Yoenis Céspedes, OF
Player Data: Age: 31, B/T: R/R, Free Agency: 2021
2018 Salary: $29 million
2017 Primary Stats: .292/.352/.540, 17 HR, 42 RBI, 17 2B, 291 AB, 2.1 WAR
The problem wasn’t talent, but the ability of that talent to stay on the field.
That line describes the 2017 New York Mets as a whole, but applies particularly well to their best player. Yoenis Cespedes played very well in 2017. He had a very nice slash line, and if you take his counting stats and multiply them over, say, 150 games or, say, 550 plate appearances, you have a very nice season indeed, one certainly worthy of the big money “La Potencia” rakes in.
The problem, of course, is that Yoenis Céspedes only played 81 games (76 starts) in a 162-game season that many expected to extend at least into game 163. The slugger only stepped to the dish 321 times. When your best player misses half the season, your team is in hot water, albeit with a chance to stay afloat. When nearly all of your other talented players miss significant time as well… well, we all saw what happens then.
But we can’t grade Céspedes as a microcosm of an F-grade season for the team. We have to grade him on his own merits. That means factoring the quality of his play, the quantity of that quality and, of course, his expectations and role. I’ll take 17 home runs from Travis d’Arnaud or Wilmer Flores. I’ll jump for joy if we get 17 home runs from TJ Rivera. But I need more than 17 home runs from Yoenis Céspedes. I need twice that, really.
Now, when Céspedes was on the field, he didn’t disappoint. He homered in 5.3% of his plate appearances, almost exactly on par with his 5.7% rate a year ago. His slash line of .292/.352/.540 was slightly better than the .280/.354/.530 line he posted in 2016. He started hot, he finished VERY hot, and he was fairly consistent, struggling in July but otherwise being very productive when he was on the field.
But while Céspedes had a bat we could all rely on, his body was anything but reliable. His legs in particular were a major problem. He was often absent, and often hampered when present (either by a nagging injury he was playing through or by his own instincts to “play it safe”).
Céspedes has the skills and athleticism of a five-tool player, but his body refused to cooperate, forcing him to avoid running hard, sliding, or diving for most of his time on the field. And while that cautious style of play may have been frustrating to watch, it was validated in far more frustrating fashion; seemingly every time Céspedes DID hit the ground to make a catch or beat a tag, he would come up lame.
Céspedes went down at the end of April and didn’t resurface until the second week of June. With a somewhat reduced workload, he managed to stay on the field a good amount, but hit a slump at the end of the first half. Always a force down the stretch, the slugger caught fire in August with seven homers, five doubles and a .325/.411/.662 slash line in 23 games. But once again, a hot streak was followed by an injury, and he was shut down after exiting a game in the first inning on August 25.
In the end, Céspedes brought a potent bat that often produced and still provided a presence when he was struggling. His defense continued to decline, but that was in some part due to his physical ailments. Céspedes is a very good player, and he showed it in 2017. But he wasn’t on the field enough, and when you’re grading a team’s best player, you have to grade on a curve. The Mets needed more from Céspedes in 2017 and, as was the case with most of their other top players, they didn’t get it.
Did You Know?
With his three home runs on April 11 in Philadelphia, Yoenis Céspedes became the first Met ever with two three-homer games.
If Céspedes is on the team, and healthy, he will be penciled in somewhere in the heart of the order. As for whether we can expect him in the lineup in 2018, it’s anybody’s guess. Can the Mets count on him to stay healthy? They probably can’t rely on that, but they don’t really have any choice.
If Céspedes does indeed stay on the field, which could happen through a better offseason training regimen, a more cautious approach during the season and, of course, some luck, we know what he’ll bring to the table: A terrifying bat which will range from good to outrageously good, an absolute cannon of an arm, and a flair for the dramatic.