Cespedes gets an 'A' for improvements

AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye

The first home run Yoenis Cespedes hit foreshadowed his penchant for big late-game long balls.

Yoenis Cespedes won’t win the MVP or even the Rookie of the Year Award.

But consider that the Oakland Athletics, now on the verge of a postseason spot, are 79-46 when he starts and 12-22 when he doesn’t, when you fully assess his value.

Notable Cespedes HR

Add Sunday’s game-winning homer to the Cespedes highlight reel for 2012. It was the third time this season that Cespedes hit a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning or later against the Seattle Mariners.

The third happens to be the charm that by the end of the night dropped the Athletics magic number for clinching a playoff spot to one.

The value of the Cespedes home run

Sunday’s home run was Cespedes’ fifth this season that either tied the game or put the Athletics ahead in the seventh inning or later. He and Jonny Gomes are tied for the team lead, two shy of major-league co-leaders, Adam Jones and Billy Butler.

The Athletics have been all about the clutch home run this season. Their 22 such home runs are one shy of the major-league lead. The White Sox have the most, with 23.

The progression of Cespedes

All three of Cespedes' hits on Sunday came on sliders, and that’s noteworthy, as part of the improvement that he’s made against offspeed pitches this season.

In the season’s first two-and-a-half months, he missed on 44 percent of his swings against them, but he’s reduced that to 34 percent since returning on June 20.

This is part of an overall improvement by Cespedes against pitches of all types. His rate of missed swings overall has dropped from 35 percent pre-injury to 25 percent since.

That would help explain the difference in Cespedes slashline splits, from .275/.338/.489 through June 6 to .298/.359/.517 since then.

Who else has benefited from Cespedes’ return?

The Athletics have experienced a big power surge since Cespedes returned to the lineup.

Prior to June 20, they averaged less than a home run per game. But since then, they’ve hit 132 home runs in 91 games.

Among the biggest power beneficiaries of the Athletics regulars has been Cespedes’ outfield mate, Coco Crisp.

Crisp did very little in the first two-and-a-half months of the season (he was dealing with an inner-ear infection), but has been a potent bat over the last several months.

Crisp started hitting well a few games prior to Cespedes’ return. Since June 13, he’s hitting .300 with 10 home runs, 28 stolen bases, and an .867 OPS. His 11 home runs this season are his most since hitting 16 in 2005.

The key to the switch-hitting Crisp’s improvement is that he’s taken big-time advantage of pitcher’s mistakes.

Crisp homered on Friday on a pitch over the middle-third of the plate width-wise, then started an eighth-inning rally with a single on such a pitch on Saturday.

The switch-hitting Crisp is 26-for-his-last-50 when an at-bat from the left side ends with a fastball, sinker or cutter over the middle-third of the plate.

What’s Next?

Cespedes should be eager to face the Rangers in these final three games of the season.

He’s hitting .396 with three home runs and 10 RBI in 15 games against Rangers pitching. His .755 slugging percentage against the Rangers is his best against any AL opponent.