Something Has Gotten Into Yasiel Puig

This is classified as an InstaGraphs post. That means it’s short. For a variety of reasons, we don’t put up InstaGraphs posts much anymore, but every so often there’s a clear opportunity. I don’t have that much to say here about Yasiel Puig. I just want to show you an image.

As the Dodgers have reached the World Series, Puig has been a major contributor, batting .414 in the playoffs with a wRC+ of 210. He’s struck out just three times, and he’s done that while drawing twice as many walks. Now, let me give you some quick background. Puig has always been pretty aggressive. In 2013, he swung at an above-average rate of first pitches. In 2014, he swung at an above-average rate of first pitches. Same thing happened in 2015. Same thing happened in 2016 and then again in 2017. Puig, historically, has liked to go after the first pitch he’s seen. That’s neither good nor bad on its own; it’s just a thing. But now! Now, look at this.

This shows Puig’s entire career. This is Puig’s rolling-average first-pitch-swing rate, over progressive spans of 50 plate appearances.

It’s plummeted almost to nothing. Already, in 2017, Puig appeared slightly more patient, but now he’s far lower than ever. Puig has batted 35 times in the playoffs. He’s swung at the first pitch only twice. The first pitch has counted as a strike 37% of the time. During the season, that rate was 59%. And, in the playoffs, Puig has been ahead in the count for 45% of all the pitches he’s seen. During the season, that rate was 30%. Puig has the highest playoff rate out of anyone. It’s Yasiel Puig who’s most working the count.

As mentioned, Puig has gone after the first pitch just two times out of 35 in the playoffs. But this seemingly didn’t start right then. Over Puig’s final five regular-season games, he went after the first pitch one time out of 16. He’d gone after four of the previous 16 first pitches, and five of the previous 16 first pitches. Puig’s first-pitch aggressiveness slowed almost to a halt. And, interestingly enough, right before Puig started taking way more first pitches, he was benched for disciplinary reasons. Dave Roberts was annoyed with him. Through September 23, Puig hadn’t drawn a walk in 11 straight starts. Then he was benched. He drew three walks over the last five games, and then the playoffs happened. The discipline has carried over.

I don’t want to suggest that, all of a sudden, Yasiel Puig has a Joey Votto-like approach. I don’t think Puig has one of the best eyes in baseball. But, abruptly, roughly one month ago, Puig stopped swinging so aggressively, especially early on. He’s taken nearly every first pitch, and to this point it’s worked to his benefit. If only temporarily, the Dodgers might’ve gotten through to him. Ideally this would last forever, but, more realistically, it would be nice if it lasted another week and a half. When Puig is in control of his own zone, there’s not much he can’t do.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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4 years ago

I have noticed that Puig in many of his at-bats this postseason look disinterested in the first pitch he gets from pitchers. It’s one thing to take a pitch, but his attitude in many postseason at-bats has been to just leisurely hold his bat over his shoulder as the first pitch is delivered. This isn’t new necessarily for Puig and he recognizes that he’s often this postseason being pitched around. Still, it has jumped out to me that his attitude on said first pitches in those instances were so blatant. It’s as if he’s daring pitchers to throw him a first pitch strike, and if they do perhaps just pitch seriously to him for that at-bat.

4 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Nobody throws him strikes even when he does that. Pitchers are scared of Yasiel Puig and he knows it.

tramps like us
4 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan

You have to remember, it’s Puig. He never does anything in what we’d consider a normal fashion. That’s just how he rolls. He’s a different cat, different than anyone else I can think of, ever. And Jeff, you probably know this since you know everything I do and about a gazillion times more….but Puig was disciplined for getting thrown out stealing to end a game, presumably running on his own. Pissed off Roberts, who made no bones about it. So not sure how that translates to being more selective? I’m guessing he’s just taking it more seriously ‘cuz it’s the playoffs. A good buddy and Dodger fan fantasizes of Puig winning WS MVP, building his value, and being dealt for Stanton. Stranger things have happened.

4 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan

He does this on 3-ball counts too. He did it tonight in Game 1. A friend said “That’s the most contemptuous taken pitch in a 3-0 count I’ve ever seen. He didn’t actually spit on the pitch, but he stopped just short.”

4 years ago
Reply to  Joser

Hanley Ramirez does this on a regular basis first pitch, and I don’t understand it. Doesn’t take a stride, doesn’t time the pitch, doesn’t crouch, doesn’t lift the bat off his shoulder. Seems like he’s more interested in looking cool than putting together an at bat.

4 years ago
Reply to  TheOnlyNolan

I do not know what is in the head of those players, but a hitter can get a great look at a pitch when you just stand there with no stride or with a abbreviated stride. Try to find film of Barry Bonds in the HR Derby from the 90s and you will see him just stand there and intermittently track several pitches during his round. Part of the reason is to rest, but part of the reason is to track the pitches.

4 years ago
Reply to  jimbo22s

Yeah, Robinson Cano does this as well, where it’s clear he wasn’t planning to swing at a pitch no matter what. But he is tracking it (like many of things Cano does on the field, this invites criticism for his supposed lackadaisical attitude by some people who don’t seem to have a clue about what he’s actually doing).

I’ve noticed other Yankees / former-Yankees do this also, and I think it may be something they teach in their system. You’d think giving up a strike wouldn’t pay off but it frequently does (a study on this would be interesting, but incredibly tedious).