During his 2013 debut with the Dodgers, the great Vin Scully gave Yasiel Puig an apt nickname of “The Wild Horse.” This is a name that would go on to categorize Puig with freedom and energy, but ultimately, it would categorize him as unpredictable. For as long as Dodger fans have known Yasiel Puig, they have been given a wildly inconsistent and unpredictable right fielder. Going from a
runner-up Rookie of the Year candidate in 2013 to indefinitely benched in 2015, Puig has given us everything imaginable in terms of performance.
The 2018 season has proved to be what would seem like an up year in Puig’s career. As tempting as it is for Dodger fans to assume a regression is coming soon as indicated by past patterns, the numbers tell a different story. Yasiel Puig is slowly and surely improving every aspect of his game. Furthermore, he is becoming incredibly consistent and reliable. Those two adjectives have most likely never been uttered before about Yasiel Puig. Well, I am telling you now, Yasiel Puig is finally the real deal. Number 66 has arrived as that highly touted prospect we all remember hearing about and seeing in 2013. He is having an excellent 2018 season thus far compiling a .275 batting average, .488 slugging percentage, and .824 OPS. Puig also has hit 15 home runs on the season.
Let’s look at why Yasiel Puig is slowly but surely re-surging to his rookie year form as a perennial all-star.
Since his return from the disabled list on July 28th, in a 13 game span, Puig has compiled 14 hits, 4 home runs, a .333 AVG, and a 1.039 OPS. Additionally, he leads the Dodgers in stolen bases on the year with 9 in 12 attempts. All of this has come while batting in the latter half of the lineup. Manager Dave Roberts has elected to have Puig bat toward the back of the lineup so as to remove pressure from him as well as give his more consistent players the more integral batting spots. However, Puig batted 3rd in the last game of the series against the Rockies which reveals Robert’s trust in Puig as he has posted respectable numbers.
Yasiel Puig had the worst OPS in the NL (.500) a month in. On April 28th, he crashed into the wall and went on the DL. Since returning, his OPS ranks 4th in the NL (.961).
— Joe Davis (@Joe_Davis) August 13, 2018
Again, most Dodger fans would probably categorize Puig as inconsistent in terms of his improvement at the plate. However, the numbers reveal that in all actuality, Puig has quietly improved his numbers from year to year in two major and significant categories.
Puig has never been known for his plate discipline and rightfully so. Looking back to the earliest season that MLB unveiled their Statcast program in 2015, we see that Puig was swinging wildly at pitches at a 53% clip and was coming up empty 27.7% of the time. Furthermore, he was chasing over 30% of pitches out of the zone. Those are the type of numbers that earn you a demotion and quick.
|Season||Pitches||Zone Contact %||Chase %||Swing %||Whiff %|
A quick look over the next 3 seasons however reveals dramatic improvement in all areas related to plate discipline. Puig is now currently making contact on over 85% of pitches swung at in the zone and is chasing pitches out of the zone only 26% of the time. Puig is becoming patient and is swinging at less balls and making contact with more strikes. Those are dramatic improvements over his 6 year career that if keep on their current path, will end in Puig becoming one of baseball’s best.
The Breaking Ball
Another marked area of improvement is Puig’s ability to hit the breaking ball. Yasiel has always been able to square up the fastball but has struggled with making positive contact with breaking balls. During his major regression in 2015, Puig was batting a paltry .179 against breaking pitches. This is one of the worst marks against a single pitch that I could find period in that time frame among Dodger hitters. He literally could not hit the breaking ball but was crushing fastballs. Pitchers adjusted and began throwing breaking ball after breaking ball. He crashed and burned.
|Year||Pitch Type||# of pitches||Batting Average||Slugging||Weighted On Base Average|
However, Puig has slowly gained traction on hitting the breaking ball and has perfected it in 2018. He is currently slugging an other-worldy .630 against the pitch in 2018. To put that into perspective, Puig is putting 63% of breaking balls into play each at bat. Furthermore, 8 of his 15 homers this year have been hit off breaking balls. Here’s a prime example:
Keepin' it ?. pic.twitter.com/qH4Ki2XkrQ
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) August 12, 2018
For comparison’s sake, the national league’s most widely considered best hitters have the following stats against breaking balls this year:
Bryce Harper: .151 AVG, .258 SLG
Nolan Arenado: .252 AVG, .469 SLG
Paul Goldschmidt: .242 AVG, .461 SLG
Joey Votto: .239 AVG, .338 SLG
Puig is currently leading all NL outfielders in outfield assists on the season with 8. He also leads all of baseball in completing double plays as an outfielder with 4. Although Puig remains a threat on defense, he also has proved to be a liability in right field to some extent, having recorded 7 errors on the year. However, it should also be noted that Puig continually makes an impact on defense that cannot be measured in stats. For instance, how many times this year has a runner halted when rounding second base out of respect for Yasiel’s arm? Additionally, how many potential doubles have been held to singles and potential triples that have been held to doubles because of Puig’s speed in getting to a batted ball combined with his cannon arm?
Even if the stats don’t completely validate Puig’s defense thus far, he has been excellent throughout his career with the Dodgers and will continue to provide defensive value in right field. If you need some convincing of his defensive prowess, take a look at these three individual plays in the last 4 days during their 4-game series against the Rockies:
Desmond flies it to right, Puig makes the catch and throws out Dahl who was trying to advance to third. That ends the fourth. Colorado adds a run to lead 2-0, great throw by the Wild Horse pic.twitter.com/ztW6eB11XW
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) August 12, 2018
Yasiel Puig has surely been a controversial, streaky ballplayer over his career. But one thing is certain, the guy can play baseball when he focuses in. Yasiel is far more valuable right now than most Dodger fans probably realize. He hits right-handed pitchers better than he does lefties, he scares opposing base runners from taking that extra base, and he routinely gets on base. Not to mention, he is providing a stable amount of power. What does this mean for the Dodgers going forward? The only thing that is certain is that if Puig remains healthy, he will continue to perform and improve. This means that he will likely either continue to play right field for the Dodgers and be effective in that role or he’ll be traded to a team that appreciates his recent improvement and staggering upside. Either way, Puig’s quiet resurgence will be valuable for the Dodgers moving forward.
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