Is Cespedes best 6-hole hitter in MLB? Stats bear witness

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Yoenis Cespedes is welcomed home after his three-run homer Monday night.

Minneapolis – The only place Yoenis Cespedes makes any noise, it seems, is during games.

He is still uncomfortable speaking English, so his rare press gatherings are done through team interpreter and media relations boss Aileen Villarreal. His Spanish-speaking voice barely rises above a whisper and the translation usually is no more than two or three paraphrased sentences.

About the only time you see him in the clubhouse is when he's walking briskly with a bat in his hand heading out to the batting cages.

But once the game starts, he's hard to miss. His three-run home run in the first inning Monday sent the Tigers to a 5-4 win against the Twins. He's hit safely in 15 of 20 games, and he's batting .303, with four home runs, six doubles and 16 RBI.

Not bad for the sixth hitter in your lineup.

"It's like he's forgotten about in that six hole," Ian Kinsler said. "It's crazy. He just continues to produce. He is so dangerous at the plate. He's always coming up with two outs and in RBI situations.

"He's in a great spot and he keeps coming through. It's awesome."

It can't be much fun for a pitcher to battle through Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez and then see Cespedes walking up to the plate. Just ask the Yankees' CC Sabathia, who faced the Tigers eight days ago.

"After the first inning, I went back to the dugout and told Chris Young that their lineup should be illegal," he said. "Every time you think you have a chance to take a breath, they've got another hitter up there."

And Kinsler is right, too – Cespedes has been coming up quite often with two outs and runners on base. Here is how he's responded:

With two outs and runners in scoring position, Cespedes is 6-for-12 (.500) with a double, two home runs (including the bomb he hit into the bullpen in left-center Monday) and 10 RBI.

Hitting with two outs overall, he's .355 with a 1.117 OPS, three doubles, three homers and 12 RBI.

Hitting with runners in scoring position overall, he's at .450, with a 1.278 OPS and 13 RBI.

"Cespedes would hit fourth on a number of teams," manager Brad Ausmus said. "Between Miggy, Victor, J.D. and Cespedes, it's almost like we have four guys who are three-slash-four-hole hitters at the Major League level. We have four of them. Most teams have only two. Some only one."

Ausmus admits he didn't know much about Cespedes before the Tigers acquired him, but he's not like he perceived him to be from the outside.

"When you look at him from the other side, he looks like he almost has kind of a mean edge to him. But he's really a fun-loving guy," Ausmus said. "He gets that look on his face like he's (angry) at the pitcher and he's going to make the baseball pay for it.

"But he's not like that when you get to know him. He enjoys being around his teammates, joking around and having fun."

Cespedes hit 22 home runs and knocked in 100 runs last season, starting with Oakland and finishing in Boston. Yet, there were some national and local pundits who viewed it as another sign of gradual decline for Cespedes, mostly because he scuffled with the Red Sox.

That prompted Ausmus to say in spring training, "I wish I could hit 20 home runs and knock in 100 in the decline of my career."

The Twins certainly aren't buying any talk of a declining Cespedes. He's now hit safely in 18-of-19 career games against them, hitting .380, with seven doubles, two triples, five homers and 24 RBI.

"With our lineup, once we get the ball rolling, it seems like we can turn it over really quick," Kinsler said. "When we do, lots of runs are scored and there is a lot of chaos."

That process has been aided by shortstop Jose Iglesias. He hit second on Monday and responded with a home run, single and triple. But mostly hitting ninth, he's hit .397 with a better OPS than Cespedes (.989).

"We had our little Cuban Connection win the game for us (Monday)," Kinsler said.

Ausmus spent the majority of spring training trying to decide where to hit Cespedes. He considered, briefly, hitting him second. That was before Rajai Davis and Anthony Gose emerged as capable leadoff hitters, allowing Kinsler to bat second.

He also considered batting Cespedes ahead of J.D. Martinez. In the end, his rationale for batting Cespedes behind Martinez proved prophetic.

"I just felt like he'd have more opportunities to drive in runs (batting sixth)," Ausmus said.

So far so good on that.

Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky