Steamer and I: Yoenis Cespedes

Yesterday marked the triumphant return of the Steamer and I series, as I started things off with a comparison of Michael Conforto’s Pod Projection and Steamer forecast. Today I will continue with a player I am much more optimistic about than Steamer, Yoenis Cespedes.

Cespedes had a dreamy two months with the Mets, driving an overall offensive performance rebound back to the level he enjoyed during his 2012 debut. Though no one expects him to repeat that level of production over a full year, lost in what Cespedes did was that he had already rebounded in his first four months with the Tigers. The Mets performance simply made his rebound more dramatic. So let’s dig into the numbers and find out why I’m so much more bullish than Steamer.

For our projection comparison, all 2015 and Steamer counting stats have been extrapolated to the same number of plate appearances I forecasted.

Steamer vs Pod: Yoenis Cespedes
2015 630 39 6 33 4.9% 20.9% 0.291 0.328 0.542 0.251 0.367 0.323
Pod 630 34 5 31 5.6% 20.7% 0.273 0.316 0.506 0.233 0.348 0.300
Steamer 630 30 3 28 5.8% 21.8% 0.259 0.305 0.464 0.205 0.328 0.292

So right off the bat, we find that I’m projecting a .348 wOBA, versus just a .328 mark from Steamer. For a somewhat established veterans, it’s a sizable gap. That .328 mark is barely higher than his two down years in 2013 and 2014. So clearly Steamer is thinking the inferior version of Cespedes is going to show up in 2016, rather than the superior one that came to play in 2012 and 2015.

Both Steamer and I are forecasting a decline in doubles, but that’s quite the precipitous drop that Steamer is expecting! Check out his career AB/2B rates:

Steamer vs Pod: Yoenis Cespedes AB/2B
Season Team AB 2B AB/2B
2012 Athletics 487 25 19.5
2013 Athletics 529 21 25.2
2014 A’s/Red Sox 600 36 16.7
2015 Tigers/Mets 633 42 15.1
Career 2249 124 18.1
2016 Pod Projection 586 34 17.2
2016 Steamer Projection 550 28 19.6

Why, oh why, are you such a Debbie Downer, Steamer?! You’re projecting a significantly worse rate than his 2015 mark, worse than his career average, and what would end up as the second worst mark of his career! Now it’s understandable that at age 30, he’s going to lose some power and his rate of doubles might deteriorate. But that’s why I’m projecting some regression to 17.2, which is above both his 2014 and 2015 rates. But 19.6 seems far too harsh.

And the triples?! Steamer forecasts that his triples total will be cut in half and notch a new career low. Again, it’s understandable to assume a loss of speed, but this seems like a worse case scenario.

I’m actually slightly surprised we’re relatively close in home runs. He posted a career high HR/FB rate of 18.6% last season and hit nine more home runs than his previous high. But here’s the thing – even with an assumed regression in HR/FB rate, you would figure home run total will be buoyed by a FB% rebound. In 2015, he hit the lowest rate of fly balls in his career. That might stick, sure, but the safe bet is assuming at least some sort of rebound toward his career average. So a rise in fly ball rate is going to offset most of the decline in HR/FB rate. Perhaps Steamer is making these same calculations.

Furthermore, I have access to Cespedes’ batted ball distance and xHR/FB rate components. That mark validates the 18%+ actual HR/FB rate, so his performance was no fluke. Steamer does not have such access, so it’s probably expecting more regression on the HR/FB rate front than I am, but is still able to forecast his second highest home run total thanks to a rebound in fly ball rate. At least that’s what I’m guessing.

So between the doubles, triples, and home runs, now we see how we end up with a large discrepancy in our ISO projections. Surprisingly, my ISO forecast is even higher than the Fans, though just barely above ZiPS.

Aside from the difference in projected power, there’s a small difference between our BABIP projections. Like the rest of his production, Cespedes has sandwiched his weaker BABIP years inside his stronger BABIP years. His career BABIP is just above his career xBABIP, so luck hasn’t been much of a factor it appears. My .300 BABIP projection is just below his career average, which makes sense for a 30-year-old. That .292 mark Steamer forecasts would represent the second lowest mark of his career, which as I have been saying a lot here, seems overly pessimistic.

I think part of my belief in Cespedes stems from the fact that we thought he was capable of supplying this much power from the get-go. We have seen him put on a power show in the home run derby, but he had never translated that massive raw power into elite game power. Now that he seemingly has, everyone is quick to discredit what he did simply because he enjoyed a hot streak that happened to come over a 24 game period when he hit 15 home runs.

Would it be more believable if those home runs were more spread out? How ridiculous is that idea? Who cares when he hit those home runs?! They happened, and whether his 35 long balls were spread out evenly throughout the season or were condensed into just a bunch of hot streaks is irrelevant. Besides, has anyone ever done the research and concluded that power displayed in multiple short spurts is less sustainable than power that’s evenly displayed throughout the season? If so, please share it with me!

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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