Posted August 21, 2013

The good, the bad and the ugly of Yasiel Puig

Los Angeles Dodgers, Yasiel Puig
Yasiel Puig, Dodgers

Yasiel Puig’s pinch-hit home run Tuesday night came after a string of controversial moments in recent days. (AP)

After two days of controversy regarding the potential drawbacks of his unbridled play and the level of his maturity, Dodgers rookie sensation Yasiel Puig began Tuesday night’s game against the Marlins on the bench. It was done less as a form of punishment by manager Don Mattingly (Puig had arrived late to Marlins Park) than as a way to give Puig a breather during his recent slump. Nonetheless, the rookie left his indelible imprint on the game.

With the score knotted at 4-4, Puig entered the game in the bottom of the sixth inning as part of a double switch. The right fielder came to bat to lead off the top of the eighth with the score unchanged, and got a first-pitch fastball from Miami’s Dan Jennings with which he could do business:

The home run was the 22-year-old phenom’s first since Aug. 1 and his 12th of the year. It was also his eighth with the score within one run in either direction, and it gave Los Angeles a lead that it would not relinquish en route to a 6-4 win. Puig had another plate appearance in the ninth, but he popped out on the first pitch with two on and two out, a result that would have been more frustrating had his previous hit not righted so many wrongs.

Indeed, a series of controversial moments both on and off the field had recently become the focus of discussions about Puig, taking the spotlight off his impressive accomplishments, which have helped the Dodgers swing 16 games in the standings since his June 3 debut. It started with Puig’s blunders during Saturday’s and Sunday’s games against the Phillies. In the former, he made the final out of an inning at third base after tagging up at second on a fly ball to shallow center field. In the latter, he was picked off first in the top of the sixth inning, then allowed a trailing runner to get into scoring position in the bottom of the sixth due to an overaggressive throw to third. They were mistakes, yes, but none were tremendously costly when one considers the context, as as can be illustrated via the changes in Win Probability Added via the Baseball-Reference.com box scores.

In Saturday’s game, Puig’s out at third base came when Los Angeles held a 1-0 lead in the third inning (with ace Clayton Kershaw on the mound, it’s worth adding); the out lowered the Dodgers’ probability of winning from 64 percent to 58 percent — a change that’s about as costly as putting the leadoff man aboard in the middle innings of a one-run game. For example, Philadelphia’s Domonic Brown singled off Kershaw to lead of the bottom of the fifth, lowering L.A.’s chances of winning from 74 percent to 68 percent. When Brown was picked off two batters later, the Dodgers’ chances for the win went from 73 percent to 79 percent. In an absolute sense, Puig’s mistake was about on par with that of Brown, but in a relative sense, Brown’s was much more critical given its occurrence two innings later, in a higher-leverage situation. Oh, and Los Angeles wound up winning, 5-0.

In Sunday’s game, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels picked off Puig at first base with the Dodgers in front 2-1. Puig had led off the sixth by reaching first on an error by Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley, raising L.A.’s chances of victory from 67 to 71 percent. But Puig’s subsequent pickoff lowered that number to 65 percent. His overaggressive throw in the bottom of the inning was potentially the more costly mistake; a one-out single by Brown with Utley on first had raised the Phillies’ win odds from 38 percent to 54 percent because –after Puig’s heave — Brown, the go-ahead run, took second. Even so, Brown’s extra base was only a small part of that 16-point change; the odds swung so heavily in Philadelphia’s favor because, as the home team, they also had Utley, the tying run, on third base. Utley did eventually score on a groundout, but Brown was left stranded. The Dodgers wound up losing 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth, but not because of Puig; rather, third baseman Hanley Ramirez made a pair of costly errors. The first put the winning run on base. The second allowed it to score.

The point here isn’t simply to explain away Puig’s mistakes. There’s no disputing that he makes them, and some of them are worthy of the ol’ triple facepalm. Eventually, he’ll have to minimize those in order to maximize his potential. But in the grand scheme they don’t loom as large as some suggest. He is hitting a searing .352/.412/.567 in 291 plate appearances, a performance that is 23 runs above average according to B-Ref’s version of WAR. His baserunning includes being caught stealing six times in 13 attempts, as well as making eight outs on the bases — already tied for second in the league. But his baserunning also includes a 56 percent rate of successfully taking extra bases on hits (the league average is 41 percent). B-Ref’s WAR baserunning component ultimately debits him one run for all of that, a negligible amount. As for the fielding, ESPN’s Stats and Information had this to say:

The all-or-nothing aspect to Puig’s game seems to be true at bat and in the field. Baseball Info Solutions, which tracks defensive data for major league teams and media, had credited Puig with 25 Good Fielding Plays (think plays that would likely merit a Web Gem nomination) entering Tuesday, the most of any outfielder in the major leagues since Puig’s debut June 3.

