The early struggles of New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes in 2018 are an anomaly and no reason for alarm.
Alarm bells have started to sound regarding Cespedes’ April funk and the prodigious rate at which he is striking out. While those sounds have been somewhat quieted by the Mets record-setting start and 15-6 April record, some have started to ask: What is wrong with him?
He’s hitting below the Mendoza Line (.195), has a putrid .255 on-base percentage and mediocre .635 OPS. He’s struck out 39 times in 87 at-bats, a record-setting pace to start the season.
Of course, there have been whispers about his work ethic. Inevitably his golf game has entered the conversation, this time not as a problem, but a potential solution.
“One of the things that I did before, years ago, when I was in a slump, was playing golf and trying to get out of my slump,” Cespedes told James Wagner of the New York Times. “I said this season I wouldn’t go to play golf. So one of the things that I’m doing now, that I didn’t do before, is watching the videos. That’s something different I’m doing right now. But unfortunately, it’s not going too well so far…I stopped doing it in the offseason. But I think I’m considering playing golf again.”
Two years ago, many around the Mets were up in arms when 18 holes of golf coincided with a trip to the disabled list. Eventually, he agreed to put away his golf bag for a time.
But maybe he’s on to something.
Whether he plays golf or not, Cespedes admitted he is lost at the plate right now and flying out with his front shoulder. Even on Tuesday against the Cardinals, when he hit a game-tying three-run home run off of St. Louis’ Luke Weaver, he struck out twice.
While his mechanics may be off, what is really wrong with Yoenis Cespedes in the big scheme of things? Nothing out of the ordinary that can’t be fixed.
Cespedes will eventually find his baseball swing, whether with a golf club, in the video room or merely as an outgrowth of the proverbial baseball gods deeming it so. And when he does, National League hurlers will most certainly take notice.
He’s in a slump, a phenomenon as old as baseball itself. Baseball players are notoriously streaky creatures, power hitters chief among them. They are prone to magnificent feats of grandeur in bunches interspersed with lulls during which their mechanics are off.
This is merely one of those lulls, albeit magnified because it is at the start of the season. Ebbs and flows in statistics and performance are a part of the game.
The operative number here is not 39, his number of strikeouts but 94, the number of plate appearances Cespedes has had in 2018.
Less than 100 plate appearances is a tiny sample size. Any data one might draw from that is spurious at best. It’s too early to draw conclusions—or to have any real concern. A slump is just that, a natural part of the marathon that is a baseball season, nothing more, nothing less.
“You can’t fall for it, the good, the bad, the OK,” noted Jay Bruce to NorthJersey.com’s Matt Ehalt after breaking out of a his own slump with three hits and following Cespedes’ game-tying home run with a 10th inning game-winner against the Cardinals, “It’s a long season, there are going to be good times there are going to be bad times.”
Even with his struggles, Cespedes, hitting in the second spot for the first time in his career on a daily basis under new Mets Manager Mickey Callaway, has had his share of successes.
Last week was a perfect example of the odd dichotomy of Cespedes’ April. After striking out four times against Atlanta last Friday, Cespedes laced a go-ahead single in the 12th inning to give the Mets the lead in a 5-3 win, his third game-winning hit of the year.
He had another game-winning 12th inning single to beat the Nationals earlier this April and also won a game in Miami with a booming double in the eighth inning.
In the clutch, Cespedes has been able to bear down. His K-rate drops from 45-to-15 percent in high leverage situations, where he has a .385 batting average and .846 OPS.
With runners on base Cespedes is hitting .282, and with runners in scoring position he is hitting .375 with 17 RBI. That too is part of a small sample size, but clutch is clutch and Cespedes has thus far made the most of early opportunities.
Though a 42 percent K-rate is nothing to completely eschew, it is an anomaly to this point. It is double his K-rate of 19.9 percent in 2017. Nothing says his bat speed is slowing down. He is still pulling the ball at virtually the same rate as he always has. A 21-game period of time is a streak, nothing more.
The bottom line is that there is nothing that would intimate that Cespedes will be anything less than the juggernaut in the middle of the lineup he has been since joining the Mets in 2015, so long as he remains healthy.
Numbers usually self-correct with a larger body of work, as will likely be the case with Cespedes. He has never struck out more than 141 times in a season. He hasn’t turned into Adam Dunn or Rob Deer overnight.
His body of work says that Yoenis Cespedes won’t strike out 300 times or even 200 times in 2018. Nor will he continue to float below the Mendoza line. He is also unlikely to drive in 162 runs this season, though that would be nice.
One number that won’t change is 463—how many feet Cespedes’ game-tying homer in St. Louis traveled.
Even a slumping Cespedes is a threat and a lynchpin of a lineup. It has been a tale of the great, bad and very ugly for Cespedes during this slow start in 2018, but he is bound to catch fire.
It is just a matter of timing—and time.