Puig Has Joined the Merry Band of Fly-Ball Revolutionaries

Perhaps the best athlete, to date, is joining the revolution.

Said athlete is Yasiel Puig and said revolution is that of the fly-ball. It seems more and more batters are pushing against traditional coaching orthodoxy and endeavoring to lift the ball in the air.

Exhibit A from Thursday afternoon at Dodger Stadium:

According to MLB.com’s Austin Laymance Puig has been working with teammate Justin Turner on adding loft to his swing. And Puig is off to a tremendous start this season, having hit three home runs in four games.

“What I think about is putting the ball in the air,” Puig said via interpreter, “or else I’m going to have no money in my pocket.”

Turner, of course, is one of the key agents of the fly-ball revolution. If not the protagonist, he’s at least played an important supporting role. After a mediocre start to his career, Turner sought the help of outside hitting instructor Doug Latta, who believes that the ideal swing path is one that launches balls into the air. Turner’s mechanical adjustments turned him into a star. And now Turner is approaching players whom he believes can benefit from getting more balls into the air. The Puig-Turner relationship could perhaps be another example of the power of word of mouth, the power of peers to push a movement towards a tipping point.

I spoke to Latta earlier this year while examining whether we’re likely see more MLB hitters get off the ground. And the FanGraphs team has since tackled the subject in detail, as you can find here, here, and here.

But what’s interesting — or, at least interesting to me — is that many of the hitters who have benefited from this shift in thought and action have pursued their new swings mostly as a means of survival. Their objective has generally been simply to remain on a major-league roster. Consider that neither Turner nor other converts such as J.D. Martinez, Daniel Murphy, or Marlon Byrd were what you’d characterize as star players simply looking for an edge. The last of those, Byrd, is another Latta client — and arguably the forefather of this modern movement. Byrd reinvented himself as an extreme fly-ball hitter in 2013. Another early adopter, Josh Donaldson, was never considered an elite prospect.

While Martinez doesn’t proselytize in the Detroit clubhouse, he does explain his beliefs and the benefits of his swing to those curious teammates who approach him. He said more teammates have expressed interest. After some digging, it seems Turner sought out Puig to share his swing.

Turner understood that, even without an ideal swing plane, Puig produced an above-average exit velocity last season (91.6 mph). Puig’s two homers on Thursday left his bat at 107 mph and 110 mph, respectively. What he needed to address was his average, turf-churning launch angle of 9.9 degrees. Turner was a more productive hitter last year with a slightly lesser exit velocity (91.0 mph) due to his average launch angle of 17.8 degrees.

Consider these visuals from BaseballSavant:

I’m told Puig has only been working on his new swing for a month, and gained great confidence after this swing on March 5:

So what happens when Puig, considered one of the game’s premium athletes, adopts the philosophy of getting on plane with the pitch?

The upper end of possibilities includes an uptick in demonstrative-bat-flip frequency, and spectacular production. It could also, perhaps, accelerate the adoption of a new swing plane by other players who no longer think the fix is just for desperate players and/or those lacking elite tools.

For the Dodgers, it means the best team on paper and spreadsheets, according to projections, could enjoy a significant offensive jolt.

I’m not a professional swing instructor or expert swing analyst, but last season Puig’s bat plane appeared flatter and his swing seemed more upper-body dependent…

By comparison, consider the loft and lower-body involvement in his first home run Thursday…

And his second home run of the day…

What does this all mean? Puig, once one of the game’s most promising young stars, might be getting on track with a new look. There will be bat flips.

A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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7 years ago

I praise you for having the courage to draw conclusions after three games. I wish I were that brave.

7 years ago
Reply to  ottoneu

The conclusion is that he’s making a conscious effort to work with people who have made these changes before with great success. If you think the point of the article is that he hit 3 HR so far, then you missed the point entirely.

7 years ago
Reply to  ottoneu

yup, b/c look at all those stats he’s using to tell this story! This seems like exactly the types of narratives fangraphs should be producing this time of year. Should they just write nothing for 4 weeks, until we get to 100 ABs?

7 years ago
Reply to  ottoneu

Wow dude. Going for a new record for most obtuse comment?

Antonio Bananas
7 years ago
Reply to  capnsparrow

What was more obtuse? That comment, or the range of Puig’s launch angles?

7 years ago
Reply to  capnsparrow

I don’t know, maybe he made that comment after reading, “What does this all mean? Puig, once one of the game’s most promising young stars, might be getting on track with a new look. There will be bat flips….”

If being obtuse means not ignoring all the dumb crap that’s said in the article and fishing out all of the helpful, thoughtful bits, then count me proud to be obtuse.

He might get on track… there will be bat flips.. “Perhaps the best athlete, to date, is joining the revolution.”

Revolution? What are you talking about? No strong player has ever wanted to hit less grounders? Puig is a best athlete to try and adjust his swing to hit more fly balls? Might he get on track, or will he get on track and subsequently flip his bat? Is Puig really one of the “premium” athletes in baseball? He sure looks like he his because he’s extremely muscular and tall, but is he really that fast, does he really throw that hard and does he really hit that hard? Are his contact skills and hand-eye really that great? Are the three home runs even necessary to include in this article, because they literally say nothing, and it’s very easy to find past instances where he used a similar swing plane and plenty of lower body? Is the “before” swing even useful because it doesn’t really look much like how Puig typically swings anyway?
lol just please pick whether or not you’re going to take an objective approach to your observation and go with it…. leave the hyperbole at home… fangraphs is championed as an almost “scientific” site and while in this instance, you can at least take a valid point from this particular article, viewing hyperbole with a lax eye gifts us such “astute” articles like Jeff Sullivan’s “The Thing About Bryce Harper’s 2015” that could’ve been avoided if he didn’t pump and hype Harper throughout all of the former year and instead just looked at the raw numbers and asked a couple simple questions.

The problem is that he could’ve just said, “Yasiel Puig says he is trying to hit more fly balls and his teammate is helping him, here is the EXTREMELY limited evidence we have to show for it so far… for someone with Puig’s PRESUMED strength, he’s always had curiously low power metrics, so it would make sense if these changes help him in the future presuming that they are legitimate…” but nope.

The crowd-think afforded this guy 162 dislikes for simply making a valid observation: you shouldn’t have to fish through crap on a site like fangraphs to take away the valid points.

7 years ago
Reply to  davemascera

He didn’t make a valid observation, and neither did you. The only difference is that he wasted only 20 words, while you wasted about 500.

7 years ago
Reply to  Fillmore

Care to argue the many points I made in my 500 words, instead of making a completely baseless assertion?

I asked questions that dispute the author’s delivery and I don’t see you answering them. I made points about the type of content that is expected on a site as heralded as this one and I don’t see you arguing against them. This shows me that you simply want something in particular to be true more than that you come here looking to figure out the truth.

You may as well have said, “you’re stupid.” The irony to your comment is that I de-hyped and included basically every one of the authors VALID points in a single paragraph consisting of two sentences without really leaving out any information that is actually relevant to objectivity and what we know about rational chains of thought and statistics. The point in that being that there’s really not too much of an article to be written here. Yet it’s featured on this site lol.

Which is kinda indirectly also the point of the disliked comment above: without the attitude and misinformation included in this article that screams “GET READY FOR THE NEW PUIG” there’s simply not much here. And the “GET READY FOR THE NEW PUIG” attitude may or may not be extremely premature.

7 years ago
Reply to  davemascera

Lighten up, Francis.

7 years ago
Reply to  ottoneu

I praise you for having the courage to put a pic of yourself next to this incredible drivel.