After Yasiel Puig‘s disastrous 2015 season for the Dodgers, we take a look at whether the “Wild Horse” can finally live up to his immense potential.
Yasiel Puig, the ultimate enigma. Despite his obvious talent, Puig’s production has tailed off since his dominant rookie season. In 2016, Dodger fans will be hoping to catch a glimpse of the old Puig; you know, the one that rendered Vin Scully speechless by hitting a grand slam in his fourth game after a blisteringly hot start to the season. The time has come for Yasiel Puig to justify the massive expectations heaped upon him and to prove that his amazing debut was no fluke.
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Yasiel Puig’s 2015 season would come to be defined more by what happened off the field that on it. Those of you who have read Molly Knight’s excellent book The Best Team Money Can Buy, which came out last July, you’ll remember some of the negative revelations that were made about Puig’s character; including the story about a barely-avoided physical confrontation with Zack Greinke. If that wasn’t enough to indicate a schism between Puig and his fellow teammates, Scott Van Slyke‘s father Andy later went on record stating that Clayton Kershaw had asked the front office to trade the young Cuban outfielder. While these isolated reports are not enough to label him as a universally despised figure in the clubhouse, where there is smoke, there is usually at least a little bit of fire. Clearly, Puig’s blasé attitude toward things like training and showing up on time had started to get on the nerves of some of the more traditional baseball people in the clubhouse. To cap off the media whirlwind surrounding Yasiel Puig in 2015, his involvement in a Miami bar fight last November along with his sister had the MLB looking into a possible domestic violence charges. With all of the drama surrounding Puig’s extracurricular activities, his production (or lack there of) on the field seems like a bit of an afterthought.
Ok let’s backtrack a little bit now. Even though Yasiel Puig, by all accounts, had a bad year in 2015, those are strictly by his own standards. His .255/.322/.436 slash line and solid defense were worth 1.5 WAR over 79 games. That’s not terrible production, even for a corner outfielder. In fact, had he not been sidelined by multiple hamstring injuries, those numbers would have had him on pace to be one of the Dodgers’ team leaders in WAR.
Those hamstring issues would come to play an outsized role in Puig’s 2015 season. A left hamstring injury sidelined him for the entirety of May, while a right hamstring injury forced him out for all of September. With such a weirdly segmented season, it’s understandable that he was unable to find his groove last year. The Dodger’s hope that having Puig slim down over the offseason will help limit those muscular issues and allow him to play a full season in 2016.
2016 Role and Steamer Projections
Despite the glut of outfielders the Dodgers seem to have to start every season, Yasiel Puig should be locked in as the everyday right fielder. The Dodgers will be counting on his bat in the middle of the order as well as his cannon of an arm in right field to get them through the long season. With injuries limiting his production last season, the Dodgers are aware that they will need him healthy if they are to continue to be title contenders. With this in mind, the front office “suggested” that Puig slim down over the offseason to reduce the stress on his muscles. Puig has done just that, weighing in this Spring at 240 lbs, which is fifteen pounds lighter than what he weighed at the same point last year. The hope is that with his new slim figure, he will better be able to withstand the rigors of a full season.
Steamer projects Puig to bounce back with a solid 2016 season. He is projected to slash .287/.361/.493 with 22 home runs in 129 games. Steamer expects his plate discipline and power to improve this year after they appeared to take a step back last season. That would be welcome production after a disappointing 2015 campaign. His projected WAR of 4.2 would have put him among last season’s team leaders.
What Could Go Wrong?
With Yasiel Puig, literally anything could go wrong. At any time. Or it could go right. Who knows? I would hardly be surprised if he walked up to the plate with a lightsaber and started slicing balls in half. That’s part of what makes him such an exciting talent. One of the main concerns will be his attitude and effort off the field. He’s been given a clean slate by new manager Dave Roberts, and it will be interesting to see how and if he takes advantage of it. If he doesn’t, we will likely have another year of whispered complaints and trade rumors.
Puig could also suffer a similarly disappointing season as the one he endured last year. Puig has slimmed down considerably, but that’s hardly a guarantee that he won’t get injured again. If the rhythm of his season is once again interrupted by injuries, then it’s likely we’ll see a repeat of his poor 2015 production. If this happens the Dodgers might be in some trouble, because the NL West is looking stronger than ever.
What Could Go Right?
Hopefully Puig takes advantage of his clean slate and becomes a better citizen off the field. So far the signs are good. His weight loss heading into the season indicates a willingness to put in the hard work it takes to get better. Clayton Kershaw, after the drama of last season, told CBS that he was “really impressed” with Puig’s work ethic entering the 2016 season. Hopefully this is a sign of a thawing in Puig’s relationships with some of his teammates and a renewed commitment on his part to the game of baseball. He has also shown a desire to start coming into work on time, although his supposed plan of flying a helicopter to the stadium might rub people the wrong way. I love him taking a page from the Kobe Bryant book but he might not quite have the star-power yet to pull something like that off. Would anyone really be surprised though?
As for his on-field production, Puig could be in line for a monster year. He has all the tools to be one of the best players in the game, and this could finally be the year that he puts it all together. If that happens, then Dodger fans are in for a treat. That energy that propelled the 2013 Dodgers into the playoffs will be back again as Yasiel Puig and the 2016 Dodgers strike fear into the hearts of their NL West competition.