(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.
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.
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.