Here in late July, many people are unhappy with the makeup of the 2017 Mets. That’s not really different from the way many people felt when Spring Training opened. However, the prevailing thought in February was that the offense was too one dimensional to be ultimately successful and the reality today is that on days when Jacob deGrom doesn’t pitch, the results from the mound have been unacceptable. The team is 32-45 (.416) when someone else starts.
There were many different ways the 2016-17 offseason could have shook out. The Mets had roughly $60 million to spend and the biggest chunk of that went to re-signing Yoenis Cespedes. While many questioned the wisdom of bringing back the old gang, virtually no one was disappointed that the club hitched its wagon to Cespedes for four more years.
Since being acquired at the trade deadline in 2015, much was made of the team’s record with Cespedes in the lineup and without him. No doubt that Cespedes had played well since arriving in Queens. But to attribute all of the team’s success to one individual was shaky, at best. Especially since in 2015 his arrival coincided nicely with the promotion of Michael Conforto and the return of several players from the disabled list. And when the Mets went on their run last September, Cespedes batted .214 with a .675 OPS.
Right now in 2017, the Mets are 46-51 for a .474 winning percentage. In games that Cespedes has started, the club is 24-24 and overall the team is 26-26 if he’s appeared in the game. An improvement over the team’s overall record, yes. Still, hardly the stuff of which legends are made.
As noted Sunday, the Mets are playing their best ball of 2017 right now. They’ve gone 15-10 in their last 25 games. Cespedes has started 21 of those games and appeared in 22. He has a .236/.261/.326 line in those games. It’s hard to give the lion’s share of the credit to Cespedes here.
Unfortunately, Cespedes’ poor hitting extends longer than the Mets’ string of good play. Since being activated from the DL, he has a .712 OPS in 132 PA. When he first returned, he had three multi-hit games in his first eight appearances but it’s been all downhill since then. He’s gone 87 PA since his last home run and even the announcers are talking about how he’s missing pitches they’re used to seeing him crush.
Hey, it’s a slump, the type of thing that happens to everyone.
Last night we saw Cespedes crush a ball to center that resulted in a triple and a few nights earlier he had a double. Hopefully those extra-base hits are a harbinger of things to come. No one expects Cespedes to challenge for the batting title but we all hope for an ISO higher than the .133 mark he’s posted since being activated.
One of the things that was most impressive about Cespedes was how he seemingly transformed himself since his arrival in New York. In his pre-Mets career, Cespedes drew 134 BB in 2,186 PA for a 6.1 BB%. He had a 9.4 BB% in 2016 and a 14.7 walk rate prior to going on the DL this year. But since being activated, Cespedes has just 4 BB in 132 PA (3.0) and two of those were intentional passes issued last night.
It may be a chicken and egg thing as to which came first but it seems pretty obvious that Cespedes’ lack of walks and lack of power are connected. Before going on the DL, in a tiny sample of 75 PA, he had .349 ISO to go with that 14.7 BB%.
We all want to see the power drought end. But perhaps what we need to see first is a willingness to take a walk. In April, Cespedes had a 31.0 O-Swing% and a 68.7 Z-Swing%. Here in July he’s swinging at more pitches outside of the zone (37.6) and fewer inside (59.8). Understandably, pitchers are working him away and he’s bailing them out by chasing those outside pitches.
Back when Dave Hudgens was the hitting coach, the phrase “hunting strikes” was often used and often mocked. But that’s what Cespedes needs to get back to doing. The goal isn’t for him to get more walks but rather to reduce the amount of times he’s swinging at pitches that are balls. The goal is a double in the gap or a homer over the wall, achieved by hitting pitches in the zone. The byproduct is increased walks because there are going to be plenty of times that the pitcher isn’t going to give you a pitch to hit.
Cespedes is too good of a hitter for this power outage to last, even if his strike zone judgement doesn’t increase significantly. After all, he had a .201 ISO his first three years in the league and a .183 mark with the Tigers in 2015 before his trade to the Mets. But we want to see the .250 ISO he put up last year in New York, a pace he exceeded here in April of 2017. And if he has to take a few walks to do that, so be it.