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Yoenis Cespedes is really damn good, and he’s a potential key to the Mets’ success in 2018

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Cespedes struggled to stay on the field last year, but he has been an excellent hitter over the past three seasons.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Houston Astros Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how good Yoenis Cespedes is. With the 2015 season feeling a bit more distant in the memories of Mets fans, his outstanding performance down the stretch that year might be fading a bit. But Cespedes—who had always been at least a decent hitter, usually better, before that year—has been really, really good over the past three seasons.

In total, the Cuban outfielder has hit .287/.342/.537 with 83 home runs in 1,540 plate appearances, a chunk of which he spent with the Tigers in 2015 before Detroit traded him to the Mets for Michael Fulmer at the trade deadline that year. That line is good for a 134 wrC+, a mark that ranks 23rd among the 314 hitters who have at least 600 plate appearances over that span. With so much of the focus on Cespedes having been on his contract status—he did re-sign with the Mets twice, following the 2015 and 2016 seasons—and his leg issues last year, it’s easy to lose sight of just how good that is. He’s not Mike Trout, but he is a very, very significant hitter.

As a Met, he’s been his very best self. Granted we’re only taking away the Detroit portion of his 2015 season and dealing with a smaller sample here, Cespedes has hit .285/.350/.550 with 65 home runs in 1,113 plate appearances with the team. Fluctuations in defensive metrics and the fact that he played in just 81 games last year had an impact on his WAR, but he tallied 1.9 bWAR and 1.6 fWAR in 321 trips to the plate last year.

Drilling down a tiny bit into his numbers, Cespedes had the second-best strikeout rate of his career—trailing only his rookie season in Major League Baseball back in 2012—at 19.0 percent. That was a slight improvement from the 19.9 percent rate he posted the year before and the 20.9 percent rate the year before that. His walk rate came down a bit, from 9.4 percent in 2016 to 8.1 in 2017, but both of those rates were marked improvements over what he had done in the three seasons that preceded 2016.

The popular projection systems all see him doing fairly well this year. None of them project him to quite match the level of offensive production that he’s been at over the past three years, but all are relatively optimistic about his health. It’s worth noting that Cespedes played in 152, 159, and 132 games—not flawless, but pretty good—before running into leg issues and the Mets’ handling of them last year.

Plenty of attention has been paid to the Mets’ starting rotation in the “if everything goes right” scenarios for this season—and rightfully so. But the team might be able to get by with a pair of aces atop the rotation and cromulent performance from the rest of the rotation if the Mets get healthy, typically-productive seasons from their two best hitters: Cespedes and Michael Conforto.

A healthy Cespedes is a hitter who can take over a game. It’d be really fun to see that on a regular basis this year. He reminded everyone of that a bit in spring training, hitting some ridiculous home runs, some of which came after he missed a few days because he got a cortisone shot in his wrist. This being the Mets, there’ll always be some worry about health in the back of everyone’s minds. But it shouldn’t be a major surprise if Cespedes puts up a great year.