Yoennis Cespedes has made quite a splash since leaving the communist paradise of Cuba, aligning himself with some very clever marketers and well-produced promotional videos. Scouts are raving about his power and his speed, and there is some anticipation of a bidding war for his services once he clears the regulatory hurdles that come with being a Cuban emigre.

As well there should be. While I was initially pessimistic about his past performances, and the projections that can be reasonably made from them, I discovered a few things about how the system works. Those influences were holding him back, so to speak, for what I’m pretty sure were bad reasons.  He looks like he should be a solidly above-average major league player – not likely to be a Hall of Famer and maybe not even an All-Star, but someone who could place in the top third of starting center fielders for the next several years.

I am not basing that conclusion on the videos prepared by his agents, nor on the reports of scouts. What I have, that no one else seems to have done yet, is to compile his performance history  from the Cuban Serie Nacional, along with the stats of everyone else in the Cuban leagues, and subject those statistics to the same kind of review we have for players in the American minor leagues. I have what I think is a complete record back to 2001 of Cuban batting and pitching performances, and fielding numbers from 2006 to now. You can see all of them by going through the ‘DTs by League’ tab; the drop-down menus will allow you to change the league to “Cuban Serie Nacional” (its at the bottom of the list) , to change the year (the Cuban League typically runs from November to April; the year given is the calendar year in which the league finished, so “2011″ is the 2010-2011 season), to switch between hitting or pitching stats, and to switch between Real stats, Translated stats, and Peak Translated Stats. The latter isn’t as useful for Cuba as it is for American leagues, since there are so many players whose age is unknown  – at least, unknown to me. Even some of the ones we think we know turn out to be wrong. The drop-down menus also have a ‘Splits’ menu, but that won’t work with the Cuban stats – all I have are the top-line ‘ALL’ numbers.

Each of those pages are sortable. The stats for the entire league occupy the top of the page, with separate sortable stat boxes for each team down below. Each player is linked to his own page – accessible through the league pages, or through the search box at the top of any of the player pages. At least I think I have them all on their own page – the Cuban culture apparently takes a very lackadaisical attitude towards consistent spelling, which made it an enormous chore to link player stats from one season to the next together. I am almost certain that there is somebody whose stats are split in two because I didn’t catch on that Yoandry Malleta and Joandi Mayeta were, in fact, the same person. Having these pages gives us a chance to look at what Yoennis Cespedes has actually done on the baseball field in a competitive environment.

His real statistics are reasonably impressive – a consistent .300 eqa, averaging 35 HR per 650 PA (the sum lines are scaled down to 650 PA to ease interpretation), with excellent center field defense. He’s pulling 350-ish atbats a year, which – given that the Cuban season is 90 games, and the league leader in AB is around 380  – speaks well to his durability.

The 33 home runs he hit in 2011 represented a new Cuban league record. I have said before, that records, as often as not, are not the product of a great individual effort, but a good effort carried out in especially favorable circumstances. Cespedes’ home run record is undoubtedly the latter. Having the full stats in hand allows us to look at the trend in total HR hit over the last few years in Cuba: how they’ve gone from 669 in 2007, to 1192, then 1292, 1498, and finally 1449 in 2011, all with roughly the same number of games and plate appearances. From 2001 to 2007, no hitter in Cuba had more than 28 home runs; its happened nine teams in the last four years. In addition, Cespedes plays with Granma, which has had the highest park factors in Cuba over the last three years. (To be fair, he did hit 18 of his 33 home runs on the road, so the record is not simply a park effect). But a look at the leader board for home runs in 2011 makes it crystal clear:

