Yasmany Tomas’ Plate Discipline Makes Me Nervous

The baseball community — owners, scouts, fantasy analysts et al. — is slowly learning how Cuban hitters plucked from the Cuban National Series (CNS) perform in Major League Baseball. Unfortunately, the sample size is not increasing very quickly. The common fantasy owner is helplessly resigned to rely on a) scouting reports, and/or b) his or her own eyes, probably via a batting practice video uploaded online. Ideally, a Cuban hitter’s salary would serve as a proxy for what one could expect offensively and defensively from his imported bat and glove, but the market, and the information that defines it, is far from perfect.

The market for Cuban hitters is a pendulum, but rather than coming to rest, it is in full swing: hitters such as Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu, who are all but locks to fulfill the value of their modest contracts and then some, have plumped up the market for international signees. The Diamondbacks’ Yasmany Tomas, therefore, should not be compared to Abreu simply because the average annual values (AAV) of their contracts are almost identical. The dynamics of this particular market are nebulous, changing with every transaction.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t compare Tomas and Abreu statistically. Comparing the CNS and MLB performances of hitters more recently signed out of Cuba can still give us at least a faint idea of how we can expect Tomas to perform. This is my hope, at least. I’ll be the first to admit the analysis that follows is not as rigorous as I wish it could be, as the sample of contemporary, fantasy-relevant Cuban hitters who recently played in the CNS simply lacks breadth.

I compared each hitter’s plate discipline between his last season in the CNS and his first in the MLB. Keep in mind the average MLB hitter struck out and walked somewhere in the vicinity of 21 percent and 8 percent of the time, respectively.

  Last year in CNS First year in MLB
Name K% BB% K-BB% K% BB% K-BB%
Jose Abreu 11.3% 15.3% -3.9% 21.1% 8.2% +12.9%
Alexei Ramirez 8.7% 11.4% -2.7% 12.0% 3.5% +8.5%
Leonys Martin 12.7% 15.0% -2.3% 20.5% 5.5% +15.0%
Yoenis Cespedes 9.7% 11.9% -2.2% 18.9% 8.0% +10.9%
Yasiel Puig 10.3% 11.8% -1.6% 22.5% 8.3% +14.2%
Dayan Viciedo 14.1% 11.7% +2.3% 22.1% 5.2% +16.9%
Yasmany Tomas 18.0% 8.1% +9.9% ? ? ?

It is a coincidence that Tomas appears at the bottom of this list, and it is also not a coincidence. I’m concerned about Tomas’ plate discipline. In every instance above, a hitter’s strikeout rate increased by at least 37 percent and his walk rate decreased by at least 32 percent upon transitioning from the CNS to the MLB, which doesn’t bode well for Tomas. Obviously, this doesn’t mean Tomas’ fate is already sealed. But most of his contemporaries walked more than they struck out in Cuba; Viciedo, the only one who didn’t, was recently designated for assignment by the White Sox, and yet his plate discipline in his final CNS season was still leagues better than Tomas’. If Tomas’ K%-BB% margin was even remotely close to the rest of the group’s, I could rest easy, but it’s simply and profoundly not.

For giggles, I ran a hilarious, statistically egregious, surprisingly well-fitting linear regression to see how CNS strikeout and walk rates correlate to MLB plate discipline.

I have plotted Tomas’ expected plate discipline appropriately along the Y-axis (ignore its horizontal placement). My super-highly sophisticated model predicts the margin between Tomas’ K% and BB% will be 24.1 percentage points. No matter how you paint it — 24 K% and 0 BB%, 34 K% and 10 BB%, etc. — it’s not pretty. That’s Chris Davis and Chris Carter territory — certainly not uncharted territory, and not even that bad of company, really — but those guys supply premium power coupled with an Adam Dunn batting average. If Tomas can’t quickly translate his 70-grade raw power to the Big Show, he could render himself fantasy deadweight until he learns to adjust.

Small sample caveats abound, but I see excellent plate discipline in Cuba translating into average-at-best plate discipline stateside, at least at first, and Tomas has yet to exhibit anything that resembles excellent plate discipline.

Last year in CNS First year in MLB
Name babip HR% SB% babip HR% SB%
Yoenis Cespedes 0.302 8.0% 2.7% 0.326 4.3% 3.0%
Alexei Ramirez 0.339 5.1% 1.3% 0.294 4.1% 3.2%
Jose Abreu 0.354 5.0% 0.5% 0.356 5.8% 0.5%
Dayan Viciedo 0.272 4.7% 0.8% 0.286 4.6% 0.0%
Yasiel Puig 0.344 4.2% 1.3% 0.383 4.4% 2.5%
Leonys Martin 0.349 3.1% 8.3% 0.319 1.6% 7.1%
Yasmany Tomas 0.339 2.2% 2.2% ? ? ?

At this point, it’s not a good sign when Tomas appears at the bottom of another table, the latter of which is sorted by HR%. However, the fallout from using only data from each hitter’s final CNS season omits seasons during which a hitter may have exhibited more power. The most prominent examples are Abreu and Tomas, whose worst seasons in terms of power are the ones you see above. Tomas recorded his best home run rates in the two seasons preceding it (6.8 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively). That metric in a vacuum makes him comparable to Cespedes, and Tomas will be two years younger when he debuts, leaving more room for development.

Meanwhile, Tomas’ stolen base rate falls between Ramirez and Cespedes, both of whom stole bases every 30 to 35 plate appearances or so in their MLB debuts. (Kiley McDaniel, however, grades Tomas as a 45 runner in his Sept. 25 scouting report). And there’s no reason (yet) to believe Tomas can’t sustain an above-average batting average on balls in play, unlike his DFA’d counterpart, who could do it neither in Cuba nor stateside.

I create my own projections, but I will not burden you with those. Nor will I tell you what to do with your auction budget or draft strategy. You have probably read a lot about Tomas already, and it is your job to form your own opinion about the guy. I can say with marginal confidence that it appears Tomas will provide 20-plus home runs and, if he’s feeling frisky, maybe even double-digit steals, given what appears to be a non-zero amount of baserunning acumen. I wouldn’t draft him hoping for the latter, though.

My only reservation is just as the pendulum is swinging back in the Cuban hitter free agent market, so it swings in the draft room — that is, just as teams have become more bullish about international signings, so, too, will fantasy owners. I foresee Tomas’ draft price inflating beyond his end-of-season value, but that’s in the context of the shallow leagues I’m in and the owners against whom I compete. If you’re the type of owner who punts batting average, he could be a great play for your strategy.

With comps ranging from the fairly obvious (Cespedes and Viciedo, per Kiley’s scouting report) to the proximal (teammate Mark Trumbo, per Jeff Sullivan), Tomas should provide a fair amount of value and not be a complete bust, let alone a regular bust. And his positional flexibility will help, given he is his eligible as an outfielder on many sites despite the Diamondbacks’ intentions of slotting him at third base. I’m just nervous that the Viciedo in him will overpower the Cespedes, thus draining the value from his bat. If you are impulsive and impatient and can’t stick out an offensive dry spell, you may want to turn your attention elsewhere.

Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Two-time FSWA award winner, including 2018 Baseball Writer of the Year, and 8-time award finalist. Previously featured in Lindy's Sports' Fantasy Baseball magazine (2018, 2019). Tout Wars competitor. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.

newest oldest most voted

Anyone think this guy is worth being an Under 25 keeper?
Him or Baez?