Of those 25, 20 came on plays on which Puig either made a difficult catch or got to a ball quickly to prevent a baserunner from taking an extra base.

But Puig also was credited with 22 Defensive Misplays & Errors, also the most in the majors in that span. His most common miscues were six offline or unnecessary throws, allowing a runner to take an extra base, and four instances in which he mishandled a base hit, allowing either the hitter or another runner to advance.

Even with those extremes, Puig is +8 runs in terms of the observation-based Defensive Runs Saved system in B-Ref’s version of WAR. His total bWAR of 3.8 — which accounts for the good, the bad, and the ugly among his contributions on offense, defense and baserunning — leads all Dodgers hitters and is tied for 17th in the league among position players, even though every player above him has more plate appearances. He’s a high-impact player who was an essential part of the team’s recent 42-8 run, matching the best 50-game stretch of the past century.

As three other incidents this week showed, however, Puig can also be a handful in other ways:

• Prior to Monday’s game, following a 20-minute pregame session with the media — due largely to the attention that comes with the Miami area’s large Cuban-American population and the night’s matchup with fellow defector and NL Rookie of the Year candidate Jose Fernandez – Puig shouted an expletive in Spanish in relation to a TMZ account of his outing the night before with LeBron James. Many took it literally, though Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles, who witnessed the scene, said via Twitter that it was “in jest and not addressed to anyone specifically.”

• In the fifth inning of Monday’s game, Puig struck out on three pitches, the second of which was a borderline call that home plate umpire John Hirschbeck rang up as a strike. Puig showed some nonverbal displeasure by rolling his eyes after the at-bat and Hirschbeck ripped off his mask and yelled back at him, apparently trying to provoke an ejection-worthy response. Puig didn’t take the bait, remaining in the game but finishing 0-for-5 with a pair of K’s in a 6-2 loss.

• Prior to Tuesday’s game, Puig showed up 45 minutes late and was fined by manager Don Mattingly during a closed-door meeting. But Puig’s benching to start the game pertained to his slump, not his tardiness. Before the game, the manager publicly addressed some of his concerns about Puig’s in-game mistakes, including the confrontation with Hirschbeck. From DodgersScribe.com’s Anthony Jackson:

“[Sitting Puig] was the easy part,” Mattingly said. “That was simply baseball. Yasiel has been struggling. Actually, the whole heart of our lineup has been struggling. This just seemed like the right time. This is just the lineup I feel gives us our best chance to win tonight. In a sense, I need to pay closer attention to when he needs a day off. It’s so so easy to keep putting him in the lineup because he always has so much energy, but everybody needs a day off now and then.”

From MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick:

“These [mistakes] are the spring training stuff we talked about when you were asking why not bring him up,” Mattingly said. “You want them to know the scoreboard, know the outs, who’s coming up. These are mistakes you don’t want to see. But you take the good with the bad.”

Reading the entirety of Mattingly’s comments via both sources —  as well as his earlier ones regarding Puig — the Dodgers’ manager appears to have a good handle on the situation and an understanding of the context in which Puig is making his mistakes. Specifically, that Puig is a young, high-energy player who is new to the U.S. and the way the game is played here. After all, Puig was called up after just 63 minor league games — due to a slew of outfield injuries — before many of his rougher edges could be sanded down.

It’s a stretch to say that Puig has singlehandedly saved L.A.’s season, but the team was 23-32 and last in the NL West prior to his memorable debut, with a 16.3 percent chance of making the playoffs according to the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds. Thanks to his energy and his production — which combine to make for an exceptional highlight reel – the Dodgers have gone 46-18 in his starts and 50-20 overall, and they now have a 98.8 percent chance of making the postseason. Mattingly, who nearly lost his job before Puig showed up, understands that on balance, the rookie is a huge part of the club’s success. The rest of the baseball world should keep the same perspective.

CHEN: Bogaerts joins Red Sox and growing list of phenoms in baseball

28 comments
The_Sports_Dude
The_Sports_Dude

I see that once ESPN moved to the Facebook comments, the dregs of the internet moved here.

