With Spring Training on the horizon, it’s time to look at which Dodgers need to bounce back in 2016.
Yasiel Puig had the worst season of his short major league career in 2015. His inability to stay healthy made it nearly impossible for him to get hot, and he posted career-lows in almost all offensive stats.
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Puig posted a OPS+ of 109 and a WRC+ of 111 last year, so he was still slightly above average in both of those stats. His .255/.322/.436 triple slash was a far cry from his 2014 campaign, in which he slashed .296/.382/.480. Many expected him to take a step forward in 2015, but it was pretty clearly a step back from emerging superstar to slightly-above-average regular.
Injuries definitely played a part in Puig’s rough season. He got off to a solid start, with a .279/.380/.495 slashline in the first month of the season before hitting the DL with a left hamstring strain on April 26. Puig returned on June 6 and raised his batting average to .311 in 18 days, before a callus in his hand forced him out of the starting lineup for a couple days. He returned in a pinch hitting role on June 26 and struggled hard, as his slash dropped to .250/.320/.434 on August 18. He tweaked his right hamstring late in that game, returned a few days later, played five games and blew that same hamstring, sidelining him until the final two games of the season. While he was on the roster in the postseason, Puig only started one game and didn’t get on base in six plate appearances.
Puig entered last season with unlimited potential and even some MVP chatter but enters this season as a huge question mark and a tough player to count on to play every day. Puig’s health might very well be the difference between a disappointing season and a fourth consecutive NL West title in 2016.
According to former Dodger beat writer Dylan Hernandez, the Dodgers wanted to focus on getting Puig back in better shape for the upcoming season. He’s listed at 6’2, 255, and jokingly admitting to being fat and weighing 280 pounds this offseason. According to Hernandez’s replacement on the Dodger beat, Andy McCullough, Puig revealed he didn’t understand the connection between weight and baseball ability, but checked in at a leaner 240 pounds at the advice of Andrew Friedman.
If true, this could help Puig stay on the field more often in 2016. However, even if Puig plays more often, there’s still plenty of work to do for the 25-year-old. He’s shown the ability to improve, as it’s seemed as though his boneheaded mistakes are happening less and less frequently. Baserunning stats, especially single season baserunning stats, are often imperfect, but Puig’s BsR (baserunning runs above average) has improved in each of his three seasons, and he was actually graded as above average in each of the last two seasons. The mental lapses will likely always be there, but that’s part of what makes Puig great. He’s always hunting for the extra base and often teeters the line between gutsy and reckless while he’s on the field.
A lot of the unhappiness from the offseason came because the Dodgers didn’t do much to improve their offense. Their offense was so imbalanced last year, finishing with the fourth-fewest hits as a team, eleventh-fewest runs and eleventh-worst team batting average in all of baseball, but also had the sixth-most home runs and fourth-best on base percentage. With the return of Howie Kendrick, the only move the Dodgers made on offense came internally, as Corey Seager will replace Jimmy Rollins at short. That’s a definite improvement in itself, but still not enough to calm the masses. If Puig can return to be the threat he was in his first two major league seasons, that will be an enormous upgrade in the lineup.
In the coming days, Amanda and Daniel will look at other bounceback candidates, and we’ll all look closer at some lesser-known players that could play a part in the Dodgers’ success next year. Four days until pitchers and catchers report. Almost there, people.