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An Open Letter to Tony Kornheiser – Yoenis Cespedes, MVP?

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An open letter to Tony Kornheiser, who has been effusive in his praise for Yoenis Cespedes and his impact on the Mets this year.

OF COURSE Yoenis Cespedes should be in the MVP discussion. What could the Mets possibly have accomplished without Him, the anointed one?

Before He arrived, the Mets had a batting average of .234 and an OPS of .662. Between August 1st when He arrived and September 9th when the sweep of Washington effectively ended the season, His teammates batted .270 with an OPS of .814.

Obviously, they were better only because He was there.

After all, Michael Conforto struggled after being called up on July 24, hitting just .211 with a .664 OPS — for a week. A whole week! But verily, Cespedes did lay his hands on Conforto, and the young man was thence transformed, batting .304 with an OPS of .958 through September 9.

“Hallelujah!” cried the chorus of Mets left-fielders, who’d combined in the prior 30 games to bat .193 with a .649 OPS. “Surely,” they said, “without Cespedes Conforto would have been no upgrade at all.”

The Mets had a trio of replacement catchers who hit just .216 in July, with an OPS a meagre .540. But then the mere mention of Cespedes healed Travis d’Arnaud, miraculously returning him from the DL just hours after the Cespedes trade. d’Arnaud proceeded to bat .290 with a .954 OPS during The Run. Praise be to Cespedes, without whom d’Arnaud would surely have remained an invalid.

Cespedes’s healing powers took longer on David Wright, who didn’t return until August 24. But what inspiration could the Mets possibly have gained from Wright, when The Cespedes was already there?

Perhaps even more important evidence of His divine nature were the effects Cespedes had on the Nationals. Cespedes caused the Nationals to go 2-8 against the Dodgers, Giants, and Cardinals. He must have, what else could it have been? Verily, He caused simmering unrest in the Nationals’ bullpen to boil over during the 10 days leading to September 9, with Treinen, Rivero, Storen, and Janssen combining to give up 23 hits, 13 walks, and TWENTY earned runs in 17 innings.

And Storen! Obviously, and without question, Cespedes caused Storen to go from a top-5 NL closer to a hot pile of steaming sheep entrails. No, it was not Nationals management very publicly indicating they had no confidence in Storen, silly non-believer. No, Drew fell apart because the Green-Sleeved One gazed upon him and laid bare his sleeping inadequacy.

Yea, Yoenis also had dominion over animal spirits, causing Nationals management to invite Jonathan The Beast into their house; thereafter, nothing sweet grew in even the most carefully tended fields; and there was much gnashing of teeth, and grabbing of throats.

And lo, how Matt Williams did quake daily with Cespedes a mere three-hour Acela ride away! Surely, only the knowledge of His works could have caused Williams to be transformed from a shepherd of admittedly questionable acumen into The Worst Tactical Manager In Baseball History.

Okay, enough of that nonsense.

Cespedes was GREAT during that 36 game period, until the final nail in was put in the Nats’ coffin September 9th. But let’s be serious – there were so many contributors to the success of the Mets. If you want to assign the credit for all of those parts succeeding to just one player—ignoring the way baseball works–why not make it Conforto, who joined the team a week before Cespedes? Or d’Arnaud, who came off the DL the same day and (perhaps) helped Matt Harvey to a 0.33 ERA in August? Or Curtis Granderson, who was in many ways Cespedes’s equal over that period? Or maybe Tyler Clippard, who in retrospect would have been a much better fit in Washington than Papelbon?

Maybe we can dispense with the “catalyst like no other player in baseball history” nonsense? Please? Can we talk stats instead? I don’t expect Mr. Tony to read any farther (actually don’t expect he’s read this much), but this is where the Cespedes argument REALLY falls apart.

Between August 1 and September 9, Cespedes was on fire. His BA/OBA/SLG/OPS slashline was .312/.357/.675/1.032. Really outstanding numbers. And a big boost from the rest of his year, which was .284/.319/.498/.817.

But here’s what Bryce Harper did during the same 36-game period: .352/.491/.600/1.091. Better. During Cespedes’s supposed MVP streak, Bryce Harper was BETTER.

And then look at what Harper did the rest of the year: .323/.450/.664/1.114. Not only was Harper better than Cespedes during the 40 days during which Cespedes is supposed to have earned MVP cred, Harper was better than that ALL YEAR LONG. Randomly pick a day after mid-May; there’s a 70% chance that Harper’s OPS over the previous 36 games was higher than Cespedes’s was over his BEST 36-game stretch.

Maybe we should look at WAR, which is a rough measure of how many wins the player accounted for, compared to replacement off the bench or from AAA. Baseball Reference had Cespedes at 2.5 WAR for the Mets, and Harper at 9.5 for the Nats. So from an objective perspective, Harper was nearly FOUR TIMES as valuable to the Nationals as Cespedes was to the Mets.

But I don’t really like WAR that much, specifically because of its treatment of defense. RE24 is my favorite batting metric; each of the 24 outs-and-bases occupied circumstances are analyzed based on all of their instances during the season and the eventual number of runs that scored each time, and so each is assigned an average “run expectancy.” Each plate appearance can then be assigned a number of expected runs gained or lost based on the change in runs and run expectancy from before the plate appearance to after it.

During the Mets’ run, Cespedes accumulated an increase in run expectancy of 20.59, which is huge; only 49 players accumulated that much RE24 over the whole season. During that same period of time, Harper accumulated 20.91. Right – better. But for the rest of the season, Cespedes’s RE24 was 15.21, adding up to an MLB 18th-best for the year at 35.8.

For the rest of his year, Harper’s RE24 was 54.16, 250% higher than Cespedes’s. For the season, Harper’s 75.1 RE24 was 15% higher than anybody else in baseball.

Do not discount the season Harper just had. It was historic. If you don’t count cheaters or strike–shortened or Colorado–inflated seasons, Harper’s 2015 was one of the best 10 offensive seasons in the last 50 years. Here’s my (current, ever-fluid) top 10:

One take on the top 10 offensive seasons of the last 50 years, based on OPS+ and the gaps between season leaders and the next-highest.

One take on the top 10 offensive seasons of the last 50 years, based on OPS+ and the gaps between season leaders and the next-highest.


Written by David Clayton

October 22, 2015 at 12:10 am

Posted in Baseball

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