One of the hottest topics going into the season was whether the Detroit Tigers' offense would be more productive with new leftfielder Yoenis Cespedes or the recently departed Torii Hunter. The Tigers had the chance to re-sign Hunter, but passed, opting to trade Rick Porcello to the Boston Red Sox for Cespedes instead.
After seven years away, Hunter returned to his home organization of the Minnesota Twins to presumably finish his All Star career. However, even in his late 30s, he still put up big numbers at the plate with the Tigers and the Los Angeles Angels. Hunter hit .289/.345/.460 in his seven seasons away from Minnesota, with at least 16 home runs each year.
Despite ten years separating Cespedes and Hunter, their offensive production has been overall similar during the past three seasons. Hunter has been the better overall hitter, with a five-point edge in weighted runs created plus (wRC+), a statistic used to measure the overall offensive contributions of a player. Cespedes also trailed Hunter by 10 points in weighted on base average (wOBA) during those three seasons. The two significant edges that Hunter owns over Cespedes are in batting average and on-base percentage.
Neither player is known for having a keen eye at the plate, but Cespedes actually walked more often than the free-swinging Hunter, drawing 28 more walks in fewer plate appearances during that three-year stretch. Cespedes has hit for much more power than Hunter as well, hitting 21 more home runs with a .201 isolated power (ISO).
While Cespedes has been a better power hitter, his low on-base percentage has burdened his overall production throughout his career. However, Cespedes did have the best individual season within those years. In 2012, when he broke into the league with the Oakland Athletics, he got on base at a .356 clip, and posted a .368 wOBA along with 136 wRC+. However, his on-base ability has severely declined since, decreasing to .294 in 2013 and .301 in 2014.
To answer our earlier question, Cespedes has gotten off to a better start than Hunter in 2015. In his case, Yo is doing what Yo does: hit for lots of power, and take walks at an underwhelming rate. In his first three seasons, Cespedes has gotten off to a slow start in the batting average department, but this year he has come out of the gate hitting above .300. All in all, he's off to the best start of his career, with 150 wRC+ on pace to eclipse his past April record of 136 set last year. While most likely unsustainable, his .593 slugging percentage and .391 wOBA are both stellar.
On the other side of the table, with a measly 79 wRC+, Hunter is off to his worst start since 2011 when he also posted 79 wRC+ in the opening month of the season. His .285 wOBA and .250 batting average are also both on pace to be his worst since April of 2011.
Due to Hunter's slow start, the question of father time finally catching up to him is starting to get asked. In order to see if he has truly lost an edge, it's wise to look at batted-ball statistics to see if he's still hitting the ball hard.
So far, Cespedes is flat out destroying the baseball this season. He's averaging 92.39 miles per hour off the bat, with 113 miles per hour being his hardest hit ball so far. Hunter's contact, while not as eye-popping as Cespedes', has still been quite solid. His average speed off the bat is 88.75 miles per hour, with his hardest hit ball coming off the bat at 106 miles per hour. The bat speed, while Cespedes still has the edge, has suggested that Hunter can still put a hurting on a ball.
On the contrary, Hunter is ranked second to last among outfielders in line drive percentage at just 8.9 percent. Cespedes' 17 percent line drive rate is ranked in the middle, but still way above Hunter. There's still a lot of hope for Hunter that his line drive rate will pick itself up. It takes about 600 balls in play -- more than a full season's worth of at-bats -- for a player's line drive percentage to stabilize. That's good news for Hunter because it means he will inevitably go on a streak where he starts lacing every ball he hits.
The biggest similarity between the two players is in ground ball percentage. Cespedes owns a 46.8 percent ground ball rate, and Hunter is hitting 44.4 percent of the balls he puts in play on the ground. Ground ball rate normalizes after about 60 balls in play, which will be soon for both players. Their BABIP, however, differs by nearly 100 points. It can be argued that Cespedes, at .364, is getting significantly luckier than Hunter at .267. Given that his ground balls will eventually find holes, Hunter's BABIP will also inevitably increase. At the moment, however, Cespedes is reaping the benefits of putting the ball in play, while Hunter is pressing.
Again, the Twins have only played 14 games while the Tigers have played 15 this season. It's extremely early to draw any major conclusions. Cespedes is off to a hot start, but will most likely regress, and Hunter is off to a slow start, but will probably pick it up eventually. So far, it appears that the Tigers have made the correct decision when constructing their outfield and lineup for this season -- and we haven't even touched the defensive metrics yet -- but there is a lot of baseball left to be played in 2015.