September 11, 2012
Céspedes Won't Be Leaving to Join Devo
It has been a while since I've thought about Yoenis Céspedes. That isn't entirely true. I think about him quite often, in a purely platonic way, but it has been a while since I've put those thoughts into words. The last time came toward the end of July, while marveling at Oakland's ability to win games at the last possible moment. Included in that piece was the tale of a Céspedes walk-off homer against the Dodgers on June 21.
I also wrote about him back in April, when we all still wondered why the A's would sign a 26-year-old outfielder from Cuba to a four-year, $36 million deal. Between those two articles, Céspedes displayed his abundant talents and made it apparent that Billy Beane—backlash in the wake of being portrayed by Brad Pitt in Moneyball notwithstanding—might know a thing or 52 about baseball.
The expectation was that, if Céspedes succeeded, it would be due to his secondary skills. The batting average might be low, but his power and speed would compensate. He was seen as a raw talent who could struggle against big-league pitching at first.
Céspedes might yet take his lumps—he's in the midst of a late-season mini-swoon as I write this—but for the most part, he has rendered preseason concerns about his game moot. Aside from staying healthy, he hasn't faced any insurmountable obstacles as a rookie. Well, except for Mike Trout. Talk about picking a bad year to break into the American League.
But Trout's otherworldliness takes nothing away from what Céspedes is doing. Consider players who debuted in the big leagues during their age-26 campaign. As of this writing, there have been 1,412 such players since 1901. Of those, 43 qualified for his league's batting title—from Lefty Davis, John Dobbs, and Hobe Ferris in 1901 to Céspedes in 2012 (assuming he remains on his current pace).
You don't find many 26-year-old debutantes garnering material playing time these days. In the so-called Expansion Era (since 1961), only six players have met the criteria outlined above: Chris Sabo, 1988; Chris Singleton, 1999; David Eckstein, 2001; Dan Uggla, 2006; Alexei Ramirez, 2008; Céspedes, 2012 (projected). This excludes players who may have received the proverbial cup of coffee prior to their age-26 season but gives us an idea of how unusual Céspedes' season has been. Assuming he collects enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, he will have done something remarkable, without even accounting for the fact that he has played well.