Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig has had a scorching start to the 2016 season, and it’s one that needs to be talked about even more than it already is. It goes far beyond just how well he’s hitting at the plate in terms of hits, but rather it stretches all the way to his approach at the plate in general.
Puig’s first plate appearance of the 2016 season ended in a three-pitch strikeout. The one that he had to end yesterday’s game against the San Francisco Giants also ended in a strikeout. However, in between those two, Puig managed to drive the ball with reckless abandon and prodigious authority.
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In 18 plate appearances this season, the right fielder is hitting .533 with a .611 on-base percentage and 1.000 slugging percentage. Now, a 1.611 OPS (on-base plus slugging) is not sustainable for Puig. In fact, no one in baseball history has ever had a season better than a 1.413 OPS. That was Barry Bonds and, as much as we love him, Puig is no Bonds.
So far, through just four games, Puig has been worth 0.5 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs. His .583 BABIP, which stands for Batting Average on Balls In Play, is quite high, and it’s definitely not sustainable. However, that doesn’t mean it’s all a mirage. After all, he is smashing the ball hard.
According to Baseball Info Solutions, 69.2 percent of the balls Puig has put into play this season have been registered as “hard” hit. On all balls put into play this season, Puig has registered an average exit velocity of 104.28 miles per hour. Only Carlos Correa (104.86) and Carlos Gonzalez (105.71) are above him among players who have put at least five balls into play.
In fact, the softest hit ball all season by Puig, as judged by StatCast’s available numbers, has been 98.01 miles per hour. To put that into perspective, Adam Eaton currently ranks 20th in average exit speed velocity this season, and his is at 98.01. Bryce Harper’s average exit velocity is 95.95, and Puig’s slowest hit ball that’s been registered is faster than Harper’s average.
Even more impressive than Puig’s batted ball speeds might be the way that he has helped the Dodgers offense by being somewhat selective at the plate. While it is an admittedly small sample size, keep this in perspective. So far this season, Puig has a swinging strike rate of 10.5 percent. If he kept up that rate all season, it’d be the lowest rate of his four year career, and that’s fantastic.
On top of that, Puig is making contact on pitches that he offers at in the strike zone at a career-high 86.7 percent. He’s also swinging at just 29.4 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, which is also a career-best (i.e. career-low) mark. That means he’s being extremely selective when at the plate, and making contact when he does swing at pitches in the zone.
Puig is only swinging at 45.5 percent of the pitches that he has seen in 2016, which is the lowest percentage of his career so far, and that’s a rate that I’m sure the Dodgers have to love. He’s not just going up there and hacking away like has in the past. While he does still swing at first pitches from time to time, he’s also being a lot more patient than he has in years past, and that’s something that is definitely a positive development.
He’s still crushing fastballs, hitting them to a tune of an .833 average when his plate appearances have ended in one. He’s also hit a triple and a home run against sliders this season. Puig has found a way to turn fastballs into a pitch he can hammer, and also found a way to hit breaking balls at a solid rate early on in the season.
There’s no telling what Yasiel Puig could be capable of this season at the plate, but his early returns are fantastic. The batted ball data is truly impressive, as is his level of plate discipline. No one has any idea if that’ll keep up all season long, but it has to at least be somewhat comforting right now. He’s definitely found himself early on in the year, and the Dodgers have to love that.
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