Gary A. Vasquez

A look at Los Angeles Dodger Yasiel Puig's Early Success

Yasiel Puig is off to a great start in 2016, but can he sustain it?

                We said before the season started that a big part of the Dodgers’ fate this year would be determined by the performance of Yasiel Puig.  So far in 2016, the results have been unquestionably spectacular.  Puig chills out before taking the field today in Atlanta with a slash of .356/.442/.533, a wOBA of .424, and a wRC+ of 168.  Those are otherworldly numbers, and the eye test confirms.  With the exception of the just completed Giants series, Puig has been outstanding.

                The question is, how much of this small sample size is as auspicious as we all want it to be?  After all, Puig’s sporting a totally unsustainable BABIP of .429.  That’s not going to last, nor is Puig performing like the West Coast Bryce Harper.  However, he has been hitting the ball hard to start the  season.  So let’s dig into his batted ball numbers.

 

Line Drive%

FB%

Pull%

Center%

Opposite%

Most recent 162 Games

9.8

44.6

38

35

27

2016

19.4

42

44.4

36

19.4

 

                I’m not gonna lie.  We don’t want to miss the forest for the trees here, but there are some potentially disturbing trends here.  First with the obvious good.  Puig is hitting more than twice as many line drives than during the second 162 games of his career when, he went from Maximum Puig to a reboot of the “O(u)tis Nixon: Professional Outmaker” Franchise that nobody wanted to see.  So, on the surface, it’s all good, yes?  PUIG HIT BALL HARD.  Yes, BUT…..

                He’s gotten a bit pull-happy and it’s come at the expense of the opposite field.  When Puig was crushing everything in his path at the onset of his career, he was utilizing the whole field, to the tune of 26.4% of his batted balls.  One of his best gifts is the fact that he can leave the yard in all directions, and doesn’t have to pull the ball to drive it for distance.  In 2016, he’s been yanking balls to the left side more than at any point in his career.

                Now, it’s possible that he’s responding to how he’s being pitched, which would make some sense.  Pitchers discovered that getting in Puig’s kitchen was an attainable and effective means of short-circuiting the damage he was capable of doing.  We don’t have numbers on where Puig is being pitched, but what we do know is that they are coming back to his pull side more often than anywhere else and they are coming bat with some serious exit velocity.

                And that brings us to how he’s being pitched.  Puig saw more sliders, cutters, and change-ups in the second 162 games of his career as compared to the first.  Let’s look at his 2016.

 

Fastball%

Slider%

Cutter%

Change-up%

Most recent 162 Games

57%

20.1%

4.2%

9.6%

2016

60.3%

21.3%

5.8%

8.1%

 

                So far to start this season, Puig is seeing more fastballs and cutters and slightly fewer sliders and change-ups.  You’d have to think that seeing how the slider is basically Satan’s gift to pitchers, Puig would stand to see more of them as the season goes and sooner or later is ability to lay off the nastiest of the nasty would determine his season. As it stands, pitchers seem to be content to challenge him more, which also makes sense, as Puig struggled with the heater during the nadir of his season in 2015.

                So while the results are there and we should enjoy them, I’m going with cautious optimism.  It’s way too early to pronounce Puig “fixed” though it’s tantalizing to think of him finally putting together a complete season.  If he performs anywhere near this level for the remainder of 2016, the Dodgers will not be challenged in the NL West.  Of that I am certain.

                What I am far less certain about is whether Puig’s current success will keep pace with his approach.  I’d like to see him use the whole field more, and his BABIP is going to drop without question.  The line drives are great to see, but as pitchers go to more and more off-speed weapons, is Puig ready to adjust?  The Dodgers are betting he does, and there is a great deal riding on that bet in 2016.

 

                

 

                


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