The Three Dingers of Yoenis Cespedes

How does one define stardom in baseball? How does one identify a star? Well, firstly, it probably doesn’t require knowing a guy’s WAR. It’s more intuitive than that. You can feel your lips curling into a grin when a certain player does something exceptional. When that happens again and again, that’s when you know: there’s something special about that one guy. He can do it all, and he does it more often than everyone else. What’s a star? A star is someone capable of evoking an almost childlike sense of joy and wonder.

Yoenis Cespedes has sentimental value for Mets fans beyond his capacity to do just that. It was Cespedes who strode in and muscled the Mets to the World Series a couple years ago. He may not serve as a daily one-man wrecking crew with the sort of frequency that he did during the 2015 stretch drive, but he’s still pretty damn good, and pretty damn watchable to boot. He’s a near-ideal mixture of talent and swagger, a man with monstrous power and a magnetic presence off the field. It was that monstrous power, and the Phillies, which helped him launch three home runs last night.

Homer #1

Look, I don’t know whether we’ll ever be able to say for sure if Clay Buchholz is (was?) good. His career has been a roller coaster without safety harnesses. There have been years where he’s looked brilliant, and there have been years where he’s looked disastrous. Both varieties of seasons are prone to being curtailed by injuries. And, speaking of which, Buchholz did wind up leaving last night’s game with the dreaded “right forearm tightness,” so he may not have been at his best when Cespedes did this to him.

Now, yes, the Phillies do indeed play in a bandbox. But hitting a ball out to dead center is impressive no matter where you’re playing, and Cespedes cleared the wall with room to spare. It’s easy to do that when you’re built like Cespedes and you’ve just been thrown a big-league meatball, but you’ve still got to actually hit the thing. Cespedes, true to form, did in fact hit the thing. Thus began a game that would see the Mets score 14 runs and hit seven bombs in total. It seems Mets hitters really do trust the process.

Homer #2

Buchholz was no longer on the mound in the fourth inning, having been taken away by the team trainer. Adam Morgan was the man called upon to take his place and provide length. Including last night’s game, Morgan has thrown 203.2 innings in the big leagues, having allowed 1.9 home runs per nine innings during that time. That’s a very high ratio, if you’re unfamiliar.

Before we watch the second dinger, we’re going to ponder the term “hanging slider.” We know what a hanging slider looks like. It’s a slider that doesn’t slide, or one that slides right into the heart of the strike zone. What is the slider hanging from, though? The ever-useful Grantland Baseball Dictionary is silent on the matter. Is it hanging from an imaginary clothesline that sprouts from the unlucky pitcher’s hand? Is it hanging from a tree branch, like a particularly appealing apple? Is it hanging from the rafters? Perhaps it is, if you’re playing in Tampa. The Mets weren’t, though. Regardless of what this slider was hanging from, it was hung, and Cespedes pounced.

I wrote the other day about pitchers suffering through disastrous innings. The Phillies were in the middle of suffering through a disastrous game. Just watch Cameron Rupp’s reaction behind the plate. The pain was real. For the non-Phillies fans out there, the awe watching Cespedes hit a laser just to the right of the foul pole was real.

Homer #3

Back to the brief dialogue about stardom earlier. Stars in sports are almost always blessed with natural ability. Cespedes has his arm, and he has his bat, and he uses them with aplomb. He has natural talent. A player can learn pitch recognition. He can learn patience and proper form. Bat speed is more an expression of innate physical ability, however, and Cespedes has been blessed with incredible bat speed. Between that, his raw strength, and his ability to extend and mash pitches on the outer half of the plate, you can conclude that Morgan missed rather badly on this pitch.

Rupp wanted the pitch inside. He wanted Morgan to jam Cespedes under his hands. The pitch didn’t go inside. Morgan didn’t jam Cespedes under his hands. The fastball wound up outside, and then it wound up clanging off the video board on the facing of the second deck. The industry terms for this are “mistake pitch” and “humongous home run,” respectively.

Now, while these three homers came off bad mistakes by the Philly pitchers, a lot of home runs come about that way. There’s a reason they’re such bad mistakes. There’s a reason great pitchers don’t make these sorts of mistakes very often. This isn’t to say that Cespedes thrives off bad pitchers alone. Good hitters capitalize on mistakes. He isn’t a decent player masquerading as a great one. He is, quite simply, great.

Oh, and he hit a ringing double last night, too. That’s 14 total bases.

Cespedes isn’t always going to be lucky enough to face that sort of opposition every night. But he did last night, and he had fun because of it. He’s hit 70 home runs since the start of 2015. That’s more than guys like Bryce Harper, Anthony Rizzo, Jose Bautista and Robinson Cano. Cespedes is a true, power-hitting star. Stars have nights like this.

Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.

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6 years ago

His swing looks so simple, even tight. His lower half doesn’t come forward to the ball, just a small toe tap in – toward the plate. Even at the end of the swing, he’s still standing solid on both feet (not rolling the ankle over very much on the front and standing on the ball of the back foot). Bat is quiet, then goes straight through the zone and out. It’s almost as though it’s not a high-effort swing. I wish someone who knows something about swinging a bat would talk about his swing.