Quarterly Report: Yasiel Puig is Really Good

Roughly a quarter of the 2014 season is in the books, and the sample sizes are creeping toward a representative level. Over the next couple of weeks, let’s take a somewhat deeper look at some of this season’s more noteworthy players and performances to date. “Noteworthy” doesn’t always mean “best”, though it does in most cases. Today, we’ll take a look at the first quarter performance of Yasiel Puig, who has done his best to blot out any notion that last season’s breakout was a fluke. His 2014 numbers are even better than last year’s, which were believed by many to have overly fueled by BABIP. What makes Puig tick, and how good could he eventually get?

In the aftermath of the A’s successful signing of Yoenis Cespedes, the Dodgers ventured into the Cuban professional ranks and signed Puig to a seven-year, $42M major league contract in 2012. Like Cespedes before him and Jose Abreu afterward, Puig had great success in Serie Nacional, the top rung of the Cuban professional ranks. Unlike them, however, he had not sustained this success – a loud .330-.431-.581 line in 2010-11 – over a material period of time. In addition, Serie Nacional stats are notoriously spotty. Critically, however, the guy the Dodgers signed was only 21 years old at the time. If this seven-year gamble panned out, they would be locking up Puig through age 27, while the A’s and White Sox would be buying themselves some decline phase along with some of Cespedes’ and Abreu’s prime years. Was Puig good enough to warrant such an investment?

It didn’t take long for that question to be answered definitely. Puig knifed through the Dodgers’ system, batting .328-.405-.611 over 229 minor league at-bats, and then exploded onto the scene at Dodger Stadium last summer. While his style has often overshadowed it, the substance has been there from Day One. While his plus-plus arm strength, his rawness in certain aspects of the game, and his immaturity in general often garnered the headlines, Puig has been one of the game’s top offensive producers since the day he showed up. How historic is the opening to act to his career? Consider this.

Puig posted a 159 OPS+ in his rookie year at age 22. That’s the ninth best such season ever among rookies 22 or younger, behind Mike Trout (2012 – 171), Jimmy Sheckard (1901 – 169), Sam Crawford (1901 – 167), Pete Reiser (1941 – 165), Bernie Carbo (1970 – 164), Dick Allen (1964 – 145), Ted Williams (1939 – 160) and Alex Rodriguez (1996 – 160). Next in line is Albert Pujols (2001 – 157). Puig is off to an even better start in 2014, with a 185 OPS+ to date. There’s a long way to go, but that’s better than each of those players did in their second MLB seasons. Trout did best at 179, Williams was next at 162, followed by Crawford (152), Pujols (151), Allen (145) and Reiser (143). A-Rod was well behind at 120. Williams and Crawford are in the Hall of Fame, Pujols will be, Allen should be, Reiser likely would have been if he didn’t enjoy throwing himself into brick walls so much, and Trout is, well he’s Mike Trout. Best guess, once the 2014 season is in the books, Puig’s first two seasons will compare favorably to all of these players except for Trout.

He’s worn out lefthanded (.343-.418-.564) and righthanded (.317-.396-.548) pitching thus far in his brief career. His platoon differential is negligible, and he’s actually hit righties significantly better thus far in 2014. He’s more than just a hitter, as well. Though his defense has been uneven at times, both UZR and DRS grade him as a slightly above average RF, with his howitzer arm a significant contributor to his defensive value. He is not a very good or prolific basestealer, but he can really fly underway, and his high BABIP, as we shall see, is attributable in part to his speed.

So what do we have in Yasiel Puig? Is he a tooled-out youngster with lots of bells and whistles to his game that will fade with age, or is he a generational talent? Let’s take a look at his 2014 plate appearance outcome frequency and production by BIP type data, through Tuesday night’s games, for some hints. Keep in mind that the sample sizes remain small, so most of the contextual information incorporated below is from the 2013 season. No matter – we’re not searching for exactitude here, just looking for some indicators.


