Is Cespedes Back on Track?

"How could you ever doubt me?" (Photo: Steve Bowles - Left Field Bleachers)

“How could you ever doubt me?” (Photo: Steve Bowles – Left Field Bleachers)

About four weeks ago I posted an entry in which I detailed the myriad of struggles Yoenis Cespedes has dealt with this season. At the time, Cespedes was batting .225 and piling up strikeouts at a dizzying rate that made Mark Reynolds look like Ty Cobb. Whatever fantasies A’s fans had dreamed up about his Home Run Derby victory being the catalyst for a second half turnaround quickly vanished in a nightmarish haze of misplayed balls and mammoth swings and misses at breaking balls in the dirt. However, with six multi-hit games in his last eight contests, it looks as though Cespedes may have finally turned a corner at a crucial point in the season.

Interestingly, his September resurgence comes at a time when things were looking pretty bleak for the Cuban defector. His .216 batting average and .252 on-base percentage in August were his lowest of any month in the season and his 11 RBIs were his second lowest monthly total, behind only the All-Star abridged month of July in which he also missed time due to a wrist injury. His 28 strikeouts were the second highest of any month and his .634 OPS was his lowest output by 34 points.

Going into the derby he was hitting .225. By the end of August he was at .226. Not exactly the post-derby bump that many people had anticipated and hoped to see.

He still launched the occasional homer and made some decent plays in the field, but it was completely counteracted by his ineptness at hitting curves and sliders. At that point I figured this was the Cespedes we were going to see this season, and possibly beyond: A low average, impatient hitter who tries to muscle up every pitch he sees, no matter where it’s thrown. The guy we saw in 2012 seemed to be a mirage.

But in the last week of August, the A’s began playing their best stretch of baseball on the season, and Cespedes got in on the act when we pulled up another page on the calendar.

In eight games so far this month, Cespedes is hitting .406 with two homers and four RBIs. While some people may lament that those two jacks represent his only extra base hits this month, the fact is Cespedes is making better contact, and he’s getting more hits as a result.

On August 12, the day I posted the entry analyzing his season, Cespedes had a live drive percentage of 14.2%, but it now stands at 16.9%. His fly ball percentage has fallen from 47.7% to 44.5%. He’s also seeing more batted balls fall in for hits as his BABIP has increased 18 points to .273.

While eight games is a rather small sample size, this is the most consistent stretch Cespedes has had all season. His batted ball metrics have improved significantly during the past month, and he’s taking a more measured approach at the plate instead of trying to blast everything 500 feet. He’s also shown more willingness to shorten up his swing and hit balls the opposite way.

He could still stand to cut down on the strikeouts, but I’m not going to complain as long as he keeps hitting. If Cespedes can maintain his September pace, he will be the most potent offensive threat for the A’s in the final weeks of the regular season and the playoffs.

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