His home runs majestic and awe-inspiring. His family’s rough and eye-opening journey to reach the U.S. now well documented. His struggles at the plate this season, disappointing. Of course I’m talking about A’s left fielder and home run derby champion Yoenis Céspedes. After a breakout season the A’s staple lineup threat has gone through a sophomore slump of sorts. What’s the cause? It could possibly be his family and their harrowing tale. It could be a lingering injury from earlier this season. Or it could be the one word reason many players in the Major Leagues can’t stick around, adjustments.
When Céspedes launched his first home run at the Coliseum, a moon shot above the batter’s eye in center field, opening night against the Mariners last season A’s fans instantly fell in love. The intimidating batting stance, the swing, and the sound it made. Everything clicked on that one pitch. So what has changed from that scene and that incredible level of offensive production last season?
For one thing Céspedes has been injured at times during this season, which certainly has been a contributing factor to his lack of production. Céspedes has had recurring wrist problems since his introduction to the Major Leagues. Obviously a lot of his power is generated from his quick hands and wrist rotation. That has led to more groundouts and flouts. Both can be productive depending on the situation, but with the way he hits they have been more rally killers than sacrifices or run producers.
Another problem, one that is the most likely, is that Céspedes has not made the necessary adjustments. He does have 20 HR and 58 RBI, and there is no doubt the RBI numbers would be higher if the A’s had a better offense, however those numbers does not do his struggles justice. Céspedes’ strikeout percentage has gone up four percent this season from last season. That does not seem like much, but when you get an average of 500 plate appearances in a season four percent translates to twenty extra at bats lost. With a player batting around .250 and having a .300 OBP that’s nearly eight extra times on base. That’s eight games where the A’s would have an extra base runner, especially one with speed and stolen base capabilities.
Céspedes continues to take first pitch strikes, foul off a pitch to hit, and swing and miss at an outside breaking ball in the dirt. There’s the casual groundout to third or the pop out to the shortstop in shallow left. He has to learn pitch selection if wants to continue to be successful, and unfortunately/inevitably for A’s fans get a big contract when he hits free agency in a couple seasons. The A’s need Céspedes to figure things out rather quickly as they are in the midst of a battle for the AL West crown with a tough Texas Rangers team. He is one of the rare players on the team that can carry the offense for a couple of months. This would be the time to channel that opening night magic of last season.