The Dodgers Should Extend Yasiel Puig Before Arbitration

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 28: Yasiel Puig #66 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on from the dugout during the ninthinning against the Boston Red Sox in Game Five of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium on October 28, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 28: Yasiel Puig #66 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on from the dugout during the ninthinning against the Boston Red Sox in Game Five of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium on October 28, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Yasiel Puig used to be such a divisive Dodger. While he is beloved by all Dodgers fans as of the 2018 off-season, he used to be a public relations nightmare, and this was not even that long ago.

Here’s a look back at a USA Today story on Puig from May 2017.

"“Early in the spring training before Yasiel Puig’s first season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, a group of Latin prospects walking into the clubhouse remarked out loud in Spanish about the terrible attitude of the team’s new Cuban outfielder.The Dodgers have been trying to reform Puig’s attitude ever since, with mixed results.Tuesday night’s two-middle-finger salute to heckling Cleveland Indians fans provided the latest indication that Puig, in his fifth season in the majors, still doesn’t know how to behave like a professional.”"

These times are now behind him though. He has had almost nothing but good press since the 2017 season really got going, and has been huge for the Dodgers making back-to-back World Series. Over the last few seasons, Puig has gone from being hated by Dodger fans for his antics to becoming nationally adored and loved for his flare.

This tongue-wagging super personality looks good in Dodger blue, as has cemented himself as not only being a positive presence in the clubhouse but also on the field. And Andrew Friedman should extend him before his arbitration hearing to keep him in a Dodger uniform for 2020, and potentially for life, not only because of his numbers but because of what he brings to the team and to the city.

The Offensive Numbers

Over his last two seasons, Puig has been continued to build up his reputation as a consistent hitter, with power and speed. In 2017, the “Wild Horse” had the most productive season of his career at age 26. Then 2017 was a career year in home runs and steals for Puig, as he hit 28 homers, stole 15 bases, and perhaps most importantly played 152 games.

Yasiel Puig has also swung and missed less on pitches inside the strike zone while continuing to swing at rates that match up with his career average. He only swung and missed at 10.5% of the pitches he saw, a career low, while making contact with pitches thrown inside the zone at an 89.8% clip, a career-high which placed him 60th in baseball (minimum 350 plate appearances).

Puig barreled balls up at a rate of 7.7% barrels/plate appearance, good for 41st in baseball according to Baseball Savant. He also added nearly 80 points of ISO, as he went from .153 in 2016 to .224 in 2017, which was good for 40th in baseball (minimum 350 PAs), between former All-Stars Anthony Rendon and A.J. Pollock.

Puig also brings an element of speed that has grown rare not just in the game, but especially with the Dodgers. Over the past two seasons, Puig has the 20th most steals among major league outfielders with 30, with 15 apiece in 2017 and 2018. Besides Mookie Betts and Mike Trout, Puig is the only player with 30+ steals and an ISO over .225, making him even more valuable. He is also one of just 12 hitters to steal 30 bases and hit more than 90 doubles and home runs.

The only negative is that he continued to struggle to hit fastballs. After dominating fastballs in 2014 and 2015, the major league fastball began to catch up to Puig in 2016, and he has had a rough time with this pitch ever since. If Puig wants to become a middle of the order hitter that can consistently combine batting average and power, he will need to hit fastballs better than he has over the last three seasons.

Overall, Puig’s offensive game has solidified considerably, as he now seems to be a much more sturdy entity. A lock for 20-30 home runs and 10-15 steals per 162 games, Puig should continue to improve at the plate if he can have more success against fastballs.

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The Intangibles (and Defense)

However, Puig’s most well-known entities are not housed within his oft-licked bat. His yoked throwing arm and dramatic play style have been some of his most entertaining qualities.

Puig has been one of baseballs best right fielders since his career began. Since his rookie year in 2013, Puig has the 7th-most outfield assists amongst right fielders at 41 and the 12th-highest ARM rating at his position at 7.8 in his 5,064 innings. While the Statcast data does not look favorably at his defense (looking at outs above average and catch percentage added leaderboards ), Puig electrifies the outfield when he is on the field.

He also has a knack for being a clutch playoff performer. In the 2018 postseason, Puig had a top-ten OPS, .855, to go along with two homers, two steals, and a .300 batting average. And he has put up similar postseasons almost every year. In his postseason career, Puig has put up a triple slash line of .280/.351/.429.

All in all, Puig has been so important to the Dodgers’ success since his call-up to the majors in 2013. While exciting Dodger fans in all aspects of the game, from World Series home runs to 300+ foot ropes from right field, Puig brings an energy into the Dodger dugout that is infectious.

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Puig should be given an opportunity to extend his time with the Dodgers this off-season, long before he reaches arbitration. If they do this, the Dodgers would be demonstrating their faith in one of their franchise cornerstones, and could potentially even save themselves some money. The Wild Horse should always have a home in Los Angeles.