After their attempt to acquire Carlos Gomez fell apart in spectacular fashion and their pursuit of Jay Bruce never resulted in anything concrete, the New York Mets upgraded their outfield by trading a pair of prospects for Yoenis Cespedes. The Cuban native is hitting .291/.323/.501 with 18 home runs and three stolen bases. For a Mets outfield that featured Curtis Granderson, a pair of injured regulars (Michael Cuddyer and Juan Lagares), and an untested rookie, Cespedes represented significant improvement at the trade deadline—more so than for any other major-league club, outside of perhaps Houston or Kansas City.
The conventional wisdom is that Cespedes’s fantasy value has decreased in New York. He transitions to a new league with a new cadre of pitchers, and the Mets don’t have as potent an offense, which could affect his run/RBI totals over the final two months of the season.
Valid points, certainly, but such analysis perhaps glosses over some unheralded factors that could move Yoenis Cespedes’s value upwards. While much attention is paid to league affects when pitchers transition from the American League to the National League, evidence exists to suggest that hitters experience greater success in the NL than the AL. Furthermore, this article will address the strength-of-schedule disparities between the Mets and the Tigers, followed by some brief discussion of the impact of moving from Comerica Park to Citi Field. The confluence of these three things should lead fantasy owners to value Cespedes higher as a Met than they would’ve if he had stayed in Detroit.
Yoenis Cespedes has always drawn fantasy attention due to his above-average game power. He has launched 20-plus homers in three consecutive seasons and is on the verge of making that four. Only nine outfielders have more home runs than Cespedes’s 89 since the beginning of 2012. It’s the key reason why fantasy owners drafted him as the 20th-overall outfielder in fantasy drafts this season.
Of course, for fantasy owners, the downside of Cespedes’s game has always been the mediocre batting average and the lack of stolen bases. The power is borderline-elite, but his career .263 batting average (coming into this season) and seven stolen bases in each of the past two years have prevented him from being a true five-category producer. It’s also the reason why Cespedes’s performance has outrun expectations and elevated his value.
The 29-year-old outfielder is hitting .291 this year—on the strength of a .329 BABIP—which has closed one of his key fantasy deficiencies. As such, he has been the 12th-best fantasy outfielder in ESPN leagues, representing tangible surplus value. Before dismissing his BABIP as being unsustainable, too, it should be noted that Cespedes’s batted-ball percentage of “soft” contact has fallen from 18+ percent in the past three seasons to just 11.8 percent in 2015. His average batted-ball velocity, 93.51 mph, ranks fifth-best in Major League Baseball. I’m not prepared to suggest that his batting average will fall off a cliff and regress to his career norms.
So, if we can reasonably assume that his batting average won’t fall off a cliff (which is what I argued above) and his power production is legitimate (which is obvious), the question of value hinges on whether the transition from Detroit to New York is beneficial for his fantasy value.
Four years ago, Derek Carty of FanDuel determined that position players do see a tangible offensive boost when moving to the National League. It’s not a massive amount that will begin to see AL-to-NL trades affect fantasy values across the board; however, when paired with other positive contextual factors, the idea that position players perform better in the National League carries weight. At least for Cespedes, it’s encouraging that historical trends show that home-run rates increase by almost half a percentage point in the National League.
For midseason trades, though, we often look at league trends and park trends—which we’ll tackle later—but strength of schedule also matters. The New York Mets enjoy a schedule that’s weaker than Ross’s “musical talents” in Friends. Their .476 opponent winning percentage in the second half ranks third-worst in Major League Baseball. On the other hand, the Detroit Tigers have a .514 opponent winning percentage in the second half, which ranks among the highest in the league.
It’s not suggesting that Cespedes is fundamentally a better player in New York; however, fantasy owners should value the corner outfielder higher in a Mets uniform than they did prior to the trade. He will enjoy a much better chance of success in the Big Apple, simply because the collective quality of the performance will be noticeably lower. I’m not sure that it’s quantifiable in terms of Cespedes hitting X number of home runs more than he would have in Detroit in the second half. But it should move his value needle higher.
Finally, a simple analysis of park effects should be mentioned in this space. Citi Field has a much higher home-run factor (103) for right-handed batters than Comerica Park (90). In essence, Cespedes has moved from a home-run environment that suppressed right-handed power 10 percent more than the league average, while he’s moving to a ballpark that favors righties more. That carries over to the 2014 season, too, when Citi Field moved in its fences. It had a 102 home-run factor for righties in 2014.
I’m not persuaded by the BABIP regression argument because Cespedes is hitting the ball much harder than the league average. It also represents a change from his career norms. And while that could be a simple argument for regression to those career norms, I’m unclear how batted-ball velocity regresses to past years. I think the data is too new for us to have much evidence for that. If I’m incorrect on this aspect of batted-ball data, I’d love to see any articles on this subject. Otherwise, it’s something we’ll undoubtedly explore as the seasons continue.
Cespedes is moving to a better league, has a softer schedule than when he was in Detroit, and is transitioning to a friendlier ballpark. That’s a trio of factors that should increase Yoenis Cespedes’s rest-of-season value compared to a week ago. Fantasy owners should explore acquiring the outfielder before the fantasy baseball trade deadline passes in the near future.
BUYER’S GUIDE: BUY
Too many people will be focusing on Cespedes’s move to New York as being a negative due to the quality of the Mets’ offense. However, fantasy owners who dig below the surface may find an appreciable asset. Especially if your fantasy squad needs power, Cespedes would be a wise trade target for the championship run. He should be a quality producer across the board—aside from perhaps SB—with some power upside that isn’t accompanied by a suck in batting average. That type of player isn’t easy to find, especially one with some negative attention surrounding his move.