Appreciating The Underrated Yasiel Puig


Mr. Puig, deserving of all the hi-five’s

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

CLAYTON KERSHAW, GIANCARLO STANTON ANDREW MCCUTCHEN, JONATHAN LUCROY, CARLOS GOMEZ, ANTHONY RENDON, ADRIAN GONZALEZ… Yasiel Puig? Yeah it’s slowly becoming MVP season again in the world of baseball. This means endless hypocrisy, team in the playoff vs. best overall player arguments, RBI’s, Home Runs, etc, etc, etc. We got a taste of this when Jon Heyman simultaneously said that Clayton Kershaw should be barred from winning the MVP because he’s a pitcher while saying in the same article that Giancarlo Stanton was the MVP despite him not being on a winning team. (I wonder what Justin Verlander and Ryan Braun have to say about this).

Anyways, this is becoming much more of a whiny MVP column as opposed to appreciating one of the most underrated seasons a Dodger player has ever put forth.

If I told you in early 2012 that the Dodgers were going to add a Cuban sensation who would be compared to Roberto Clemente except with more flair, you’d look at me like I was insane. You’d giddily slap me if I said that not only would this player live up to all that hype, but by the time he was in his second season, this Cuban superstar would be a better hitter than Vladimir Guerrero was at his absolute offensive peak. You hear “Cuban” and “superstar” in the same sentence, and it’s of course going to be Yasiel Puig.

The thing is, if you look at the numbers, Yasiel Puig is having that type of season. Lets look at his 2013 and 2014 seasons put together. In 930 plate appearances in the big leagues, Puig has hit for a triple slash line of .316/.393/.525. Guerrero, in  9059 plate appearances in his career, hit .318/.379/.553. That, of course includes Guerrero at his worst, so lets find his best single season, 2000 Vladimir Guerrero (at his peak) hit .345/.410/.664, which is otherworldy, and it sure looks like Puig lags behind.

However, lets use the best offensive metric out there. The metric that takes everything an offensive player can do into account, weighing home runs more than singles, triples more than doubles. It even gives the batter positive value for getting on the basepaths via reaching on an error, or drawing a walk, and it doesn’t reward a batter for drawing an intentional walk. This metric also gives the offensive player credit for how well he runs the bases, how many steals vs caught steals, going 1st to 3rd base, scoring on a hit from 2nd, taking extra bases.

wRC+ is my favorite way of evaluating a hitter because it shows just how effective an offensive player really is. It shows that while Dee Gordon is not a great hitter, he is a very good offensive player because of the baserunning he exhibits.  It also shows how many percentages a hitter is above the league average, and finally, wRC+ adjusts for the offensive environment, both park and relative league output. In other words,  a .850 OPS nowadays in Kaufmann Stadium, is waaaaayyy more impressive than a .850 OPS in Arlington during the 90’s (the height of the steroid era)

So look at wRC+, and compare 2013 Yasiel Puig to 2000 Vladimir Guerrero, they both own a wRC+ of 160. Now lets take 2014 Puig and compare that to the same Guerrero: both 60% above the league average. So Yasiel Puig, with under 1000 plate appearances has shown the incredible ability to be as good a hitter as Vladimir Guerrero. Lets remember, there’s an argument to be made that Vlad was one of the top 25 best right-handed hitters of all time. Yasiel Puig has equaled Guerrero’s best efforts in both his freshman and sophomore season.

And because I love looking at the historical context of a particular player within his own franchise. Guess who are the top 3 hitters in Los Angeles Dodgers history (minimum 1000 plate appearances) are according to wRC+? That’s Gary Sheffield, Mike Piazza, and Jack Fournier with wRC+’s of 158, 157, and 156 respectively. You’ll note that Yasiel Puig is at 930 plate appearances, so just for fun, let’s drop the minimum qualified PA’s to 900. Look at this table.

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It’s important to note context, that Puig has a long way to go before he is considered a Dodger great, however through the first 930 PA’s Yasiel Puig is the best Dodgers hitter in franchise history. Yes, ahead of Kemp, Snider, Wheat, Cey, Gibson, Monday, Campanella, Smith, Guerrero, and the aforementioned Fournier, Piazza, and Sheffield.

This is a player who has shown the ability to essentially learn plate discipline within an offseason, a player who has shown the ability to hit the ball so hard, and run so fast, that his true talent on batting average on balls put in play might just be in the .370’s, which is at a Cobbian clip (yes, Ty Cobb). A player who is rapidly improving in center field not even a month in, a player who is slugging so high with so few home runs that he is bringing back memories of Tony Gwynn.

What does this all add up to? Well only Yasiel Puig can realize what his ceiling really is, we are just mere observers of what has been the best offensive player in Los Angeles Dodger history thus far.

And he’s only in his second season. He probably wont get the MVP because of underexposure, sharing a team with the best pitcher in baseball, not crushing enough home runs, but that doesn’t mean that he has to be underrated in the eyes of many people.

He’s getting better, and that’s a scary thought for pitchers around the league, but an enticing one for Dodger fans everywhere.