WHO*IS*ESPN
WHO*IS*ESPN

When he's busted for peds like the rest, we'll hear about him giving banana boat rides back home

DODGERFAIL2013
DODGERFAIL2013

puig at age 22:  phenom

puig at age 27:  washed up, knees and hips turned into dust, ankles a mess, etc.  the magnetic wristbands, etc. are helping him out now, but he'll be in worse shape than pujols is at an earlier age.  good luck.

ps:  it will be hilarious when one of his jackkasss maneuvers is the reason why the dodgers get bounced from the playoffs in 2013.

2terminal
2terminal

Wooh. I am very surprised at the reaction to this (I feel) very good and informative article.

It seems that many of the responders are in favor of the old tried and true Plaschke article on this matter that says that Mattingly blew it by not keeping Puig on bench the whole game and that this type of behavior unhandled by playoffs will result in 2 games lost for every one won.  How in the hell do you come up with that?? Easy, you just pull it out of your butt.

Utter contrived  tripe!  Would  you rather read Plaschke's pretended morality in order to knock out an baselesss informationless op ed?  Not me. 

HOFPufnstuf
HOFPufnstuf

God do i hate WAR and OPS. All it does is confirm what we knew for 120 years : that a guy hitting .352 with 12 homers in 291 at bats is crushing it.

I get 3 sentences into Jaffe's columsn and bail every single time.

Bill james was an original and lots of fun but all these imitators falling over themselves to become the next Paul Dipodesta need to go away.

Bill james got me interested in baseball again, but in the end, all he did after 1000 pages was tell us that Babe Ruth, ted williams, stan the man and willie mays were brilliant. I think 714 (ruth's homers) amd .344 (williams average) did pretty much the same.

brians356
brians356

Worst moment for Puig? His shameless begging to the camera for All Star fan votes. I was so-oo happy when he fell short, and my man Bruce Bochy chose to leave him off the team. Sometimes justice does prevail.

BigBadBuddha
BigBadBuddha

This is just sad.  I never imagined a day would come when excessive use of statistics would take all the fun out of reading about baseball.  And with a BS in Mathematics, I'm embarrassed that this is what "reporting" in baseball has come to.  A remarkably boring article on a very interesting topic.

brians356
brians356

Soon they won't need to actually play the games. Recall the original Star Trek TV series episode where supercomputers calculated the daily death toll in a war between planets, and by treaty, each side herded that many people into humane death chambers rather than actually use weapons on each other. Soon we can let the WAR calculations determine the outcome of games based on the calculated odds based on the player's and teams' stats. Why leave the outcomes to fate?

HOFPufnstuf
HOFPufnstuf

welcome to post bush america, where even critiques of a boring article are somehow, obama's fault. Oh and even though that really great trick of yours, quitting the article is an amazing innovation, somehow you can't apply it to critiques from obama lovers. You keep reading and responding, red state randy.

And really, if it took jay and his slide rule to tell you the dodgers arent better with puig than without, than well, it has to be obama's fault.

DeeEmm1
DeeEmm1

@alfalf You were able to afford Internet access for the first time under Obama's America. I know this is true because you would know this has been happening since the Internet debut when I was a kid.

Stop being stupid.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@HOFPufnstuf The funniest part of  your post is your telling us that  you keep coming back and reading three lines or each column and then bailing.  Isn't that the cyber version of continually rapping your melon against a wall?   It would seem like simply not clicking on the link might be an option.  Of course you would have one less thing to complain about, but it might worth a shot.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@brians356 If this is the kind of stuff that makes you happy, well, sorry about the lack of good stuff in your life.

HOFPufnstuf
HOFPufnstuf

Brilliant buddha. You nailed it. Advanced stats are just bs meta_stats that add nothing to the old bavg, hr and rbi totals.

It needs to end. these columns are a mess

HOFPufnstuf
HOFPufnstuf

Do you have a fatdick? No didnt think so. Ops is slugging plus obp. Do you really need someone to add it for you? DUMB BELL ok. Here is a new stat total pitching efficient...TPE. Add a pitchers era and his whip. Oh my god thats genius. Now i dont have to suck fatdicks. And look. Clayton kershaw leads the league in TPE! Im the new Jay!

HOFPufnstuf
HOFPufnstuf

Here's the funniest part of your post. In your world, choices are limited to either a) love jay's article or b) leave. that.s profoundly stupid. Critique brings about change. Maybe sports illustrated will bring back real writing with enough crtiticism. Hey, but lets apply your approach to say, british rule of the 13 colonies. Hey ben franklin! If you don't like the king, leave.

I actually like sports illustrated so likemy fellow great americans, franklin, adams and jefferson, i will try, through critique to bring real writing back.

God bless me

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@HOFPufnstuf To you chronic complainers, you are going to change the world of journalism.  To some of us, you are just whining.  Again.