Yoenis Cespedes, welcome to what the sports world calls the sophomore slump.
The cat-and-mouse adjustments between pitchers and hitters are a major part of baseball, and the AL’s Cuban sensation and Rookie of the Year runner up is finding that hurlers in the league are adjusting to him perhaps a little better than he thought.
Coming off a 2.9 fWAR, 23-homer (plus 16 steals) season with a .292/.356/.505 triple slash, the Oakland Athletics expected Cespedes to be a dynamic, middle-of-the-order bat who could anchor the offense and change the course of ballgames with one swing.
Well, at least they’re getting one part of that, I suppose.
With six home runs in 103 PA over 23 games, there’s little doubt that the 27-year-old’s power is still intact. In fact, all things being equal, he’s actually on an incredible 39-home run pace right now.
The rest of his game, however, may be on the verge of collapsing altogether.
Friday’s 0-for-4, two strikeout performance against Hisashi Iwakuma (who has been sensational, so perhaps he’d have to tip his cap here) and the Seattle Mariners was just the latest chapter in Cespedes’ disappointing 2013 thus far. Mired in a current 0-for-11 slump over the last three games with a .188/.270/.375 line in May thus far, the slugger is arguably hurting the A’s more than he’s helping them.
With a 28th ranked offense that’s scored just 20 runs over the last seven days, Oakland is feeling the residual effects, too.
You don’t have to look very hard to find the source of Cespedes’ struggles, really. The short of it is that he hasn’t adjusted to pitchers not attacking him at the plate, and he’s being somewhat overmatched at the moment.
The long of it? Well, he’s only getting 49.5 percent of first strikes compared to to a whopping 58.3 percent in 2012. Because he’s seeing less pitches outside the zone (41 percent compared to 45.8 in 2012), he’s been reaching for pitches he can’t get a good bat on (58.2 percent contact with outside pitchers compared to 55.9 percent), but isn’t adjusting to the ones that he should be attacking (77 percent contact vs. 84.2).
He’s being put off balance, whiffing more than ever (13,7 percent swinging strikes), and though he’s got enough power to catch one every now and then, then majority of his balls in play are weakly hit — let’s just say that 8.1 percent line drives, 21.2 percent infield flies and 12.5 percent infield hits are not the pillars that a good hitter has.
The poor contact is reflective of his BABIP, which has plummeted to .232. Not that there’s any luck involved here, really … his profile suggests that this is all pretty much his own doing. If you can’t put the ball in play past the infield, chances are they’re going to turn into outs.
Is the hand injury he suffered part of the issue? Perhaps. But considering that he wasn’t exactly hitting well when he got hurt, that doesn’t seem to offer an adequate answer to his problems.
Whatever it is, there’s obviously a lot of the A’s hopes to repeat as AL West champions that will ride on the Cuban’s bat. He’s in his prime at 27 and while the power is nice, even 30+ homers will be considered a major step back if he continues being a two-outcome hitter.