Now that the dust has settled on the 2014-15 Winter Meetings and we’ve begun to digest the degree to which MLB rosters have changed, we can start to look ahead at the players the Tigers acquired during the shakeup. In this case, let’s try to set aside the nature of the various trades and simply consider the players who will now be Tigers, starting with Yoenis Cespedes.
Cespedes is what I would call a “name player,” meaning that his reputation is that of a star player, regardless of his actual ability. This cuts both ways. Cabrera is a name player and a legitimate star, and someone like Matt Carpenter isn’t a name player but is a real star. Cespedes is name famous. You know him from his training videos, his bold personality, prodigious power, and awesome arm. Those are all good qualities, but they’re qualities that outrun the actual greatness.
Cespedes is a good player, but he’s not an MVP type player. He’s never hit or fielded like a superstar. That’s okay. You need those kinds of players. Bottom line up front: Cespedes will be a valuable and popular player but not a superstar.
Let’s run down what he offers as a player.
An Outstanding Arm
You’ve probably seen the highlight reel throws.
Obviously, anyone with that amount of raw ability is going to be fun to watch, but it’s not just about the raw ability (Matt Anderson could throw 101 but that didn’t make him good), it’s about the consistency and deadliness of the tool. In 2014, he saved between 11 and 14 runs above average with his arm alone according to UZR and DRS. In previous years, that number was more like 2-7, but it was also in fewer innings. Even if his arm is a +8, that’s outstanding.
His range was poor in his first season and has been closer to average in the two seasons since, with a pretty normal distribution of great plays and errors (not involving his arm). In other words, he seems like a pretty average corner outfielder otherwise, but one who has an incredible arm.
For his career, he’s been a slightly above average corner man, but that includes a very poor first year and a great 2014. We can probably split the difference and call him an above average corner defender all things considered.
But let’s talk a little more about his arm. I know a lot of people don’t love hearing about runs above average because they can’t internalize the meaning, so let’s talk in more concrete terms.
In 2014 (small number of CF opps excluded), a single was hit to Cespedes with a man on first 55 times and only six of those runners went to third base. With a man on second and a single hit, only 10 of 31 runners made it home with 8 of those other 21 others getting eliminated on the bases. 12 of 28 men on first during a double scored. Only one of 14 advanced to third from second on a fly out.
He held 68% of the base runners who had a chance to take an extra base (MLB average is 63%) in 2014 and he threw out another 10, meaning that his “kill%” was 7.5% (MLB average is 2.2%).
The dude has a great arm.
Cespedes is a feared hitter, without question, but when it comes to sizing up a pitch, he’s relatively aggressive. He has a 6.5% walk rate in his career after posting a 5.4% walk rate in 2014, both of which are well below average. He strikes out plenty, but he’s kept it right around league average (20.9% for his career). This lack of walks, average strikeout rate, and average BABIP-skill means he doesn’t run a high average or high OBP.
His career OBP is .316 and that’s lifted up by a .356 OBP in 2012. In the two years since, it’s been .294 and .302. He simply doesn’t get on base very often, at this isn’t just a little bad luck. He doesn’t walk and doesn’t hit for a high average. It’s always something that can get better as he ages, but he’s an aggressive hitter for better or worse.
His contact issues improved in 2014 (80% up from 73%, average is 79%), but he does swing at pitches outside the strikezone far more often than the average MLB hitter (37% compared to MLB average of 30%). He swings a lot, particularly outside the zone, and before 2014 didn’t make a ton of contact to offset this.
As far as how he does on pitches outside the zone, the MLB average batting average is .187 and average ISO is .069. Cespedes is .214 and .116 in his career. So while he’s chasing, he’s at least doing better than the average hitter when he does.
If we’re being honest, Cespedes is known for his pop. He dominated in the derby and swings out of his shoes. He has a career ISO just about .200 and has slugged above .460 during his career despite spending most of his time in the AL West. The power is real and it’s spectacular.
But power only takes you so far without any on-base skill. He’s 37th in ISO since 2012 among 223 players with at least 1000 PA. And he played in Oakland. Before considering his home park, his ISO is in the top 20% of the league, but his overall offense after adjusting for park (wRC+) ranks 74th (top 33%). His power is like Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Beltre, but his production is like Seth Smith and Andre Ethier.
Comerica Park plays better than Oakland for right-handed home runs, but not to the degree that you might expect. The big change will be the huge right-handed triples boost that Comerica offers. Cespedes has solid speed and his doubles could turn into triples. But it will also help to avoid Angels Stadium and Safeco Field in favor of US Cellular.
The park factors are important, but it’s not like moving from Oakland will help Cespedes a great deal more than it would help any player.
But Cespedes is going to hit some bombs. He’s a 20-30 HR guy with plenty of doubles and a batting average that’s right around average.
Good, Not Great
Let’s look at the whole package. He’s a career 115 wRC+ hitter who is projected to be at 118 by Steamer in 2015. That’s a nice improvement from 2014 but not quite at his 2012 levels. Let’s call it 120 to be both generous and keep things clean.
He’s had nagging injuries here and there but has between 540 and 650 PA in each of his seasons, so 600 PA seems perfectly fair. We think he’s above average as a corner outfielder, probably +5 to +10, making him a -2 to +3 defender after the positional adjustment. He’s a good base runner, but nothing special, so let’s call that +2.
That’s the mark of a 3-4 win player. A very nice addition, but nothing extraordinary. And it’s especially nice to see given the alternative being lots of Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, and Tyler Collins. If everything broke right and he had a career year, you could dream on 6 wins, but that’s asking him to elevate to being in the top ten in hitting which he’s never really come close to doing.
The great thing is that despite his on base skills you will see his decent speed, good arm, and good power make it hard for him to be much worse than a 2 win player.
The Tigers paid a lot to acquire him, but he should be a productive offensive weapon with an arm that can save a few games. Plus, we’re probably in for some sort of Miggy and Yoenis buddy-cop-movie friendship.