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Don't sleep on power of a healthy Céspedes

@_dadler
July 14, 2020

Yoenis Céspedes, who hasn't played big league baseball in two years, says he's ready to return to the Mets. He says, of hitting Major League pitching, "It's like riding a bike." Let's hope Yo still knows béisbol -- because La Potencia is the type of player who brings excitement to

Yoenis Céspedes, who hasn't played big league baseball in two years, says he's ready to return to the Mets. He says, of hitting Major League pitching, "It's like riding a bike."

Let's hope Yo still knows béisbol -- because La Potencia is the type of player who brings excitement to the game. Let's believe, like a Mets fan should. Let's envision Céspedes healthy and in the universal DH role and hitting like he's riding a bike.

Remember: this is what a full-powered Yoenis Céspedes can do.

He can mash like Pete Alonso

When Céspedes arrived in New York on July 31, 2015, the Mets had 59 games remaining in their season. His 2015 stretch run with the Mets was, essentially, a 2020 season.

You might recall what he did in those near-60 games. Crush 17 home runs. Slug .604 with with a .942 OPS. Drag the Mets' offense into the postseason.

He doesn't have to do that now. Not at age 34 and without a big league game under his belt in two years. Alonso can anchor the lineup. But remember what Céspedes is capable of at his best, because if he can awaken that dormant game-changing bat, he can still be dangerous.

Just for fun: Céspedes' peak 60-game performances as a Met are actually even better than Polar Bear Pete's. Here's how their best runs in blue and orange compare in some big power categories.

HR: Céspedes -- 23 | Alonso -- 22
RBIs: Céspedes -- 61 | Alonso -- 51
SLG: Céspedes -- .687 | Alonso -- .639
OPS: Céspedes -- 1.041 Alonso -- 1.022
wRC+: Céspedes -- 183 | Alonso -- 166

He might not equal Peak Céspedes in these 60 games in 2020, but don't forget, this guy has 74 home runs in 308 games as a Met. That would be a 39-homer pace for a full season -- or 14-15 homers over 60 games.

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Even FanGraphs' Depth Charts projections -- much more conservative than fantasizing about a healthy Céspedes' ceiling -- see Yo as a solidly above-average hitter in 2020, projecting him for a 111 wRC+ with eight homers and an .811 OPS over about 35 games and 150 plate appearances. If he can beat those even by a little, he's looking at double-digit homers.

He can rip the ball like MLB's elite

Check out how Céspedes' Statcast data stacks up to the rest of baseball since his Mets debut.

Avg. exit velocity: 91 mph -- T-20th of 279 hitters (min. 750 batted balls)
Hard-hit rate: 45.7% -- 17th of 279
Barrel rate: 11.1% -- T-31st of 279
Expected SLG: .515 -- T-21st of 310 hitters (min. 1,000 PA)

On the exit velo leaderboard, Céspedes is just ahead of hitters like Paul Goldschmidt (90.9 mph), Mike Trout (90.7 mph), Ronald Acuña Jr. (90.7 mph), Bryce Harper (90.4 mph) and Mookie Betts (90.3 mph).

In hard-hit rate -- that's how often he hits the ball 95 mph or harder -- he's right above Manny Machado (45.6%), teammate Robinson Canó (45.1%), DJ LeMahieu (44.7%) and Cody Bellinger (43.6%).

Barrels are the next step up from hard contact. They're the most dangerous contact -- ideal exit velocity and launch angle. They're driven hard and in the air, and they turn into home runs and extra-base hits in your stat sheet. Céspedes has 98 barrels with the Mets, over 11% of the balls he's hit, a higher overall barrel rate than hitters like teammate Michael Conforto (11.0%), Matt Chapman (10.9%), Christian Yelich (10.8%), George Springer (10.5%) and Kris Bryant (10.4%).

Statcast can also take Céspedes' batted balls and generate an expected slugging percentage for his time with the Mets. Céspedes' .515 xSLG ranks ahead of names like Giancarlo Stanton (.511), Justin Turner (.508), José Abreu (.505) and Marcell Ozuna (.504).

He's not just in the lineup to rip base hits. Céspedes is about damage.

He can eat up breaking balls and destroy the low ball

Céspedes has two slugging specialties: He crushes breaking balls, and he crushes everything down in the zone.

In his games with the Mets, Céspedes has slugged .512 against curveballs and sliders, with 22 home runs. That's a top-10 slugging mark in baseball among hitters with a comparable number of at-bats decided on breaking pitches (Céspedes ranks eighth of the 284 players with 300-plus plate appearances vs. breaking balls). And it's the right skill set to have in today's spin-heavy game.

But what he really feasts on are balls down in the zone. Since the date of his Mets debut, Céspedes has 31 homers and a .541 slugging percentage against pitches in the lower third of the strike zone or below -- second best among MLB hitters, behind only David Ortiz and right ahead of Mike Trout.

Best SLG vs. low pitches since Céspedes' Mets debut
1) David Ortiz: .645
2) Yoenis Céspedes: .546
3) Mike Trout: .541
4) Freddie Freeman: .500
5) Charlie Blackmon: .496

When the pitch is within the lower third of the strike zone, Céspedes has slugged an absurd .794 -- also second best between Big Papi (.829) and Trout (.729).

Even when he's playing on two bad heels, he can still do things like this …

Watch these two home runs Céspedes hit in 2018 -- when he was on his last legs, literally.

Here's the first one.

That's Céspedes unleashing a monster home run to Big Mac Land in St. Louis -- a 115 mph, 463-foot blast that stands as the Mets' hardest Statcast-tracked home run by anyone not named "Polar Bear," and it is also one of their top five longest.

He hit that homer on April 24, 2018. He'd go on the injured list just a few weeks later, the stint that preceded his heel surgeries.

Here's the second.

That's Céspedes homering in the last Major League game he played in, against the Yankees, on July 20, 2018. Opening Day 2020 awaits just past the two-year anniversary of that game. The 2020 Subway Series starts a month after that, on Aug. 21 at Citi Field. Mark your calendars.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.