FREQ – 2014
Puig % REL PCT
K 19.1% 107 70
BB 10.9% 127 76
POP 7.0% 90 41
FLY 21.1% 76 8
LD 23.7% 114 86
GB 48.2% 111 78


PROD – 2014
Puig AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD
FLY 0.500 1.667 436 244
LD 0.630 1.111 116 99
GB 0.400 0.400 263 178
ALL BIP 0.423 0.756 198 132
ALL PA 0.329 0.404 0.589 182 128

Let’s start with the frequency table. Both Puig’s K and BB rates are above MLB average, with percentile ranks of 70 and 76, respectively. This high BB rate is a very positive sign for Puig – for all that has been said about his overaggressiveness in various facets of the game, he’s been earning respect, putting up some quality at-bats, and accepting the walks that pitchers are becoming increasingly inclined to give him. He’s done in a year what many young sluggers struggle to ever accomplish. His popup rate (41 percentile rank) is low for a power hitter, but his ground ball rate (78 percentile rank) is quite high. For him to truly take advantage of his raw power, that is going to have to come down.

The second table lists the production from and hints at the authority of Puig’s batted balls. The actual production allowed for each BIP type is listed in the “AVG” and “SLG” columns, and is converted into run values, compared to MLB average and scaled to 100 in the “REL PRD” column. Estimates of context, i.e., ballpark, player speed, team defense, simple regression and luck are applied in the “ADJ PRD” column in an attempt to isolate his true batting talent. For the purposes of this exercise, HBP are excluded from the OBP calculation, and SH and SF are counted as outs. Again – this is relatively small sample, with much subjectivity in the contextual adjustments, so let’s not get caught up in absolute precision here.

Puig is batting .500 and slugging 1.667 on fly balls to date. While that is below Jose Abreu’s fly ball performance to date, which was covered earlier this week, his actual 436 REL PRD is higher than any 2013 regular’s. Adjusted for context it drops quite a bit to 244, a figure that would still place him among the top ten in 2013 fly ball ADJ PRD. Puig’s power isn’t solely to pull, as two of his homers so far have been to RCF – this is legit fly ball thump. Puig hiked up his actual performance on liners with three hits last night, but often hits his liners so hard that they carry to the outfielders. He has a line drive homer – a relatively rare occurrence – already this year, and his ADJ PRD of 116 on liners is conservatively regressed to 99.

Then there’s the ground balls. Major league hitters are batting .237 AVG-.260 SLG on grounders so far this year, but Mr. Puig is batting an even .400 on them. Part of that is luck, but part is due to an extremely high percentage of hard ground balls. Even after adjustment for context, Puig’s ADJ PRD of 132 on grounders would rank quite high among 2013 regulars, but there is certainly a speed premium at work here as well. As we’ll see later, this isn’t a new development, but rather a continuation of a theme from 2013.

So what have we got? We’ve got a guy who roasts the ball in the air and on the ground, but who hits it on the ground too often to fully take advantage of his power upside. Unlike many young power hitters who rely heavily on batted-ball authority due to the work-in-process status of their plate discipline, Puig already has a sound plate discipline foundation. If this guy can find a way to get more baseballs into the air……watch out.

Which got me to thinking……which other young power hitters in the game today hit the tar out of the baseball, but have a similar problem getting the ball off of the ground? One other player – with 180 degree differences in almost every facet of the game besides BIP-type frequency and batted-ball authority – who fills the bill is Mark Trumbo. Check these out:


FREQ – 2013
Puig % REL PCT
K 22.5% 124 77
BB 8.3% 103 58
POP 8.0% 102 51
FLY 23.7% 82 15
LD 20.2% 93 31
GB 48.1% 115 84
Trumbo % REL PCT
K 27.1% 149 92
BB 8.0% 99 53
POP 7.3% 93 41
FLY 24.2% 84 17
LD 22.2% 103 60
GB 46.2% 111 78


