Ordinarily, Oakland A's outfielder Yoenis Cespedes would earn Rookie of the Year hardware for his performance during the 2012 season. Cespedes racked up nearly 250 total bases and slugged 23 home runs while transitioning from Cuban baseball (thought to be the equivalent of A-Ball stateside) to the majors. 2012 could hardly be described as an ordinary year, however -- not with a Mickey Mantle-in-training grabbing the nation's attention with each circus-like catch and clout.
While Cespedes lost out to Mike Trout in ROY voting, the new face of Oakland's franchise proved to be a quick study against major league pitching. He started his big league career swinging and missing at Adam Dunn-like levels, but he connected much more frequently as he led the A's to their first playoff appearance since 2006.
At times, Cespedes looked like he came straight from A-Ball during his first month in the majors. His 38% miss rate during April was second-highest among qualified hitters, besting only Dave Kingman doppelganger Mark Reynolds. Cespedes had an especially hard time against low pitches, whiffing 57% of the time that he swung:
Cespedes' contact rate in April
Cespedes logged only 23 plate appearances in May due to a left hand injury. But when he returned in June, he was a much more complete hitter. His 28% overall miss rate matched the MLB average, and he sliced his miss rate on low pitches to 36%:
Cespedes' contact rate in June
He plateaued contact-wise during his monstrous July, missing 28% of pitches overall and a slightly smaller percentage of low stuff than the month before (33%)...
Cespedes' contact rate in July
...Then cut his miss rate down to 22% in August (26% on low pitches):
Cespedes' contact rate in August
Cespedes whiffed slightly more in September (25% overall, and 32% on low pitches), but that was still far below his early season rates:
Cespedes' contact rate in September
Cespedes was a near-automatic out against low pitches prior to his hand injury, coming up empty over half of the time he swung at stuff thrown at the knees and slugging just .333 (about 40 points below the MLB average). From June on, though, Cespedes cut his miss rate to below the league average led the American League with a .563 slugging percentage against low pitches. He went from a liability to lethal in no time, and his counterpunching pitchers so quickly bodes well for his future. Cespedes is no Trout, but he's much more than the one-dimensional slugger some feared he would become.