Name Age Year Tm Lge AB H DB TP HR  ? BB SO R RBI SB CS Out BA OBP SLG EqA EqR POW SPD KRt WRt BIP Defense
Jose_Abreu 0 2011 Cfg CBA 212 96 14 0 33 58 32 79 93 2 1 119 .453 .597 .986 .438 75 81 -4 1 16 35 56-1B 1
Yoennis_Cespedes 25 2011 Gra CBA 354 118 17 1 33 49 40 89 99 11 3 242 .333 .424 .667 .311 65 38 2 3 3 -5 85-CF 21
Reutilio_Hurtado 0 2011 SCu CBA 321 104 18 0 30 64 45 77 77 0 0 220 .324 .457 .660 .340 74 45 -6 0 10 -6 87-CF -4
Joan_Carlos_Pedroso 31 2011 LTu CBA 253 79 9 0 29 60 67 51 83 1 0 177 .312 .452 .692 .341 60 64 -6 -20 14 0 49-1B -4
Frederich_Cepeda 31 2011 SSp CBA 305 121 25 3 28 77 36 84 81 0 1 188 .397 .519 .774 .379 83 48 -5 4 16 22 74-LF -16
Alexander_Malleta 0 2011 Ind CBA 311 100 22 1 27 78 40 74 76 6 5 219 .322 .462 .659 .322 64 38 -2 2 16 -6 87-1B -3
Alfredo_Despaigne 25 2011 Gra CBA 261 93 7 0 27 33 42 56 74 1 2 172 .356 .439 .693 .319 49 46 -6 -5 2 8 27-LF 4
Edilse_Silva 0 2011 Hol CBA 331 111 22 1 25 55 66 60 87 0 4 227 .335 .433 .634 .309 60 41 -6 -12 7 13 78-1B -7 10-LF

Cespedes was tied for the record this year by Jose Abreu, who did it in 60% as mnay atbats, and there are a whole slew of players right behind them. This looks like a pretty normal leaderboard, not the leaderboard of a record-setting season – which is how you can be pretty sure the record really belongs to the conditions, not the individual. Give him credit for leading the league in HR, but leave the record talk out of it.

(Aside: you really, really should click on Abreu’s link and look at his numbers. If I were an MLB exec I’d be tempted to hire an extraction team to go in and kidnap the guy so he could play for me).

The thing is, while there are certainly some high quality players in the Cuban league, enough to fill out an All-Star team that is strong in world competitions, the quality depth just isn’t there – a problem that isn’t helped by the continual exodus of top players like Cespedes (let us please leave the moral issues, governmental ideologies, personal freedoms, what is right and what is wrong out of this; I am explicitly and only considering the baseball issue here). In past analyses I have graded the Cuban league, as a whole, to be on par with low A ball in the States. This means that the translation process is going to take some very big bites out of these Cuban statistics, which you can see for yourself in the Regular DT portion of his page and which I’ve reproduced here:

Yoennis Cespedes               Born 19851018 Age 25   Bats R   Throws R  Height 70  Weight 200   Regular DT
Year Team         Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  BA   OBP  SLG   EqA EqR POW SPD KRt WRt BIP Defense
2004 Granma______ CBA 300  73  17   4   8  23  86  40  34   3   1  233 .243 .302 .407  .246  35   5   0 -18  -3   4  77-DH   0
2005 Granma______ CBA 358  92  22   3  13  26  83  55  42   4   1  273 .257 .314 .444  .261  48  10   1  -8  -3   0  93-DH   0
2006 Granma______ CBA 360 101  23   2  19  31  68  66  58   6   1  262 .281 .344 .514  .289  59  17   3  -1  -1   0  87-CF  -3
2007 Granma______ CBA 361  91  22   2  17  30  84  67  57  12   5  278 .252 .317 .465  .267  51  15   8  -8  -2  -4  77-CF   8
2008 Granma______ CBA 378  82  14   1  18  21  79  57  52   3   2  301 .217 .258 .402  .225  36  13   3  -6  -6 -21  76-CF   9   1-LF   1
2009 Granma______ CBA 348  87  14   1  18  28  60  58  54   4   2  270 .250 .307 .451  .260  47  14   1   2  -2 -13  65-CF   2
2010 Granma______ CBA 358  93  19   3  14  30  70  61  45   4   1  267 .260 .321 .447  .264  48   9   2  -2  -2  -3  75-CF  -9
2011 Granma______ CBA 375  92  16   1  22  34  67  60  65   8   1  287 .245 .311 .469  .267  53  18   2   1  -1 -16  85-CF  16
                  --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
         Minors       591 148  31   4  27  46 124  97  85   9   3 2171 .251 .309 .451  .260  78  13   2  -5  -2  -7  97-CF   5

