Esteemed, handsome colleague J.P. Breen rolled out the first installment of our 2015 outfielder rankings today. I direct your attention to the third tier, in which Yoenis Cespedes and Shin-Soo Choo are ranked at 28 and 29, respectively. I have now dutifully set the stage for the basis of the comparison that follows.
Cespedes hit .260 with a .293 BABIP last year. Choo hit .242 with a .308 BABIP. Nothing to see here, right? I'm not so sure.
Yes, Cespedes' overall line may have been partially suppressed by O.co Coliseum in 2013 and in the first half of 2014, but he's still just a career .263 hitter with a .297 BABIP. Choo, meanwhile, is a career .282 hitter with a .345 BABIP, and while it's clear he shouldn't be allowed within 100 yards of a left-hander it's tough to imagine him hitting just .244 against right-handers again, like, ever. Cespedes is the better bet not to bottom out in average, but there's a strong case to be made that Choo is likely to post the higher number. It's always best to start off columns like this by hedging bets, so let's go with …
Winner: A surprising push!
Despite Choo's pitiful 2014 campaign, he still posted an OBP 39 points higher than did Cespedes. Choo's career OBP is .383; for Cespedes, it's .317. Unless you really think Choo is totally done, this isn't a contest: It's Choo in a landslide.
Everyone assumed Cespedes was going to hit 1,522 homers if he played in Boston over the course of a full season, and while Comerica isn't quite the hitter's haven that Fenway is, it's still a marked improvement over O.co. Cespedes averaged 23 homers over the past three years, and while PECOTA has him there again in 2015, he's a decent bet to break into the upper-20s. Choo hit 21 bombs in 2013 and plays in a hitter-friendly park, but given that his homer totals have always been a bit erratic and he's never surpassed 22 in any season, it's tough to think of any good reasons to give him the edge here. Will Choo hit more than 13 homers in 2015? Probably. Will he hit as many as Cespedes? Probably not.
Cespedes figures to hit for equal average and more power than Choo, plays in a better lineup and will probably see more playing time overall. He hit the 100-RBI mark last year for the first time, and PECOTA projects him for 79 RBI in 2014, which seems a bit conservative. Choo reached just 40 RBI last year, doesn't have a ton of lineup help and is projected to drive in 60, per PECOTA. Both totals might be low, but the gap between them seems accurate.
Choo only scored 58 runs last year to Cespedes' 89, but it's not preposterous to think Choo could pull out the win in 2015. Choo is going to get on base more and hit higher in Texas' lineup, and having Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre bat behind you isn't so bad. Cespedes figures to hit lower in the order, and while the Tigers will probably score more runs overall and Cespedes will play more than Choo does, that OBP gap is tough to close. PECOTA has Choo scoring 82 runs and Cespedes scoring 71 runs. That seems about right, even if it undersells Cespedes ever so slightly.
Winner: Choo, by a hair
Choo missed a ton of time with ankle issues in 2014 and ultimately had surgery to repair cartilage damage in September. That led Choo to steal just three bases last year after nabbing at least 20 swipes in three of the four previous seasons. Cespedes recorded seven steals for the second straight year, and while he improved his efficiency, it's clear that running isn't going to be a big part of his game. Choo's age and injury history make it a close race (hahahaha get it?) but he should still finish ahead of Cespedes, even if only by a handful of steals.
Winner: Choo, but this was depressing to write
Cespedes is 29 and played in 152 games last year. Choo is 32 and played in 123 games. Choo seems healthy now and his short-term track record had previously been stronger than Cespedes', but there's still only one way to go here. At least they're not pitchers.
Unless "well-manicured eyebrows" become a new fantasy category, it's tougher to think of an easier win for Yo. Choo shouldn't play against lefties, is older and is a bigger injury risk. Ideally they'd both play in 145-plus games and PECOTA actually gives Choo the slight edge here in terms of PA (possibly just as a function of OBP), but I'm not buying it.
This is something of a tough call for me because of Choo's ability to potentially out-perform Cespedes in AVG, OBP, R, and SB, but he's really only a safe bet to best Cespedes in OBP. Given the substantial advantage Cespdes should see in HR and RBI, plus the fact that he could easily out-perform Choo in AVG and R, Cespedes gets the nod here. A peak year from Cespedes could look like .290/.325/.450 with 30 homers, 100-plus RBI, 80-plus runs and five-plus steals. A peak year for Choo probably looks like .290/.375/.420 with 20 homers, 80 RBI, 90-plus runs and 15 steals. It's close, but unless you're in an OBP league, that means Cespedes is still the guy. Yes, I completely made those projections up.
According to FantasyPros.com, Cespedes currently owns an ADP of 66 overall, good for 20th among outfielders, while Choo is 46th among outfielders at 168th overall. That tells me Choo is the much better draft-day bargain, even if he comes with slightly more risk.
That's not really what this section is asking though, and in terms of a straight up "who'll be better," the answer is Cespedes. He has obvious advantages in HR and RBI, may not cede much in AVG, R, or SB, and is a better bet to stay on the field. Despite the overall feeling that Cespedes might be slightly overrated and Choo slightly underrated now, if you gotta just pick one, you gotta just pick Cespedes.
And the winner is… Yoenis Cespedes
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