For the second time this calendar year, Yoenis Cespedes has a new home. The Red Sox dealt the outfielder to Detroit in exchange for right-handed pitcher Rick Porcello. Cespedes is going to come off the board much earlier than Porcello in a typical fantasy draft, and he should. For all his faults, Cespedes is a reliable 20-homer guy who can put up big-time counting stats in Detroit’s lineup. But the Red Sox are the ones who won this trade in real life, picking up an undervalued pitcher who can thrive in Fenway Park.
We’ll divide the Cespedes portion of this column into the good and the bad, because there is a fair amount of both. Cespedes has had at least 22 home runs in all three of his seasons in the majors. He was part of a great offense before getting dealt to Boston last season, and ended up scoring 89 runs and posting his first 100-RBI campaign. He’ll be surrounded by even more talent in Detroit, as he should slot fifth in the order, directly behind on-base machines Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Remember what Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto did for Brandon Phillips’ RBI totals in 2013? Cabrera and Martinez could have that very same effect on Cespedes this year. Comerica Park isn’t tough on righties, so Cespedes should fit well at the plate when the Tigers are home.
That’ll just about do it for the good, at least as far as the differences between Yoenis Cespedes, Detroit Tiger, and Yoenis Cespedes, Boston Red Sox. The fact is there’s a lot less to like about Cespedes heading into 2015. Let’s start with his power. His average home run distance last year was 387.5 feet. That’s down from 403 feet in 2013, which was down from 409.1 feet in his rookie year. Below is a screenshot of Cespedes’ home-run chart from 2014 with an overlay of Comerica Park.
That is not good. Cespedes' average fly ball dipped to 275.81 feet last year. He was north of 290 feet in both of his first two seasons in the majors. His HR/FB ratio fell to a career-worst 9.6 percent. To put that number into some perspective, he’s looking up at Starlin Castro, Seth Smith and Melky Cabrera on the leaderboard. And if Cespedes isn’t hitting for power, he isn’t doing much for his owners.
After his breakout rookie season, Cespedes has compiled a .251/.298/.446 slash with a 107 OPS+. While he got his strikeout rate back down below 20 percent (barely), his walk rate fell to a career-low 5.4 percent. Cespedes receives a ton of attention for a guy with a career .780 OPS in 1,759 plate appearances. Let’s look at a comparison for 2012 through 2014:
Cespedes: 1,759 plate appearances, .263/.316/.464, 71 homers, 82 doubles, 6.5-percent walk rate, 20.9-percent strikeout rate
Mystery Player: 1,725 plate appearances, .259/.327/.452, 67 homers, 77 doubles, 8-percent walk rate, 21-percent strikeout rate
Any guess as to the identity of the mystery player? No? It’s the Reds' Todd Frazier. Cespedes is a glorified Todd Frazier, and he plays a position that comes at much less of a premium in fantasy leagues. Don’t forget this when you’re sitting around your draft table in March.
Thanks to his new teammates, Cespedes could easily drive in 90-plus runs again to go along with 20 homers. If you draft him however, you’re going to have to make up for it with high-average or OBP players on the rest of your roster.
Meanwhile, Porcello’s fantasy value is held back by his low strikeout totals, and that isn’t going to change in Boston. Unfortunately for him, the other problem that befell him in Detroit is already in place in Boston: poor infield defense.
Porcello always has been, and likely always will be, a ground-ball artist. His career ground-ball rate is 52.1 percent, though last year it fell south of 50 percent for the first time in his career. Unfortunately for Porcello, he constantly had butchers in the infield, such as Jhonny Peralta, Cabrera and Prince Fielder. His BABIP has been .307 or higher in four of his six seasons.
Had he remained in Detroit, he may have been the beneficiary of a strong infield for the first time in his career. Jose Iglesias missed all of last season with stress fractures in both shins. The slick-fielding shortstop was brought in last year because of all the ground-ball wizards on the staff, Porcello among them. It’s just Porcello’s luck that he never got to throw one pitch with Iglesias in support.
While Boston may have upgraded its lineup this offseason, it has come at the expense of its infield defense. From 2012 through 2013, with Fielder at first, Peralta at short and Cabrera at third, Porcello had a league-high .330 BABIP despite a 54.2-percent ground-ball rate. Mike Napoli, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval might not be much, if at all, better than that former Detroit trio.
Porcello was a great real-life addition for the Red Sox, but he remains saddled by substandard infield defense and a low strikeout rate, making him an end-game pitcher in fantasy leagues.