Roster Review: Yoenis Cespedes

By Jason Wojciechowski on January 14, 2014 at 9:53 PM

So that was disappointing:

Change from 2012 -.052 -.062 -.063 +3 -9 +3 -1.6% +5.0%

He hit more homers! That's neat!

On the bright side, look at how the average, OBP, and slugging marks all decreased by essentially the same amount, and now look at the number I omitted: BABIP -.052. And now note Steamer's projections with the missing column added back in:

.261 .324 .462 22 8 5 7.7% 21.6% .297

Of course, time travel back to 1996, before we knew what BABIP was, and we'd still be making the same prediction -- Cespedes has two years in the league, with nearly the same number of plate appearances in each year, and he'll play 2014 as a 28-year-old. Whether we know about BABIP or not, the smart money is to take the midpoint between Cespedes's rate stats and adjust downward a tiny bit because the more recent data is on the lower side.

What kind of player does that add up to? FanGraphs says that's a 2.5-win player, based on a pretty negative view of his defense. Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA, which is not yet public, will probably come in somewhere in the 3-win range. Maybe a bit higher. For $10.5 million, this means the A's aren't paying that much less than the going market rate for Cespedes's actual value (though there's reason to think that given his upside and name and the major source of his offensive value, he'd be a candidate for a silly deal from some team), which is unusual for Oakland, though in a world where they're going to pay Jim Johnson to close games in 2014, maybe it's less unusual than it once was.

Here's a picture:

Swings vs RHP breaking pitchers
Swings per pitch vs. RHP breaking balls, 2014

That's a lot of red on pitches down out of the zone that Cespedes isn't going to be able to do anything with. If he can clean that up a little bit, he could probably help himself quite a bit.

Obviously saying "quit swinging at low sliders" is easy for me to say from my couch with my shirt half untucked and my tie off. It's a lot harder to do against the 47th best pitcher in the world on a two-strike count in a one-run game with a runner on second base.

It's also, despite the temptation to engage in this kind of analysis, facile. The problem is that deeper analysis doesn't necessarily pay -- literally, in the sense that I'm doing this for free, and figuratively, in the sense that I could spend hours digging into pitch charts and Cespedes's swing and the answer I'd probably come back with is that he should lay off breaking stuff down and hit hard stuff in the zone, i.e. he should do what ever coach teaches every hitter to do. Cespedes is a unique snowflake because we're all unique snowflakes, but hardcore deep-dive analysis theoretically can do two things:

  1. Prescription: find a problem with the player's swing, approach, mechanics, whatever. The difficulty? They're not listening. Nobody cares if you're right for the sake of it.
  2. Prediction: note that a player's swing, approach, mechanics, whatever makes him exploitable in a particular way such that we should adjust our expectations downward. The difficulty? We can only look backwards, and players are ever-changing, not just physically but mentally. They're coached, they watch video, they practice. They're moving targets. My guess is that you'd have to be very very very good at doing this analysis, and have a lot of time on your hands, to move the needle from even a sort of non-projection-system projection system like Marcel, much less to beat actually sophisticated systems.

Now what I may have just done is write my own blog's obituary, but I guess there's a reason why I've moved toward a more holistic, team-wide approach to writing. What's the 40-man going to look like? How do the team pieces fit together? What's the salary situation and what does that mean for potential trade targets in July and August? General manager-level stuff, in other words, rather than coach-level stuff. (Manager-level stuff falls in between -- sometimes a manager has to decide which pitcher to use to face a particular hitter, which requires a bit of that hardcore deep-dive analysis, and sometimes a manager has to decide how he's going to arrange the playing time of his five infielders, which requires thinking about in a more macro sense creates the most value, who needs rest when, etc.)

So maybe instead of my own blog's obituary, what I wrote is the obituary for this Roster Review series. Perhaps this was foolish from the start. Or perhaps I've just been doing it wrong. Who cares about PITCHf/x -- I should be asking where Cespedes fits and what 2015 looks like and how all the pieces match the other pieces, but with the spotlight on the given player.

So: Cespedes is the left fielder. There was a period of time when MLB Depth Charts was positing a Gentry-Crisp-Reddick outfield with Cespedes as the everyday DH, but, aside from the waste of Cespedes being the most athletic everyday DH in history, what that missed was that John Jaso was likely to be the team's strong-side platoon DH. The roster reflects that now, including that Jaso DHing likely means the team carrying "three" "catchers," but you can really only count it that way if you count Jaso as a catcher. Better to think of Jaso as a DH who can catch and to think of the catching platoon as Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt.

Though maybe not! Maybe it's Norris as the everyday catcher and Jaso as the everyday DH except for 15 percent of the time, when Jaso catches to give Norris a regular day off. Managers seem extremely loath to put both of their catchers into the starting lineup, but on the theory that the A's have to squeeze all the value they can from their roster and on the further theory that you almost never wind up having to give up your DH in those situations and on the further further theory that hey what the hell is Nick Punto for if you're not going to use him as an emergency catcher, well, maybe Jaso and Norris is all you need and good luck in Sacramento Mr. Vogt.

In any event, it seems indubitable that Cespedes is the left fielder. He can play center in a pinch (133 innings there last year, which is actually quite a bit more than a pinch), but with Gentry around, he won't have to. If an outfielder gets hurt, Gentry just slides in at that position with nobody else having to move around to accommodate him, bing bang boom, the corners stay the same and Shane Peterson or someone comes up from Triple-A. If the A's lose both Josh Reddick and Coco Crisp at the same time, I still don't see that moving Cespedes -- Gentry plays center, Brandon Moss or the call-up plays right.

All of that is against right-handers, though, which is and ought to be the default in your mind. If I had to guess, though, I would say that Cespedes will be the DH against lefties the vast majority of the time. Jaso presumably will not start against them, which leaves the spot open. Do you blow Craig Gentry's stellar defense at DH or do you give Cespedes the ol' half day off, try to keep him from getting as dinged up as he sometimes has, and let Gentry roam around left field for an evening? The latter, surely, right?

If Jaso gets hurt at some point, I'm not sure what that means. Maybe at that point Cespedes does become the full-time DH and Gentry the full-time left fielder. Even if Jaso is hurt for a substantial period? Does Cespedes languish if he never gets to the play the field? It's a concern, certainly, but Gentry, Crisp, and Reddick are all so stellar with the glove that giving them more than the occasional start at DH just doesn't make sense. Maybe Moss moves to DH instead and Daric Barton plays first base.

I should have just stuck with the PITCHf/x.