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Yoenis Cespedes is off to a hot start, but isn't a changed hitter

The Mets slugger was the pinch-hit hero on Tuesday, but has he permanently returned to his mashing ways?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

After hitting a pinch-hit home, game-tying home run on Tuesday night, Yoenis Cespedes is hitting .300/.373/.683 with a 178 wRC+ in 67 plate appearances this year. He's a top-15 hitter in baseball among guys with at least 50 plate appearances. He's hit as well as he did upon joining the Mets last summer. Cue the small sample size warning.

Cespedes's line tells us that he's having a lights-out start to the year, but it might not last. His .364 batting average on balls in play practically guarantees it. And some rate stats that stabilize quickly—strikeout rate, walk rate, swing rate, and contact rate—are more or less in line with his career numbers. He's as aggressive as ever, swinging at 53.5% of all the pitches he sees. For reference, the league average thus far is 46.4%. Cespedes's career swing rate is 50.8%.

He's also chasing pitches out of the zone at a much-higher-than-average rate of 37.9%, which matches his career number. He's not making contact with those pitches as often as he had in the past, and whereas his swinging strike rate was basically league average in previous seasons, he's been one of the worst in baseball so far this year.

Cespedes's overall contact rate is concerning, too. While he was able to get his contact into the league-average range in 2014 and 2015, he currently sits at less than 70.8%, well below the 77.9% average, and well below his 76.4% career rate.

These chase, whiff, and overall contact issues are showing up in his strikeouts. Cespedes has struck out 31% of his plate appearances this season, well above his career average of 21%. Furthermore, his contact on pitches in the zone has dropped to 81.3%, down from what was essentially a league-average 85% career figure.

Are there any encouraging signs from Cespedes's early start? While Cespedes may be more than willing to swing away at an outside slider in the dirt, pitchers haven't really exploited that bug in his swing. Cespedes's zone profile is filled with a lot of fat pitches middle-out, and when he does make contact on them, he's punished them to the tune of a 95.3 mph average exit velocity.

Cespedes also seems to be managing his aggressiveness with patience, somehow. His walk rate is sitting at 9%, nearly three points higher than his career rate of 6.2%. Cespedes is a hacker, but he seems to be laying off pitches out of the zone when it matters. If he can keep that up, he can offset the strikeouts and force pitchers to continue to give him something to hit.

Cespedes has always been an inconsistent hitter. He had a strong rookie campaign, followed by two league-average seasons, and while he was an absolute monster for the Mets down the stretch last year, his full-season offensive production was more in line with his great-but-not-elite 2012. He might look like the Cespedes last summer right now, but he will continue to swing at bad balls, and pitchers will adjust to exploit that fact. He might keep drawing free passes to offset the holes in his swing, but we'll have to wait and see.

Yoenis Cespedes is a joy to behold, and Mets fans should treasure him, but his tendencies haven't changed.