I wrote a post a month or so back on what Yoenis Cespedes would need to produce in order to be “worth” the predicted asking price. The gist of it was ‘not all that much’ provided he either plays center field or very good defense in a corner outfield position. What I didn’t feel confident in was any sort of prediction at all about what Cespedes would actually be able to do – so a piece by Jack Moore on Fangraphs yesterday really got my attention.
Cuban stats (or stats from most any other international league) aren’t something I’m easily able to get my hands on – but Moore has those for Cespedes. I had never seen that back-of-the-baseball-card info for Cespedes before, if you haven’t either – head over there (or follow the Davenport link below) to check it out. Credit Moore with the analysis, but for the stat stuff he pulls his info from Clay Davenport of Baseball Prospectus (and, of course, his own website www.claydavenport.com). Davenport is the guy behind ‘Davenport Translations’, attempts to put stats from different eras and different leagues on a level playing field. One use of that sort of technique is to try to predict how Al Kaline would hit today as opposed to the high mound years of the pitcher (a topic of purely academic interest), another is to try to predict how much a prospect’s production will drop off when making a transition from one league to another – all else equal – a topic which is clearly more than academic. The accuracy of that sort of translation – even in the statistical sense (wherein if you’re right on average, you’re accurate) – depends on the amount of data available (i.e. people who have made the transition) so translations from the Cuban League – or Asian leagues for that matter – can’t be quite as good as one from AAA to the majors. Still, as someone with absolutely zero knowledge about the Cuban League and it’s level of competition (even whether it’s closer to rookie ball, single or double A) I’m pretty interested in even the roughest of projections.
By Davenport’s translation, the numbers Cespedes put up last year in Cuba (.333/.424/.667) translate to a .245/.311/.469 line had he played his age-25 season in the MLB instead. His projection for 2012 (as a major leaguer) calls for similar pop but with a few more singles mixed in. Obviously, Cespedes is high risk compared to a major league free agent – and even a true believer in stats like myself should wonder if Davenports 10th percentile 2012 estimate is anything like a worst-case scenario for a guy who still has to prove he can hit major league breaking pitches and major league control. Still, if you’re looking for a baseline to build your own expectations around – Davenport’s 50th percentile estimate for Cespedes is as a 4 WAR center fielder which is awfully good production for $7-$8 million a year. Of course, the arguments against the signing remain valid no matter how we expect him to hit – he’s right-handed, doesn’t play second or third and he’s likely to provide more power than table-setting ability. That’s three real needs for Detroit that Cespedes would do nothing to address.