What we have is a guy who (over a 162-game season) has 25-30 HR power, which is worth roughly 15 runs more than an average major league player. The only evidence for good speed, which was on prominent display in his videos, are his fielding ratings – it is not apparent from his hit distribution or stolen base totals. Statistically speaking, he only rates as slightly speedier than average. His strikeout and walk rates both rate as “poor”, although his K rate has improved in recent years. Initially, at least, and especially so if a team tries to move him straight to the majors, the K rates are likely to be worse than this. The really bad mark on his record are his BIP numbers, which have become sharply worse recently, with a score at least 13 runs worse than major league average in three of the last four years. I am still in the process of understanding the way BIP fluctuates. The BIP score, by a wide margin, has the least continuity from one year to the next of the five component stats I have listed:  correlations are only about 0.4, instead of the 0.8 ratings the others enjoy. While there are tendencies for different hitters, there is a pretty good chance that this rating numbers will improve in the US.

So yes, the overall projection is for good power, low BA and OBA, and a good CF, with an overall EQA in the .260-.270 range.  Per the EqA report, the average EqA for major league center fielders last year was .269.

There is a major league player who is, statistically, quite comparable to Cespedes. He is also a center fielder, has a Gold Glove, and is only about 2.5 months older. Compare their 2011 DTs, enlarging Cespedes’ to the same plate appearance total:

.                    ab      h     db  tp hr  bb  so     sb  cs   ba     oba    slg     eqa

Cespedes       544  133  23  1  32  49   97   12   1    .244   .307  .467   .267

ML Player     562  162  25  2  25  31  100  11   5   .288   .325   .473  .274

The major league player gets more 24 hits, but gives most of that advantage back by drawing 20 fewer walks. He’s had major league EqAs of .246, .265, .262, and .274 in his career, and there is a near-constant expectation for him to break out and have a great season. Instead, we have a string of seasons which place him as the 7-10th best CF in the majors – very good, but short of All-Star caliber. The hype of what we expect from Adam Jones and the reality we’ve gotten seems to me like a very good lesson for Yoennis Cespedes.

When I run a projection for Cespedes – and, for that matter, Jones – I get a forecast that carries them from their current .270ish figure to something more .280ish. Combine that with being good-fielding center fielders, and you’re talking about 4-5 WARP, right on the border of All-Star status. A 4.3 WARP, which is his 50% projection, would have made him the 6th best CF in 2011, 5th in 2010, or 4th in 2009. The overwhelming majority of players with similar stats are in the majors; the Improve percentage and breakout/collapse ratios are both in his favor for the next few seasons.

Cespedes’ comps are interesting, in that there isn’t a lot range to it. None of them are in the Hall of Fame, but a couple of them get mentioned in Hall discussions. Seven of the ten were very, very good – and the remaining three did just about nothing, with no gradation between the two groups.  His ten best comps (based on performances from ages 23-25) :

Year WARP VORP EQAlast3 EQAnext3 POW SPD K BB BIP
Yoennis Cespedes      2012 .264 14 2 0 -2 -11
George Hendrick 1976 20 275 .278 .297 18 0 2 -4 -2
Joe Mather 2009 -1 -2 .264 .220 13 0 -1 -2 -9
Vernon Wells 2005 16 226 .270 .267 8 0 8 -4 -2
Kevin McReynolds 1986 30 269 .270 .301 13 -1 4 -4 -5
Jason Lane 2003 3 28 .269 .273 11 2 -3 -2 -1
Andruw Jones 2003 53 382 .281 .283 16 2 -1 0 -3
Matt Luke 1997 1 3 .252 .234 9 -1 -4 -5 -4
Torii Hunter 2002 36 265 .247 .263 5 3 -4 -7 -3
George Bell 1986 12 182 .267 .285 11 1 1 -7 -3
Vada Pinson 1965 42 291 .292 .282 10 5 8 -3 3

“Year” corresponds to the “current season”; WARP and VORP are career totals; EQAlast3 is the players translated EQA for the three seasons prior to “Year” (e.g., 1973-75 for Hendrick), while EQAnext3 is for Year plus the next 2 seasons (1976-78 for Hendrick); the component scores are also for the prior three seasons.

George Hendrick, not surprisingly, also comes up as Adam Jones’ #1 comp.

