Yasiel Puig started the season a house of fire, but National League pitchers have since arrived to douse the flames with soaking cold reality. That reality is a Puig who is hitting .232/.273/.373. All that lack of production yields a 74 wRC+, making Puig the National League's least productive rightfielder. My prediction about the two P's has largely held through this point in the season: If Puig and Pederson perform, the Dodgers will run away with the NL West. If one of them do, they will be in the race. If neither do, the Dodgers are in big trouble. So far, it's Door #2, as Puig has struggled after his hot start and Pederson's bat has now caught ablaze.
So what's Puig's problem? It has to do in large part to his plate discipline, or lack thereof. He's antsier than a desert-crossing wanderer standing on the edge of a swimming pool. And that is leading him to let National League pitchers, treacherous bedouins that they are, to lead him right out of the strike zone and into a face full of sand.
As the metaphor pants from exhaustion, let's look at Puig's discipline numbers. First off, his walk percentage has been cut in half from 8.8% to the Haley's Comet-like frequency of 4%. Puig was never going to lead the league in walks, but this ultra-aggression is not leading to any ultra-violence being done to baseballs. The league average among non-pitchers in the NL is 9%.
Puig is replacing those taken pitches with swings and misses. Worse, he's replacing them with swings at balls outside of the strike zone. He's currently offering at 40% of pitches outside the zone, up from 33.2% in his career. The league average this year? 27.4%. Puig has always been aggressive, but he's gone from John Ford to Peckinpah in terms of bullets wasted. He's only putting 54.6% of those swings to contact, and his swinging strike percentage is 16.1%. The NL average is 9.6% Pitchers are leading Puig to his doom like an endless parade of pied pipers.
And what tune are they playing? It's a slider symphony for Yasiel. He is seeing 22.3% sliders, up from 18.3% in his career. The league sees 15.1% sliders. As Geena Davis scouts Lori Petty in A League of Their Own, he can't hit 'em, and he can't lay off 'em.
To make matters worse, Puig's BABIP has fallen far below the league average of .304 to .269. That's in part due to bad luck but in large part due to him swinging at less than ideal pitches and doing very little with them. His line drive rate is 14.3% (NL Average: 21%).
The Dodgers are a loss column game out of first, and Justin Turner and Adrian Gonzalez (at home) also have struggled with the bat this season. However, Puig was expected to be a cornerstone run producer. All the kvetching about the bullpen and the injuries and the starting pitchers has once more veiled the true culprit undermining the Dodgers: bad offense. The sky is not falling, but Puig's production is, and one has to wonder just how long it's going to be before (if?) Puig learns to just say "No" to sliders?
As I've said before, at 25 years old and $6 million a year, Puig is worth patience. He has at bats, like the one he had last June against Craig Kimbrel, where he took a right field approach, spoiled a number of tough pitches, laid off some tougher ones, and eventually beat the then Padres' flame-throwing closer with a hard bouncer up the middle. He's shown he can be a tough, disciplined hitter, but he's never strung quality at bats like that together, and it's haunting him now that everybody knows not to give him fat first pitches to hit.
It's almost as if his batting mind is an Etch-A-Sketch, starting new and completely blank with each at bat. I swear sometimes he goes up there with a pitch quota. Like, sometimes he decides he'll hang in for four pitches before he has to swing, sometimes it's two, or one. The Dodgers have all the numbers above, and I am sure he does too. The question is when's he going to start doing something with them?