PROD – 2013
Puig AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD
FLY 0.387 1.226 236 187
LD 0.792 1.094 152 125
GB 0.349 0.373 214 92
ALL BIP 0.420 0.703 181 123
ALL PA 0.313 0.372 0.525 153 110
Trumbo AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD
FLY 0.303 1.061 165 258
LD 0.674 1.174 137 128
GB 0.225 0.246 91 117
ALL BIP 0.327 0.636 128 153
ALL PA 0.231 0.292 0.449 102 119

The frequency differences aren’t all that notable. Trumbo struck out more, but their batted-ball type frequencies are largely in sync. Production-wise, Puig outperformed Trumbo on fly balls, but after adjustment for context, Trumbo’s fly ball authority was even better than Puig’s. Both had very similar hard and soft-groundball rates, and had nearly identical ADJ PRD on grounders. Trumbo’s very high K rate causes his ADJ PRD to plummet from 153 to 119 when the K and BB are added back in, while Puig’s went down much less, from 123 to 110.

Based on batted-ball frequency/authority, Mark Trumbo out-batted Yasiel Puig in 2013. This is where the difference in athleticism and speed come in. Remember Puig’s .400 average on grounders in 2014? Well, he was nearly as good in 2013, at .349 AVG-.373 SLG. Puig hits top speed very quickly, and beats out many more grounders than your average baserunner. Trumbo’s ADJ PRD on grounders was 153, much higher than Puig’s – but he batted only .225-.246 on grounders. Part of the reason that Puig’s isolated power on fly balls and liners is so high is his speed, as he’ll take the extra base much more than Trumbo, or just about any other power hitter. He has speed and batted-ball authority on his side, while Trumbo has only the latter.

There are other young power hitters in the game today who simply need to hit more fly balls to reach their power potential – Carlos Gonzalez, Jason Heyward, Eric Hosmer, Manny Machado, even the 2013 version of Giancarlo Stanton, also belong to this group. Even in such elite company, Puig’s all-around upside is likely the greatest. Put it this way – what kind of numbers could you see him putting up playing his home games in Coors Field?

Not every young power hitter figures it out, however. If Puig were to stay right where he is on his development curve, and gradually watched his physical tools erode, he could be a .280-.350-.480 type offensive player for a decade or so, a latter day Raul Mondesi. The upside is far, far greater than that. While Dodger Stadium is pitcher-friendly on balance, it is very friendly to hitters with middle-of-the-field power. Late-career Manny Ramirez had an absolute blast in his short time taking aim on the center field fence at Chavez Ravine, and Puig may not even have entered the meat of his prime at this point. One could argue that Puig has already tackled the hard parts, assimilating to the US culture, addressing the plate discipline issue, etc.. Elevating the ball more and often and further tapping into his power potential should be a piece of cake, relatively.

A year ago, you may have been able to find some detractors to assert that Puig’s body might get away from him due to lack of maturity, his overaggressiveness would get the best of him, etc., but detractors are hard to find these days. Sure, the body could be a maintenance issue going forward, and he does show some signs of becoming a little pull-happy, but the rapid growth of Puig’s all-around game has been something to behold. He still makes the occasional defensive gaffe, but those are minor blemishes on the burgeoning work of art that is his all-around game. The guess here is that we have a true superstar on our hands, possibly the one guy who can crack the Trout-Cabrera pantheon in the immediate near term. He could hit .330+ with 30-40 homers the next couple years, but after that we may see a blastoff in power production at the cost of 20-30 points of batting average, largely offset by additional walks – a trade that any front office would take.

You can criticize the Dodgers for many things – they have too much replacement-level talent surrounding their stars, they have some large, dead wood contracts, they unnecessarily gun through their bullpen seemingly every day despite having the GDP of a medium-sized country invested in their starting rotation – but they got Puig right. One player, one contract, one decision, can make a ballclub, an era. Ask the Cards how drafting Albert Pujols transformed their franchise. Yasiel Puig just might have the same impact on the Los Angeles Dodgers.




