The Current Simplicity of Pitching to Puig

There’s always a risk that comes with pre-writing. I’m writing this Wednesday afternoon, about Yasiel Puig, even though Puig hasn’t yet begun his game Wednesday night. I can’t know what’s going to happen. Puig might have the game of his life! Or he might hijack a blimp. Life’s a mystery. But what I know is that I’m writing about the Puig who’s batting .235. The Puig with a 78 wRC+ that would very easily stand as a career low. Maybe Puig snaps out of this in between writing and publishing, but what’s happened has most definitely happened, so now, a discussion of that.

You might’ve noticed by now that I take a lot of interest in the way that good hitters get pitched. Puig’s been pitched in a certain way, and it’s remarkably uncomplicated. A couple weeks ago, Dave Roberts said Puig’s been hurt on fastballs in and soft stuff away. Pretty much. And that’s also kind of a traditional blueprint, but it’s been aces against Puig to this point. We have the overall numbers, and we have the idea from the manager. Let’s now get into some deeper evidence.

I’m going to be embedding some FanGraphs heat maps, and I’ll be using some information from Baseball Savant. That’s more or less business as usual. About the inside fastballs — Puig saw a ton of them as a rookie. Then he was able to make an adjustment, and he pushed the fastballs away in the following two years. The fastballs are back now, not to the rookie-season extreme, but much of the way. Why might there be a perceived vulnerability? Here’s what I think is a really useful display of batted-ball speed. This actually covers the whole Statcast era.


You can see it, I can see it, everybody can see it. There are probably better measures than just average batted-ball speed, but it’s functional, and you can see that Puig has had trouble squaring up pitches in. Like anyone, he likes to get his arms extended. Most righties are worse against inside pitches than non-inside pitches, but Puig is more lopsided in this respect than usual. Here now is where fastballs have gone this season. For the most part, this decently follows what’s above.


Lots of pitches kind of down the middle, and there is a hot spot low and away, but you can guess at targets — thigh-high to belt-high, inner part of the plate. So that’s sort of half the approach against Puig. Here’s the other half. Here’s where the non-fastballs have gone:


To make it clear again: This isn’t extraordinary. Hard in, soft away has existed as a philosophy for decades. But it’s enough right now to keep Puig in a slump. He hasn’t been able to get out in front of the opposition, and it’s a little like he’s guessing between an inside fastball and an outside non-fastball. He’s not blessed with elite-level discipline. An issue might be that Puig can hit enough would-be balls to the outfield to almost justify his aggressiveness, but he’s been swinging entirely too often. Opposing pitchers have been playing him, as is somewhat demonstrated by the following comparison. On the left, Puig’s swing habits against non-fastballs. On the right, league-average swing habits for a righty.


Look at all of those swings outside. This really is extraordinary. To look for some context, I went to Baseball Savant and looked up right-handed hitters who’ve seen at least 100 pitches over the outer third, or beyond. Then for all of them, I looked up their swing rates against those pitches. Here are the 10 highest.

2016 Swing Rates, Outside Pitches
Player Away Swing%
Yasiel Puig 65%
Brandon Phillips 56%
Josh Harrison 51%
Brandon Guyer 50%
Marlon Byrd 50%
Johnny Giavotella 50%
Salvador Perez 49%
Rajai Davis 49%
Adonis Garcia 49%
Starling Marte 48%
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Outside third of the plate, or beyond. Right-handed batters only.

That’s the top 10, out of 153. The average of the whole group is 38%. Puig shows up highest, at 65%, an incredible nine percentage points in front of second place. And, I mean, Brandon Phillips is kind of an incredible five percentage points in front of third place, but this is a huge gap. Puig has swung at two-thirds of those pitches. The average righty is closer to one-third. Puig is swinging at those pitches so much he has to be looking for them to some extent. Still, it’s too many swings.

And with Puig swinging at pitches away, and leaning in that direction, that makes him more vulnerable in. It’s almost impossible for him to cover both areas and both velocities. Because he swings so much away, he can get tied up. Because pitchers tie him up, he has to protect against that, and he’s worse against pitches away. I’m sure there’s a way out of this, because Puig has gotten out of ruts before, but he’s constantly found himself in-between. His swing rate against pitches away is way up, but his swing rate against other pitches hasn’t really budged. And the overall numbers are bad. They reflect his frustration in the box.

Mechanically, Puig seems to be fine. And, his bat speed is there, and he can hit mistakes. Here’s a little sequence from Tuesday. Three sliders down and away, then a tighter fastball. Pretty typical.


The target for the fastball was more inside than that. Jacob deGrom missed over the plate, and here’s where the baseball went:


Puig clobbered the ball, and just about homered. Instead of four bases and no outs, he got no bases and one out, but the immediate result was promising. On talent, Yasiel Puig doesn’t suddenly suck. He can hit baseballs really hard. He has still done that from time to time. If you aren’t careful enough as a pitcher, or if you just get unlucky, Puig will sting you.

He just hasn’t done his usual stinging, because his discipline, at least temporarily, has eroded. Puig has made himself too willing to go after pitches away, and that’s opened up a pair of vulnerabilities. When pitchers recognize them both, Puig is up against it. He’s too good to stay down too much longer. Climbing out of this, though, is going to be a challenge. At least the Dodgers can figure he’s done it before.

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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7 years ago

I choose to believe Puig hijacked a blimp.

Jetsy Extrano
7 years ago
Reply to  Garyth

To Vietnamese to Yoruba to Yiddish to English is a dud.

Puig could have the game of their lives! Or you can take control balloon. Life is a mystery