Yoenis Cespedes is hitting .283 with a .353 on-base percentage and .565 slugging percentage, and three home runs. Those numbers aren’t far removed from the .287/.353/.565 slashline he posted in 57 games with the Mets last season.
But there’s one alarming difference. His strikeout numbers are up.
Cespedes has struck out 18 times in 46 at-bats, a 39 percent strikeout rate. Last season, in 633 at-bats overall, his strikeout rate was 22 percent. In 230 at-bats with the Mets, he struck out 54 times. His current pace is such that he would have 90 strikeouts in 230 at-bats.
The issue is an obvious one, though not necessarily one that is easy to fix. You saw it on Monday night with Jerad Eickhoff and David Hernandez and you saw it the last time Cespedes faced Tuesday night starter, Vincent Velasquez (who struck out 16 in his last start). Right-handed pitchers with big breaking balls are giving Cespedes a ton of trouble.
Cespedes is 1-for-14 with eight strikeouts in at-bats ending with breaking pitches from right-handers. All of Cespedes’ numbers, from his swing and chase percentages (chase being how often he swings at a pitch out of the stike zone) to his in-play percentage (how often he puts the ball in play) are out of line with both last year’s numbers and his career norms. He’s become an overeager flailer.
Cespedes has put only six of 36 swings against breaking balls from right-handed pitchers into play. His career numbers are such that you would expect that number to be 14 or 15.
So why should the Mets be concerned about this, beyond it being just an early-season slump?
In fairness to Cespedes, he had a similar issue, though not as extreme, in 2013, when he struck out 15 times in his first 12 games with the Athletics in 2013 (whiffing at a 33 percent rate). He was able to hold his strikeout rate down to 26 percent over a full season. And yes, this is 12 games, not 80 games, so the idea that"it's early!" still applies.
But combine the high strikeout rate with a high batting average on balls in play (Cespedes, whose career BABIP is usually .300, is currently at .400, which would be extraordinarily hard to maintain over a full season) and there's reason to at least be wondering if something important needs to be looked at.
So it would behoove the Mets to address this issue, sooner rather than later, given the role that Cespedes’ success will play in the team’s success in 2016.