2015 Player Previews: LF Yoenis Cespedes

The Tigers made another big off-season trade, landing outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from the Red Sox in exchange for right-hander Rick Porcello. While last year’s big swap involved a trading of monster contracts, this year both players hit the free agent market after the 2015 season. What made Cespedes so desirable to the Tigers?

2014 In Review – Yoenis Cespedes

2014 Stats
Oak/Bos 152 645 3.4 109 .260 .293 .299 .301 .450 5% 20% 7/2 11 0.4

After the Athletics made Cespedes a priority to sign coming out of Cuba a few years ago, they stunned many when the club traded him midseason as part of a blockbuster deal to land them more heft at the top of their rotation. Cespedes didn’t have a great showing in Boston, posting a 96 wRC+ with the Red Sox, not hitting for much power with just a 0.15 ISO and walking just 3% of the time. The fact that Boston elected to move on from after his few months with the club certainly isn’t a ringing endorsement, either.

Overall though, it was still a good year for Cespedes, as he was worth more than three wins, his best single season showing in his young career, by fWAR. He had a career high in extra base hits, with 64, reached triple digits in runs driven in for the first time in his career, and posted the best defensive metrics of his career, thanks to his cannon arm and improved consistency on balls in play toward him. The 11 runs he saved in the outfield show how far he’s come in just a couple of years, when his first year he was relatively bad in the field, with a negative in defensive runs saved and UZR/150.

The Red Sox had plenty of outfield depth, so trading from it is logical, and with free agency on the horizon and Cespedes reportedly uninterested in discussing an extension, moving him makes sense, even beyond his on-field performance. However, there were concerns about him on the field as well. He reportedly did not want to play in right field, preferring left field where he’s more comfortable. He didn’t walk much, and despite having serious power in his bat, didn’t turn it into production for Boston.

Some of his struggles in Boston though could be easily attributable to sample size and luck as opposed to talent or indicative of a downward trend. His low ISO can be explained in part by a HR/flyball ratio of just 7.4% (career he’s at 12.6%). And while his walk rate was low, his swing ratios were all consistent with his career norms, so it’s entirely possible a few more at-bats would have resulted in an OPS much better than the .719 he posted with the Red Sox.

2015 Player Projections

2015 Projections
Service PA WAR BA BAbip OBP SLG wOBA D-Val
ZiPS 627 3.1 .275 .303 .324 .482 .349 5
Steamer 599 3.0 .267 .302 .317 .463 .340 -3

As a player whose production is driven by his monster power, and that power has been rather consistent with an ISO right around 0.2 each of the last three seasons, it should not come as a huge surprise that the projections are very closely on Cespedes’s upcoming season – one with an average somewhere in between his .240-.290 range, with a limited walk rate, and plenty of power, resulting in a wOBA in the .340-range.

The only area of disagreement between the two projections came down to defense, where ZiPS believes the progress made in 2014 was real, and he’ll be a positive contributor defensively again, while Steamer tends to rely more heavily on the prior years where he was below average, especially in his rookie season.

The TigsTown Take

The Tigers wanted to replace the production of Torii Hunter, and it’s hard to say they didn’t do that and then some with the addition of Cespedes. Hunter still made good contact and had some pop in his bat, making him a productive offensive player for the club. But, he doesn’t have the same sort of power that Cespedes does, because few do.

In addition, while there are questions about whether or not Cespedes will be an above average outfielder or not, Hunter was among the worst fielders in all of baseball last season, so Cespedes shouldn’t have much of an issue surpassing that.

When you add in the fact that Cespedes is entering a contract year and switched agents to Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports, he’s clearly going to be looking to get a big payday this off-season, and a big catalyst to doing that will be to put up monster production for the Tigers in 2015. The projections suggest that Cespedes will hit for a good average with plenty of power and end up being worth about three wins. But at age 29 (peak time for many players’ offensive productivity) and a big contract waiting for him at the end of the year, it’s entirely possible Cespedes exceeds those expectations.

2015 Projections come from two different sources; ZiPS, and Steamer, both publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, and Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers.

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