On Yoenis Cespedes’ defense in center field

Last year, he moved over to center field on the fly. The year before, he played only very occasional center field. The year before, it was the same thing. And while Cespedes started as a center fielder as a rookie, at that point he was adjusting to literally everything in the US. And he didn’t play so much center field after May. He just hasn’t had that much of a chance.

For more information, we have a few routes. As an example, since 2002, we have 16 cases of a player getting regular time in center field a season after getting regular time in left or right field. These are players who made adjustments similar to Cespedes, and in the first year, as corner outfielders, they averaged a UZR/150 of +8.2. In the second year, as center fielders, they averaged a UZR/150 of -0.7. They declined as a group, of course, because center field is a tough position, but this basically agrees with our normal positional adjustment of 10 runs between the spots. Based on this, the expectation should be that Cespedes will be okay. Neither great nor terrible.

Source: Jeff Sullivan, FanGraphs

Last year, in 1,022.1 innings in LF, Cespedes had a 22.1 UZR/150 and in 312. 1 innings in CF, he had a (-14.0 mark). In his career, Cespedes has a 13.9 UZR/150 in LF (3,383 innings) and a (-17.6) mark in CF (912.2 innings).

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14 comments for “On Yoenis Cespedes’ defense in center field

  1. Name
    January 26, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    Am I the only one who thinks that Conforto gets sent down and Cespedes is the LFer?

    • January 26, 2016 at 4:39 pm

      I think that’s a possible outcome but I expect Conforto to get first crack at things. He won’t get to have an April like Granny did in 2014 – his leash will be shorter than that.

      • Matty Mets
        January 26, 2016 at 6:34 pm

        excellent point. I think Conforto will have the opportunity to play everyday as management sees him as a longterm cornerstone, but I completely agree with you. Given our depth, management does not need to give him a long leash.

      • Name
        January 26, 2016 at 7:52 pm

        I don’t see how Cespedes would agree to that deal without the promise of playing LF. What reasons does he have to willingly play CF? I assume someone in his camp knows about defensive metrics

        • Larry Smith
          January 27, 2016 at 6:50 am

          I disagree. I am quite certain that Alderson laid out his plans to Cespedes and his representation. The basic plan would be to have Cespedes start in CF when righties start and against some lefties. When manager Collins opts to sit Conforto then Lagares would be in CF with Cespedes in LF. Since Cespedes doesn’t seem to like playing RF then on Granderson off-days it would be Lagares in RF (or De Aza if it’s a RHP) with Yo staying in center.

          • Name
            January 27, 2016 at 11:49 am

            I guess one of the two scenarios must have unfolded.

            Cespedes market was so poor that he had to be willing to play CF in order to get decent money

            Or

            Cespedes is stupider than I think he is. Playing CF is an unnecessary risk that has little potential payoff. There is very little chance that any team would view him as a long term option in CF next year when he reenters FA so why would he risk his defensive reputation to play there? Why risk the chance of another blunder in CF and the negative opinions like the one he made on the World Series? Does he enjoy playing CF that much?

  2. royhobbs
    January 26, 2016 at 7:19 pm

    Would the cynicysts be happier if we didn’t sign Cespedes and platooned Legares and DeAza as our starting CFs?
    Let’s give Cespy some practice playing CF during Spring Training before we jump.
    Remember, he was thrusted there by TC last year and accepted it like a soldier (with little chance to practice).
    So glad we resigned him!

    • January 27, 2016 at 8:46 am

      Who said anything about being unhappy about signing Cespedes?

  3. royhobbs
    January 26, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    What leads you guys to believe that Conforto won’t come out of the gate “raking”?

  4. Metsense
    January 26, 2016 at 9:22 pm

    I realize he is only a “rookie” but it would not surprise me to see Conforto hit 20+ homeruns with a 800+ OPS and eventually bat third in the line up. I don’t see him ever playing in the minors again. Cespedes in center is the 2016 solution with Lagares as his defensive caddy. Cespedes could be a future right fielder with his strong throwing arm. I hope the Mets give him some reps out there. Cespedes will be below average in center but adequate enough. It does beg the question, who is the better centerfielder, Cespedes or Granderson?

  5. Eraff
    January 26, 2016 at 10:34 pm

    Granny in left and center might cause a steady stream of singles that become doubles…..although he’s never making the 3rd base cut down throw or the peg out to home plate, he’s not providing an instant scoring position runner…. Strangely, I think Ed is actually the best place to hide such a weak arm

    Comforto is. Huge investment in upside. They will plant him out there and give him a shot at owning it

  6. Eraff
    January 27, 2016 at 12:14 am

    I meant to type that “RF is actually the best place to hide such a weak arm”.

  7. James Preller
    January 27, 2016 at 5:52 am

    I think the idea of sending Conforto down, or even of giving him a short leash, is self-defeating. Not to mention idiotic. He’s probably the team’s best hitter. You don’t sign Cespedes for $27.5 million only to hold back your talented, future All-Star.

    I think you’d have to stare at a lot of specious defensive metrics to come up with an idea like that.

    First, obviously: De Aza was a mistake, and is completely superflous to the NY Mets. He can’t hit LHP, so he’s useless as a sub for Conforto or Granderson. As a corner outfielder, he has no value to the Mets. And now with Cespedes — who likes CF — De Aza has little value in CF.

    Meanwhile, Lagares is a perfect 4th outfielder for the Mets, and he can fill in anywhere.

    I’ve seen others talk about shifting Cespedes to LF, then RF, then back to CF, etc. Well, unless things have changed, he doesn’t like RF. He likes CF, and he accepts LF.

    Just play him in CF, accept that he’ll be a little below average defensively, but that he’ll more than make up for it on the offensive side. We just have to accept that Cespedes isn’t a great defender out there. On the plus side, the Mets were willing to throw De Aza out there for 2/3 of the games, and he’s bad without the pop.

    Leave Conforto alone. Let him grow, let him hit LHP, let him bat in the middle of the lineup, and reap the benefits. The idea of sending this kid down to Vegas is goofy; it would literally drive me insane.

    • January 27, 2016 at 9:03 am

      It’s certainly not what I would do.

      Then again, I’m not the one with a track record of giving playing time to crappy veterans over prospects.

      Worst-case scenario: At the end of April, Conforto duplicates 2014 Granderson and is batting .136 — do you think he’s given the chance to work things out in the majors or is he sent to the minors to “get more experience?”

      Sure, if they’re winning, there’s a chance they go first half 2012 Ike Davis. But Davis had 750 PA in the majors before ’12 while Conforto has fewer than 1/3 that amount. Plus there wasn’t $8.25 million of replacements sitting on the bench when Davis was struggling so mightily in ’12.

      I’m not in any way, shape or form predicting that Conforto is going to do this. In a reply to Name’s question at the start of the comments section here, I replied I could see a way where Conforto got sent down. Nothing else should be read into it.

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