Ronny Cedeno: An Improbable Turnaround

Ronny Cedeno has cobbled together a career for the past six years by being a good fielder at multiple positions with decent speed. He has rarely ever been a consistent starter and when he has been, it has been on decidedly second division teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates. The reason for that is simple. Cedeno has always been a light-hitting, free swinger who could neither hit for power nor get on base at a league average rate. Until now.

In the 65 plate appearances Ronny Cedeno has gotten this season for the New York Mets, he has hit .278/.391/.370. He still lacks power and his contact ability is still just average, but thus far in 2012,  Cedeno has become an on-base machine.  He is currently walking in 13.8% of his trips to the plate after taking free passes in just 5.2% of his plate appearances in his career. Cedeno is benefit some from a BABIP (.333) above his career norm (.333) but the major difference in his entirely within his control. Simply put, he is using a far better plate approach than ever before and the result is that the career 65 wRC+ hitter is now nearly twice as good with a wRC+ of 122 thus far.

Ronny Cedeno has stopped swinging freely as he used to. He is swing at just 40.2% of pitches now, a below average rate and a far cry from his career rate of 49.4%. Most of the change is on balls out of the strikezone. These days Cedeno is chasing just 27.1% of out-of-zone pitches, just a hair less than the league average of 28.3%, but a huge change from his career 34.7% rate. He is also swinging at fewer strikes (52.1%) and there, he is quite far from the league average (61.3%).

The rise in walks is the major benefit of this far less aggressive approach, but it isn’t the only one. Ronny Cedeno is also swinging and missing less. His strike out rate is down from a career average of 19.7% to just 16.9%. When he does swing, he misses less frequently now. His career swinging strike rate is 9.2% of pitches seen, but in 2012 he has missed just 7%.

This is over a small number of at bats, but walk rate, swing percentage, out-of-zone swing percentage and swinging strike percentage are some of the quicker metrics to stabilize. We won’t have to wait long to see if this walk rate is sustainable, since BB% generally stabilizes in around 170-200 plate appearances. Even if he cannot maintain such an elite rate, it is likely that he has vastly improved his command of the strikezone.

SNY commentators Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez have regularly credited the Mets organizational philosophy for the change in Ronny Cedeno’s approach at the plate. Under Sandy Alderson, the team is now focusing on getting on base, much like the Moneyball Oakland Athletics did under the direction of Alderson’s protégé Billy Beane. However, even if the organizational philosophy did motivate Cedeno’s 180 degree turnaround as a hitter, the fact that Cedeno has actually been capable of adapting is really quite incredible. At the time Moneyball was written, Oakland was chiefly seeking out players who already had excellent on base skills, since it is extremely rare for free swingers like Cedeno to later become disciplined hitters. If Alderson has found a way to identify free swingers like Cedeno who can transform into highly selective hitters, the Mets will be at a huge advantage in free agent signings in the coming years.

That is unlikely, however. Ronny Cedeno is probably an isolated case. He has managed to do something few players at any level are capable of. If he can continue doing it, he will have transformed himself from a borderline major leaguer to an average or better major league starter.

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