Last week, Jeff Sullivan showed how easily pitchers can exploit the flaws in Yasiel Puig’s approach right now; simply pitch him away. He’s swinging at something close to two-thirds of the pitches on the outer third of the plate or further outside; the league average on those pitches is roughly half of Puig’s rate. While he’s never been a selective hitter, Puig’s approach is undermining his entire offensive game right now.
But the problem with chasing pitcher’s pitches isn’t just that you stop drawing walks. It has that effect too — Puig has drawn just two walks in his last 126 plate appearances, dating back to April 12th — but swinging at pitches on the fringes of the strike zone means that you are much less likely to make quality contact. Puig’s problem isn’t really that he’s swinging through pitches; his contact rates are not that different from what they were a few years ago. He’s not even striking out any more than he used to; his 20.3% K% this year is lower than his 20.7% career mark.
But there has been one huge change in Yasiel Puig’s game this year, and it’s killing his production; he’s turned into a pop-up machine.
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Puig has already set a career high for infield flies in a season, and we’re six weeks in to the year. And as the season has gone on, this has only gotten worse.
12 of Puig’s 13 infield flies have come in the last 30 days. During that stretch, 39% of his fly balls have not even reached the outfield, a staggeringly high total; no other player is over 30% during the same stretch, and the guys who are over 25% are guys like Billy Burns and Didi Gregorius, and they only are that high because they rarely hit the ball in the air.
His popup rate per plate appearance over the last month is a staggering 11.8%, over five times higher than the league average. It’s easy to look at his .203 BABIP over the last month and say there’s some positive regression coming, but when you’re just hitting towering fly balls to the shortstop, that’s not bad luck; that’s bad hitting.
And that’s why Yasiel Puig is batting .180/.196/.300 over the last month. And it’s one of the main reasons the Dodgers offense is scuffling. If the Dodgers are going to contend for the NL title this year, they’re going to have to figure out how to get Puig to stop hitting so many infield flies.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.