On Yoenis Cespedes, Discerning Batter

OAKLAND, CA: Yoenis Cespedes #52 of the Oakland Athletics looks on in frustration after striking out in the seventh inning against the Kansas City Royals at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Yoenis Cespedes has played six major-league games so far. His discipline has been about what many people feared, which is to say he has not been very disciplined.

In his last full season in Cuba, Yoenis Cespedes drew 49 walks, and struck out 40 times. If there were a simple 1:1 translation between Cuban statistics and major-league statistics, you might think that the Oakland Athletics have a regular Albert Pujols on their hands. There isn't, and they don't. You are the most shocked you've been this week.

While recognizing the fallibility of certain plate-discipline statistics, especially this early in the season, and especially after Cespedes played two of his games in Japan, I'd like to point out the following two things:

  • 92 batters have hit at least 20 times so far this season. Yoenis Cespedes has seen the lowest percentage of pitches in the strike zone, at 32 percent.
  • 92 batters have hit at least 20 times so far this season. Yoenis Cespedes has the lowest contact rate when swinging, at 52 percent.

That kind of captures it. That doesn't entirely capture it - what that leaves out is that Cespedes has slugged three home runs, with one of them being of the timeless-highlight variety - but it tells you what you need to know about Cespedes' early batting eye. We figured that Cespedes would come over from Cuba with an aggressive approach. In that regard, he's lived up to expectations, and perhaps then some.

It won't surprise you to learn that Cespedes has baseball's highest strikeout rate. In 22 plate appearances, he's struck out ten times, and two of those plate appearances ended early when Cespedes got hit. What Cespedes does have, though, is a pair of walks. That's more walks than Matt Kemp has! He has more walks than Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Dustin Ackley, and Brett Lawrie, and countless others. That's good, right?

That is good - it's better than Cespedes having one walk, or zero walks. But let's consider these walks. The first was drawn against Luis Mendoza on Monday. Courtesy of Brooks Baseball, here's the sequence:

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Cespedes took the first pitch for a strike, which isn't a surprise given that the first pitch was a low breaking ball. He subsequently took the next four pitches as well, and made his way to first base. Three of those four pitches were very much inside. In fact, they brushed Cespedes back. A sample:

Cespedesmendoza_medium

Even most undisciplined hitters wouldn't have swung at those three pitches. Sometimes undisciplined hitters swing at really inside pitches, don't get me wrong, but it's hard to swing and simultaneously try to move your body out of the way. The 2-and-1 pitch up there is close, and Cespedes deserves credit for taking it. The others ... ehhh.

Cespedes' second walk was drawn against Danny Duffy on Tuesday. Courtesy of Brooks Baseball, here's the sequence:

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Cespedes took the first pitch for a ball, and his back leg flinched as he thought for a moment that the ball might hit him. The second pitch was a strike, and the third pitch doesn't even really show up in the image because it was that terrible. Duffy threw a breaking ball in the dirt that Vladimir Guerrero might - might - have swung at if somebody in the first row had a gun and instructed Vladimir Guerrero to swing at the next pitch he saw.

Cespedes took the 2-and-1 pitch, and it was a close pitch, but video replay and the image above suggest it was actually a strike. Cespedes might have been sitting dead red and looking for a fastball down the pipe that he didn't get. The 3-and-1 pitch was a fastball outside that was never close, given that Duffy's left-handed.

Yoenis Cespedes has drawn two walks, and if you want to get way ahead of yourself, he's on a 55-walk pace in a 600-plate-appearance season. But then, neither of those walks were the most challenging walks, and he's also on a 273-strikeout pace in a 600-plate-appearance season. Mark Reynolds just fainted. I hope somebody revives him!

Early on, Yoenis Cespedes has flashed unthinkable power. I'm comfortable giving him an 80 on the 20-80 power-scouting scale, along with Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper. But his approach has been more or less the approach skeptics were afraid he would have, as he's swung at too many bad pitches and missed too many pitches in general. It's not that he's swung too often - it's that he has not distributed his swings very wisely.

I'm going to remind you one more time that it's frighteningly early, and that Cespedes didn't spend any time in the minors. But his approach wasn't much in the Dominican, it wasn't much in spring training, and it hasn't been much so far in the major leagues. The A's insisted that Cespedes would open on the major-league roster, adding to the talent level of the team and giving the investment an opportunity to provide immediate returns. But what we get to see now is whether Cespedes can make adjustments while facing the best pitchers in the world. There were fears that Cespedes would be Wily Mo Pena with better defense. In the early going, he's looked like Wily Mo Pena with better defense. The A's didn't pay $36 million to sign Wily Mo Pena with better defense. Cespedes' month-to-month splits over the course of the season are going to be fascinating to observe.

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