Has Yoenis Cespedes Already Peaked?

It’s hard to believe it, but Yoenis Cespedes just completed his age 28 season. Because he was a Cuban defector and came to the States later than others who have come here, he’s much older than one might expect given that he has just three full seasons under his belt. So the question is certainly valid as to whether Cespedes has peaked. His trends don’t paint a very pretty picture.

Let’s start with the bad news. His walk rate has declined each season since his 2012 rookie campaign. It has slipped from an exactly league average mark to well below average. Since he’s not a high average hitter, his impatience has led to some rather weak on base percentages, including a sub-.300 mark in 2013 and a .301 mark this year. Next is the issue of his power. Check out his HR/FB rate plotted with his average batted ball distance:

Yoenis Cespedes Power

After consistent marks his first two seasons, he experienced quite a plunge in both his home run power and batted ball distance. Could we chalk this up to injury? A quick search of any such maladies yields little. He missed a couple of games over two different periods with a hamstring issue and then a sprained thumb, but that was it. However, even given the decline in home run power, his ISO remained relatively stable, only dropping 12 points. That’s because his doubles rate spiked, suggesting that balls that used to leap over the fence instead fell short of it and in between fielders.

But there are two pieces of good news. One of them is related to that missing home run power. Take a look at his fly ball rate trend:

Yoenis Cespedes FB

We know that projecting a home run total is accomplished by using three variables — the batter’s strikeout rate, fly ball rate and HR/FB rate. Cespedes’ fly ball rate has surged since his debut and ranked fifth highest in baseball among qualified batters this year. That’s good for his power and precisely why most, including me, likely didn’t even realize that his HR/FB rate had dropped so far. His home run total remained above 20 because of all those additional fly balls. Of course, an extra 71 at-bats compared to 2013 helped as well.

Those fly balls are good for his future power output if he sustains such an inflated rate, but bad news for his BABIP. He has always hit pop-ups at an above league average clip, so when combined with an extreme fly ball tendency, you’re left with little chance that his BABIP jumps back above the league average, which sat at .299 this year.

BUT WAIT! There’s another factor at play here. Cespedes is no longer an Athletic, a park notorious for hampering BABIP due to its expansive foul ground. That’s no longer the case though as it was almost perfectly league average for singles and doubles in 2014. But Fenway Park notoriously boosts BABIP and it still does. It sported a singles park factor about 5% more favorable, but the big difference comes in the form of its effect on doubles. Because of the Green Monster and its short distance away from home plate, hitters knock balls off the wall that normally get caught for routine fly ball outs in other parks, but go for doubles in Fenway if the batter has any semblance of speed. And Cespedes does possess that requisite speed.

This year, Fenway had a 113 doubles park factor. It’s a small sample to analyze for sure, but it’s somewhat telling that Cespedes posted a .278 BABIP in Oakland and then a .325 mark when he got to Boston (including about a .319 mark at Fenway). He may benefit greatly from his fly ball heavy batted ball distribution as he’ll be hitting balls off the wall all season long that go for cheap hits. While the spray charts suggest a hitter who does go to all fields with his fly balls, it’s possible that the park encourages him to become a little more pull happy to take full advantage of the wall.

The last piece of good news is that his SwStk% fell to a career low, all while the league has been trending up. He made significantly more contact both inside and outside the zone, which suggests that he could keep his strikeout rate around 20% and not suffer from another near 24% mark again.

Hitting in the middle of what should be a pretty good Red Sox lineup should afford him plenty of RBI and run scoring opportunities. He’ll chip in some steals and his HR/FB rate should rebound at least somewhat, even if the batted ball distance validates the decline. He’ll have to turn his walk rate around in a hurry if he’s going to come close to that .368 wOBA he posted in 2012, so he very well may have peaked from a real baseball offensive standpoint. But, he still has years of strong fantasy value left in him.





Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Patrick
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Patrick

Do you think Cespedes will lose some home runs due to the Green Monster because he has a tendency to hit his home runs more on a line than a fly?

Brian Petti
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Brian Petti

That was my first thought too. Couldn’t Fenway possibly account for the lower fly ball distance–and the doubles/HR split–if he is knocking line drives off the wall (ala Jim Rice) that would normally be out of other stadiums?

Patrick
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Patrick

The average angle of elevation for all home runs over the past 2 years is about 28 degrees.
Cespedes’ career average is 27 degrees and 65% of his career home runs have been below 28 degrees. On balls hit toward left, his angle of elevation increased to 29 but it was still below the MLB average of 30.

It is interesting to note that in 2014 he reached MLB average by having a career best 29 degrees (30 for pulled). In 2012 and 2013, he hit the majority of his home runs to left-center and in 2014 most went between left and the foul line. This could be a one year thing or a development that would boost he his value due the friendly confines of Fenway.

If I had the time, I could put this information all in a database and do wonders!
Source: http://www.hittrackeronline.com/