In his last 13 games, Yoenis Cespedes has five home runs and 11 RBI, including a run-scoring single Monday night against the D-backs.
It's a terrific two weeks following a major slump, which was preceeded by a fairly positive April. The point is, Cespedes is frustrating. He regularly lays up on fly balls, jogs to first base, and tosses under hand pop-ups to the field. Then, the next night, he'll hit a mammoth home run, hustle to make a sliding catch and run first base to third as well as anyone in baseball.
Similarly, this past Sunday, Cespedes missed two pop-ups that MLB's Statcast said he had a 76 and 99 percent chance of catching. The next night, he hustled to make a terrific, sliding catch in left-field that he had only a 19 percent chance of catching.
According to Statcast, during his catch Monday, Cespedes reached a sprint speed of 27.6 feet per second, which allowed him to cover 81 feet in the four seconds needed to make the grab.
Cespedes throws in a catch at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.(Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)
It's hard to know why Cespedes runs on one play and doesn't on another. My hunch is that he's using his experience and judgement to pace himself, much like we often saw from Carlos Beltran. If you remember, while he had the ability to make amazing catches and rarely got caught stealing, Beltran would often not run or dive. However, he could later explain the circumstance and how he was feeling in the moment, which together informed his every decision.
In other words, he would explain, while we (at home and in the stands) assume it made sense to lay out and risk injury for every fly ball and every extra base, Beltran viewed that as foolish and not worth the effort. Because, by strategically pacing himself, it allowed him to be better and stronger in future, more important moments.
This explanation used to infuriate my dad. He'd get angry over Beltran's lack of hustle, and get angrier when hearing Beltran justify it. Personally, it doesn't bother me, and it doesn't bother me with Yo, assuming this is what he's doing.
"On a losing team, Cespedes is a losing player," an executive told me last winter, parroting a common talking point around baseball. "On a winning team," though, he added, "Cespedes is a winning player."
I understand this criticism, too. But, I instead blame Yo's legs for his struggles at the plate this season, not whether he is or isn't motivated.
The fact is, when 'physically strong,' not just mentally strong, Cespedes has hit well this season. And, not surprisingly, he didn't hit well when his legs didn't feel well. I see it as being literally that simple. Strong legs, strong Cespedes. Weak legs, weak Cespedes.
For instance, Cespedes had a nice April, finishing with a 1.020 OPS and nine RBI. He played even better after missing all of May and returning from the disabled list. However, starting around the end of June through the All-Star break and in to August, he hit just .239 with only three HR and 12 RBI in 35 games, all while several of his teammates were traded away and the team continued to struggle.
Had he produced a full season of what he did before hitting the DL in May (when he presumably felt his best this season), Cespedes could have hit .300 with a .366 OBP, 35 home runs, 90 RBI and 100 strikeouts across a full season. These stats are along the lines of what he did last season as well, which, according to FanGraphs.com, was worth 3.2 wins above replacement (WAR). These numbers would also be well worth the $22 million he's being paid.
Apr 27, 2017; Cespedes (52) reacts after an injury at Citi Field. Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
This is why I'm happy to hear he plans to adjust his offseason workout regimen. Whereas last winter he went wild building muscle and strength, he's told reporters that -- at his age -- he has to also do more cardio, stretching, and endurance training.
That said, much like Rickey Henderson, I do think the best version of Yo is when fans and media put him center stage and playing in front of a full house, when the ballpark is rocking, music is pumping and the game matters.
For example, in less significant moments of the game (low leverage), Cespedes is batting .259 during his career. However, in high leverage moments (clutch spots), he's hitting .292 and averaging one RBI every three at-bats.
Cespedes will be paid $29 million each of the next three seasons, after which he'll be a free agent and 35 years old. Rickey once said he knew he needed to adjust his workouts and pre-game routine during the early 90s, when he started moving in to his mid-to- late 30s.
Hopefully, Cespedes does the same, as he says he will. And, hopefully, also like Rickey, Yo is able to stay mostly healthy during his early-30s. Because, when he's healthy, Yo hits. When he isn't, he doesn't. And, the Mets need him to hit. It's that simple.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. He recently left his position as Executive Editor and Dir. of Digital Content for SNY.TV to help sports brands build their own digital content businesses...