Everyone knows about Yasiel Puig’s problems during the past few seasons. Since the start of 2015, he has been known more for his issues than actual play. 2017 may be the season that fact reverses.
The Dodgers‘ Yasiel Puig might be the most polarizing player in all of baseball, even more so than Bryce Harper. He has otherworldly physical gifts and talent that is enviable to most human beings. However, he’s had attitude and discipline problems with teammates and coaches, along with a battle with the injury bug the last two seasons, that have hindered his production.
Still, there is no denying that he is a supremely talented player. When he broke onto the scene in June of 2013, his talent was on full display, as he, along with Hanley Ramirez, helped jumpstart a sleeping giant en route to the first of four straight NL West titles.
In 252 games between 2013 and 2014, Puig had a batting average of .305, an OPS of .888, 35 home runs, 58 doubles, and started the 2014 All Star Game. To put that into perspective, it would be a full season pace of 22 home runs and 37 doubles.
According to Baseball Reference, he had a collective 10.2 WAR in those 252 games. If you divide that evenly between two full seasons (162 games in a season), you’d get 5.1 WAR per season. That is All-Star, and borderline superstar level, production. The crazy part is that those numbers were accumulated in almost half-a-season’s less worth of games.
However, as mentioned earlier, he’s had his own problems to deal with as well and his on-field play has been overshadowed by them because they have been so well-documented under the bright lights of Los Angeles. Thus, there’s no reason for getting into them again.
Nevertheless, his play did suffer in 2015 and 2016. First off, he only played in 183 games over the past two seasons due to injuries. In those games he accumulated a not-so-great line of .260/.322/.425 and 22 home runs. Metrics show that his production was that of a role player at best.
Things got so bad that Puig was sent down to Triple-A Oklahoma City last August. At that point, no one knew what his future in Los Angeles had in-store, especially with the non-stop trade rumors surrounding him. He still had tremendous upside and the player from 2013 and 2014 was still in there; it was just a matter of getting it out of him. He showed that he can perform like one of the better players in the league when right.
This is why I am predicting a big bounce-back year from him in 2017. It all starts with his behavior. There have been reports that Puig was finally showing some real maturation and humility towards the end of last season and into Spring Training. Also, when he returned from the minors in September, he raked like the old Yasiel Puig. I am hoping, even if it’s false hope, that he will finally reign in his polarizing personality (but not bat flips) for the betterment of him and the Dodgers.
Even though the team has won without him, and teammates have produced more in the recent past, Puig is still Los Angeles’ most talented position player. He is physically gifted with great strength, athleticism, good speed, and a cannon arm. His production would just be a luxury, but a much-needed luxury. The Dodgers are terrible against left-handed pitching, so having his right-handed bat in the lineup would help immensely.
Before the season started, I felt that he’d hit somewhere in the range of .280/.340/.510 with 20-25 home runs and he’s off to a great start. Going into Sunday’s game vs. Colorado (six games), Puig is hitting .368/.500/.947 with three home runs. Looks like the swing change in the offseason has been helping so far.
The biggest surprise, however, is his two strikeouts compared to his five walks. He has a career 20.5% strikeout rate but in 2017, even though it’s just six games, that number is just 8.3%. His career walk rate is 8.9% but it’s at 20.8% right now.
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He is chasing less outside of the zone and swinging less in the zone, which means he’s swinging less in general (career low 44.7% swing rate). Yasiel is looking for the right pitches to hit and this shows a change in discipline and maturation at the plate. He has a plan every time he goes up to bat. All this and he’s making better contact than in the past.
Watching his first six games I’ve noticed a certain calmness and focus surrounding him. Something has definitely changed and hopefully he stays like this.
Yasiel Puig is the ultimate x-factor for the Dodgers, and possibly the entire National League. The lineup is already stacked with a bunch of dangerous bats, but adding a healthy and productive Puig takes this offense to a completely different level. He has the ability, when hot, to rake off almost every pitcher he faces and carry an offense. Throw in elite-level defense and you have the makings of a potentially great player.
I do expect his offensive stats and metrics to regress a little bit (because we’ve only played six games), but his plate discipline should be better than his career norms. He has the talent to become a truly elite 5-tool player, so if he can hone in his ability then watch out National League.