June 10, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig (66) hits a single in the eighth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Pina On Yasiel Puig’s Emergence


(We’ve got another great guest article from ESPN’s True Hoop Network writer Michael Pina. This time he’s talking about Yasiel Puig, and his stunning emergence and development into one of the most feared hitters in the game. Has it only been a week?)

 

Baseball is supposed to be an agonizing activity for those who play it. It tortures participants like golf tortures golfers, except the ball doesn’t sit on a tee. It spins towards you at unthinkable speeds, curving, darting, dancing into the catcher’s mitt more times than a swinging bat.

This belief isn’t held by Dodgers rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig, a 22-year-old who’s yet to show any serious signs that would indicate he is in fact 22 years old (the National League’s eighth youngest player) and a rookie.

As you’re more than likely already aware, Puig has set the baseball world on fire, hitting four homeruns in his first seven games. He’s a free swinging ball of muscle who currently sports a .464 batting average, .483 on base percentage, slugging percentage of .964, and an OPS of 1.447, all numbers that would obliterate all baseball’s statistical leader boards if they qualified. (He’s now hitting .500 with a .515 OBP, and a .938 slugging)

The sample size is tiny, of course, but Puig’s impact has already left a crater in Los Angeles. He’s doing things less than a handful of players in baseball history have accomplished, all while making the game look simple. According to Elias, Puig is the second player since 1900 to hit four homers in his first five games, joining Mike Jacobs of the New York Mets in 2005. He also tied Danny Espinsoa (in 2010) and Jack Merson (in 1951) for most RBI through five career games.

Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig (66) runs to third in the fourth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

And in those first five games since he was called up from the minors on June 3rd, the Dodgers had only lost one of them. On Friday night Los Angeles had one of their most impressive wins of the entire season, beating the Atlanta Braves in 10 innings on the back of Anthony Varvaro’s two wild pitches.

Late in that game, with two outs in the eighth inning, Braves reliever Jordan Walden on the mound, and the Dodgers in position to take the lead with a man on third, Atlanta intentionally walked Puig. It was the first time in his career where an opposing team recognized his transcendent skill and reacted accordingly.

So far, according to Fangraphs, Puig’s discipline at the plate is basically non-existent, which makes some of his production so far feel rightfully like a dream. He’s swinging at 59.2% of his pitches which would stand as second highest in all of baseball, behind only notorious hacker Pablo Sandoval.

Puig has become a force for the Dodgers-Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Sandoval is able to swing the way he does because he has an incredibly smart eye for recognizing pitches that end up over the plate, and if Puig is to continue swinging like a madman, he’ll need to see similar levels of discipline in that area. Puig’s making contacts with 78.6% of all the pitches he swings at, which puts him right around Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt just outside the top 100 for overall consistency, but diving deeper at whether or not those pitches are worth swinging at is another story.

He’s making contact with 80% of the pitches he swings at outside the strike zone, which is a top 20 number, and will need to stay there or even increase if he wants to attack the ball as often as he does. (Puig also swings at 40% of the pitches that end up outside the strike zone, which is a top 10 number.)

A lot of what we’ve seen from Puig so far is good, but, obviously, he’ll more than likely come back to Earth sooner than later. Hitting the ball over the fence four times in his first 30 career at bats isn’t something everyone accomplishes, and from that viewpoint he should already be appreciated, cheered, and beloved. Puig has shown he can smash the ball at the major league level. As he evolves and finds a little more patience at the plate, he’ll only get better. A scary thought for pitchers all across baseball.

Michael Pina is a writer for ESPN’s TrueHoop Network. He also writes for ScoreBig. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina

Tags: Featured Los Angeles Dodgers Michael Pina Popular Yasiel Puig

  • Eric Reining

    Like you said, “The sample size is tiny, of course…”

    Metrics like Z-Swing%, O-Swing% and Contact% aren’t meant to be used after a week’s worth of games. After 7 games, those numbers are basically irrelevant.

    I think you make your best point (against yourself) when you mentioned his “historic” start is shared by the likes of Mike Jacobs and Danny Espinosa. Small sample size.

    • Stacie Wheeler

      Small sample size, yes. But Puig has the natural skills to be a great player. How often have you seen a rookie hit this great out of the gate? Mike Trout started off slow. Puig has been amazing to watch.

      • Eric Reining

        Still, just because Puig is one of a handful of players to do something in 5 games — and the others are all Hall-of-Famers — it does not mean that Puig is going to have the same career as they had.

        Beyond the fact that it actually happened, it doesn’t tell us anything moving forward.

        Like you said, Mike Trout started slow, and he’s one the best players in baseball. Puig could start out hot and just stay hot — which wouldn’t terribly surprise me — but I’m not anticipating it.

    • Quasimodo

      They would be irrelevant if Puig didn’t remind me of…….Puig. I was with the group that thought there was only one reason for him to remain in the minors in April was the matter of that extra years contract control. Which ended April 18th. I surely thought Dodgers were smart enough to bring him up by May 1st. I heard all the reasons that were expressed for not bringing him up. None were any good, because Puig continued to be Puig. Just because something seems to good to be true doesn’t mean it always is.

  • AaronKnuckleCurve

    remember our dodgers saying he wasn’t ready while we played Skip or Jerry instead. We’re idiots