One thing that is always a question with Cuban players is age – how much do these stats change if Cespedes is not actually going on 26, but is in fact several years older? It actually isn’t that bad for him, compared to other players who were reportedly something like 22 when coming to the States. He’s reached what you might call the plateau portion of the aging curve, where expected performance stays fairly level for about six years. Changing his current age had almost no affect on the projections for 2012 or 2013; where it does have an affect is in how long he can play before he goes into the downhill portion of the aging curve. You can see in his projection that the breakout/collapse ratio goes below 1 at age 29, and continues getting worse; that’s a good indication of where his comps have tended to lose it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

17 Responses to Cuban Statistics and Yoennis Cespedes

  1. Kyle Boddy says:

    Outstanding work, Clay. Who the heck is Tony Abreu, indeed!

  2. [...] Clay Davenport makes Cuban baseball stats available at his site, and he's used them to write a detailed post about Yoennis Cespedes. I still think the odds of the Rays making a run at Cespedes sit around 0.01%, but he's a fascinating player to read about. [...]

  3. [...] that caveat out of the way, Clay Davenport of Baseball Prospectus crunched the numbers to see what type of MLB hitter Cespedes will be and projects him as having 25-homer power with [...]

  4. [...] analysis of Cespedes on his blog today. The player he sees Cespedes coming closest to? Adam Jones. Cuban Statistics and Yoennis Cespedes | claydavenport.com Reply With Quote + Reply to [...]

  5. [...] Baseball America‘s Clay Davenport has figured out how Yoennis Cespedes’s MLB career might play out, based on his stats in the Cuban [...]

  6. [...] / Sun Sentinel] [Bleacher Report] [@pgammo] [ClayDavenport.com] Advertisement GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); [...]

  7. [...] Davenport of Baseball Prospectus wrote the definitive guide to Cespedes. Filed Under: Headlines Tagged With: Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, [...]

  8. [...] the league leaders. The pace he set in the 2011 Cubans season was for a whopping 56 home runs. But as Clay Davenport shows us, Cespedes wasn’t the only one to put up big home run totals in the short season. Cespedes was [...]

  9. [...] / Sun Sentinel] [Bleacher Report] [@pgammo] [ClayDavenport.com] Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  10. MIAMI ZOO says:

    [...] / Sun Sentinel] [Bleacher Report] [@pgammo] [ClayDavenport.com] Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  11. [...] link below) to check it out. Credit Moore with the analysis, but for the stat stuff he pulls his info from Clay Davenport of Baseball Prospectus (and, of course, his own website http://www.claydavenport.com). Davenport is the [...]

  12. Don Anderson says:

    I’m just not convinced this guy is really 25 years old. Look at a close-up photo and note the deep lines in the corners of his eyes.

    I’m betting a carnival weight guesser would peg him around 31-32.

  13. Toc says:

    You are not considering two very simple but radically important factors.
    Firstly, since defecting, Cespedes has been and remains free. Whatever he is doing, saying, signing, committing to, it is because he has had the opportunity to actually consider his options and (while advised by others) say, and eventually act upon, what he thinks is best.
    Secondly, since his defection, Cespedes has been subjected to a regime of nutrition, training, emotional gratification and healthy, self-building challenges, which has been vastly superior, more comprehensive and targeted than whatever he had acccess to while playing for Cuba.
    What we are looking at is s kid who’s only now finding his full mental, personal, and athletic potential. Sit and watch.

  14. [...] Clay Davenport looks at his overall statistics, from the Cuban National Series, Cuban league play and so forth, while assessing the level of competition he really faced. If the level of Cuban league play is comparable to Class A ball (and low A ball, at that) in the United States, how exactly do Cespedes’ number project to the majors? And which current major league centerfield does he compare to? [claydavenport.com] [...]

  15. [...] Clay Davenport looks at his overall statistics, from the Cuban National Series, Cuban league play and so forth, while assessing the level of competition he really faced. If the level of Cuban league play is comparable to Class A ball (and low A ball, at that) in the United States, how exactly do Cespedes’ number project to the majors? And which current major league centerfield does he compare to? [claydavenport.com] [...]

  16. [...] of a goodwill ambassador for the White Sox this offseason as it looks to woo Cuban products Yoennis Cespedes and Jorge Soler is encouraging: “I’ve been in Miami, but I have reached out to both of the [...]

  17. [...] Prospectus projects Cespedes as having 25 homer power, a .250 average, and poor K/BB ratios (http://claydavenport.com/?p=97). Davenport’s excellent work says the player Cespedes most closely resembles is Jones. [...]

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