Winston Churchill once said that Russia is “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. Since Cuba was one of Russia’s main allies I will use that as a segue to try and figure out which team won the Yoenis Cespedes and Rick Porcello trade. It feels like every year fantasy players expect more of each of these players but walk away disappointed. After Cespedes’ rookie season in which he hit 23 home runs in less than 500 at bats, more pop in the future seemed likely. His home run derby win seemed to punctuate Cespedes as a feared slugger. Although he hit three more homers the next season, his batting average plummeted to .234 as opposing pitchers took advantage of his poor plate discipline. In 2014 he finally hit the 600 at bat plateau but had the lowest home run total of his career (22). His batting average and RBI total salvaged his fantasy value though. Can the presence of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez propel Cespedes to the fantasy season that we have hoped for or has he peaked already?
Speaking of peaked, it feels like the last three years have been the year that Rick Porcello is going to break out in the strikeout department. After being drafted in the first round in 2007, Porcello was put into the rotation as a 20 year old in 2009 and won 14 games. In fact, Porcello has won double-digit games every season of his career. In real life, that’s great. However, wins are hard to predict for fantasy purposes, making strikeouts the stat that fake gamers covet. Porcello has had great success keeping the ball on the ground and in 2013 struck out a career-high 142 hitters. The thought was that in 2014 he would continue to build on that number. On a positive note, Porcello won a career-high 15 games but his strikeouts dropped back to 129 for the season, leaving him with a pedestrian K/9 of 5.7. Now a member of the Boston Red Sox, is the breakout ever coming? Can John Farrell help Porcello reach his peak or was 2013 it?
Yoenis Cespedes moves to Motown
At first glance the move to Detroit seems like a great opportunity for Yoenis Cespedes as he will hit in the deepest lineup he has ever been a part of. Teaming up with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez should provide Cespedes not only tutelage, but the opportunity to drive in and score more runs. But Cespedes’ supporting metrics suggest that the ballpark and his downward trends may counteract his new opportunity. In 2014 drafts he was the 21st outfielder taken according to FantasyPros.com at pick number 66. While Cespedes finished 24th among outfielders via ESPN’s Player Rater, it has to be a disappointment to his owners that he finished lower than two of his new Tiger teammates J.D. Martinez and Rajai Davis.
Much has been made about Matt Kemp’s move to San Diego and how it mat have an adverse affect upon Matt Kemp’s fantasy value but Cespedes seems to be getting a pass due to the improved lineup. Digging deeper however, there appear to be some warning signs. Small sample size alert, but in eight games in Detroit Cespedes has a .686 OPS. Over the last three years his power numbers according to ESPN’s home run tracker have been in freefall:
Cespedes 2012: Avg.. True Distance – 409.1, Avg. Std. Distance – 407.1, Avg. Speed off Bat – 106.4 MPH
Cespedes 2013: Avg. True Distance – 403, Avg. Std. Distance – 403.1, Avg. Speed off Bat – 104.7 MPH
Cespedes 2014: Avg. True Distance – 387.5, Avg. Std. Distance – 387, Avg. Speed off Bat – 101.7 MPH
Not only is Cespedes hitting the ball for less distance, but the speed off the bat has dropped 5 MPH over the last three years. It is unfair to just judge his overlays in regards to lost home runs but if he were hitting in Comerica over the last two seasons, the charts suggest he could have lost up to 13 home runs:
Even if I take half of those 13 homers off the table and round down, he loses 6 long balls. Unless Cespedes can get his swing speed back to 2013 levels, his power numbers are due for a dip, especially since his HR/FB% has been in decline. However, I also felt like Ian Kinsler would suffer a bit in Detroit after leaving the comfortable confines of Texas, but he was able to maintain his value. This is where the Cespedes peripherals come into play. Using Fangraphs’ weighted statistics in runs created plus (wRC+) and weighted on base average (wOBA), Cespedes has been in decline since his debut.
Cespedes 2012: wRC+ 136, wOBA .368
Cespedes 2013: wRC+ 102, wOBA .318
Cespedes 2014: wRC+ 109, wOBA .326
Once is a mistake, but twice is a trend. Since the weighted numbers do not rely solely upon ballpark effects, they are a truer measure of what a player has done. Over the last two years Cespedes is getting on base less, creating fewer runs and hitting for less power. A look at his zone profile may provide a glimpse. Note the amount of pitches that Cespedes saw in the lower four quadrants representing low and away:
This number has grown over the last three years as well. In 2012, Cespedes only saw 522 pitches in those quadrants, but in 2013 it jumped to 602 and in 2014 it reached 665. One of the reasons that Cespedes chases the pitches low and away is that he hits the bottom third of the strike zone well for power. It is a fine line to walk as a pitcher when you see Cespedes’ zone profile for slugging, noting that he hits the low and away in the strike zone for his second highest slugging percentage at .794.
But if he drives these pitches to center field, how many fewer home runs will he hit? Steamer projects the following season, which is almost a direct reflection of his last three years averaged together:
Yoenis Cespedes Steamer Projection: 138 G, 75 R, 24 HR, 87 RBI, 7 SB, .268/.319/.467
Since I usually use the last three years to try and project players, I came to almost those same numbers. Due to the ballpark, I will take the under on 24 home runs (I say 18) but the over on runs and RBI due to the support of the Tigers lineup. Cespedes has stolen seven bases each of the last two years so that is tough to dispute. I will also take the under on his slugging percentage unless he has a career year. Let others buy into the Tiger hype while you remember that he is a mystery wrapped in an enigma.
Rick Porcello comes home to New England
After being spurned by Jon Lester (Editor’s note: spurned, Greg? Only you), the Red Sox took their return in that deal and replaced him with Rick Porcello. Porcello is coming off of a 15-win season for Detroit and is a consistent but unspectacular pitcher. He features five pitches including a sinker, change, slider and curve to go along with his fastball. For Porcello to thrive, he needs to pitch to contact, primarily inducing ground balls. He’s similar to Cespedes in that he likely already reached his peak. Here are his last three years averaged out:
Rick Porcello 3-year average: 13 W, 186 IP, 126/42 K/BB, 4.08 ERA, 1.34 WHIP
While his wins were valuable to fantasy owners, his lack of strikeouts limit his ceiling. After reaching a 7.2 K/9 in 2013, he dropped back to 5.7 in 2014 which is in line with his career number of 5.5. Even though he is viewed as a ground ball pitcher he only had a 1.69 GB/FB ratio in 2014. His career number is 1.89 and in 2013 it was 2.34. Porcello threw fewer sinkers (42% 2013, 33% 2014), struck out fewer batters but set a career-high in wins and career low in ERA (3.45) last season. He is a good pitcher who has seemed to reach his ceiling but he is still young. Porcello will turn just 26 this season, but the breakout may not be coming. He will still have value in deep and AL-only formats, but I would be hesitant to use him in more shallow leagues. While John Farrell has helped to turn around pitchers before, Porcello’s career swinging strike percentage of 8.6 and K/9 of 7.2 really mitigate his fantasy ceiling.
Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, ESPN.com, BrooksBaseball.net
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/KHoVUy (Cespedes), http://goo.gl/sXy15A (Porcello)
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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!