griffey Jr. 1994 87 383 33 .368 .453 172
Cal Ripken 1991 80 353 18 .248 .433 172
Juan Gonzalez 1993 75 316 23 .317 .438 171
Mark McGwire 1992 87 368 28 .321 .419 170
Ken Griffey Jr. 1998 88 395 35 .380 .436 165
Barry Bonds 1996 86 385 23 .276 .422 162
Ryne Sandberg 1990 83 370 24 .272 .427 161
Ken Griffey Jr. 1999 85 384 29 .310 .425 156
Tino Martinez 1997 84 376 28 .317 .411 151
Bobby Abreu 2005 89 397 18 .220 .409 148
David Ortiz 2010 74 305 18 .299 .398 145
Vladimir Guerrero 2007 85 368 14 .222 .398 144
Garret Anderson 2003 92 388 22 .281 .394 144
Justin Morneau 2008 95 412 14 .189 .386 138
Sammy Sosa 2000 86 394 23 .269 .399 135
Prince Fielder 2012 86 371 15 .206 .373 135
Robinson Cano 2011 87 368 15 .225 .368 129
Ryan Howard 2006 84 352 28 .304 .380 125
Miguel Tejada 2004 85 341 15 .195 .364 121
Yoenis Cespedes 2013 79 341 15 .195 .307 94

The answer is no, and it really isn’t even close.

Since the Derby changed to its current format in 1990, no winner has been within 20% of being “just” league average, and a full 57 points of wOBA separates Cespedes from Miguel Tejada’s 2004 first-half campaign.

In fact, Cespedes is only the fourth player to have entered the Home Run Derby as a below-league-average hitter. That’s right, even in the years that Hee-Seop Choi and Damion Easley competed, they had been at least league-average.

In 2005, Ivan Rodriguez had a wRC+ of 97, Rafael Palmeiro came in at 96 in 2004 and you have to go all the way back to 1994 for Ruben Sierra to “top” Cespedes with a first-half wRC+ of 92.

Interestingly enough, they all performed fairly well in the Derby, despite walking away as losers – or, not winners. Each advanced past the first round, with Pudge finishing runner-up to Bobby Abreu’s monster performance. Palmeiro and Sierra each took third.

Similar to how people say the Derby can throw locked-in power hitters into second-half slumps, maybe it can also get struggling power hitters into a groove again. Probably not, but it was an intriguing observation nonetheless.

Robinson Cano had to choose three men to represent his team of lumber swingers to hit dingers, and he threw caution to the wind by choosing Yoenis Cespedes, who had a worse first half at the plate than Cano’s teammate Lyle Overbay. But this wasn’t a first-half regular season baseball game and Yoenis Cespedes doesn’t play first base for the New York Yankees (and now apparently sometimes right field, too). It was the Home Run Derby, and Yoenis Cespedes reaffirmed Robinson Cano’s bold choice by making history.




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5 Responses to “Yoenis Cespedes: Worst to be Best in Home Run Derby”

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  1. Thomas Welling says:

    Great Article!!

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  2. Ray says:

    Excellent article. Thank you.

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  3. Scot Fagerstrom says:

    Well done son!

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  4. The Outsider says:

    Very nice. Note however that historically the pool of players in the Derby has been selected from the All-Stars of that year. Since, Cespedes is the only non-All-Star (to my knowledge) to win (or even compete?) in the Home Run Derby, it’s not wholly unsurprising that he would be the only sub-average hitter who won. Players who are below league average at hitting usually don’t make the All-Star team.

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