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39 Responses to “Quarterly Report: Yasiel Puig is Really Good”

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  1. Cicero says:

    Must be nice to root for a team that can throw money at problems, for all the 1/2 to 3/4 a billion in contracts they have assumed or handed out it has been the two reasonable IFA contracts to Ryu(6/36) and Puig(7/42) that are by far the best value

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    • Puig's Translator says:

      The Dodgers are spending a lot of money. But that is exactly what they should be doing. They have a lot to spend. But they are also doing the smart thing and exploiting the international market and developing their farm system. “Throwing money at problems” was them cleaning up the mess left by the previous owner and fielding a team that could win and put fans in seats right away. Don’ be mad the Dodgers do what half the league could, but chooses not to do: Use their money to field the most competitive team possible.

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      • Cicero says:

        I am sure it feels great to be one of the 4-6 favored teams in the current system. I for one would feel better if all broadcast revenue was the property of MLB the way the NFL does it, but hey why not have a couple of teams that can essentially buy two rosters worth of talent.

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      • Steven says:

        Do you have any evidence at all to suggest that half of the league has the financial resources to sustainably spend $240 million per year on their roster? You can not blame the Dodgers for spending money and still lambast the system that allows one team to year after year spend 3 times as much as other teams.

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    • The Foils says:

      It is really great. Join us.

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    • Spit Ball says:

      That was couch change compared to the deal with the Sox, the Greinke signing, the Kershaw extension especially considering they already had Kemp an Ethier locked up long term. It’s worth noting that the Dodgers did well scouting both Ryu and Kemp as both have exceeded expectations.

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      • Cicero says:

        I know it is couch change, but either would have been the largest FA contract handed out by the Rockies in more than a decade. If both had worked blown up and done nothing would criple a team like Milwaukee, Kansas City or the Pirates. Yes they scouted well, they also have a spending advantage in that department.

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  2. Dustin says:

    Anyone got some clean pants? I got a little carried away reading this.

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  3. Captain Grammar says:

    To date, the department of redundancy department says Puig is awesome, thus far.

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  4. SucramRenrut says:

    Tony,

    What determines whether a ball is classified as a line-drive or hard ground ball. For example, is a hit that bounces once in the gap between 3B and the SS a liner or a ground ball? What about two bounces on the dirt up the middle but still unplayable by a defender?

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  5. scatterbrian says:

    Listened to the A’s broadcast last night, and the announcers mentioned Puig while going over the out of town scoreboard. They both agreed with the sentiment that the only thing keeping Puig from greatness is himself.I guess he could improve his SB%, and there’s that whole cutoff man thing. But really, I’m struggling to see him as anything other than great.

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    • Purps McGurps says:

      Every broadcast team does this. It is an incredibly dumb narrative that needs to go away.

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    • Puig's Translator says:

      90% of Broadcasters are either homers, “old school” (uninformed) or both. Look at the numbers. If you think Puig is his own worst enemy ask yourself if you’d rather have some boring player that is polite and “plays the game right way”, or a passionate, emotional, Cuban hitting machine. If Puig was on their team the announcers would praise his passion and enthusiasm.

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      • Cicero says:

        Barry Bonds was his own worst enemy, obviously he would be welcome on any team but will never have the love a Hank Aaron or Willie Mays is afforded 30-40 years after retirement

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    • Bip says:

      Puig is already playing at the level of “greatness.” Like with every other player ever, there is no way to know if he will continue to play at this level, but the value he contributes to his team already is nothing short of great.

      Whether he could improve even more is another question, but, again, it’s a question that can also be asked of many other players.

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    • RT says:

      He hasn’t been great?

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  6. Remus says:

    “the substance has been there from Day One”

    heh

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  7. Kevin Towers says:

    Puig or Justin Upton in a dynasty baseball league? J-Up seems more proven while Puig has higher ceiling. Which one? How close?

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  8. Hitler But Sadder says:

    Puig and I defected right around the same time– all around good dude.

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  9. Hurtlocker says:

    I think Puig is Mike Trout with a lot better arm. As a Giants fan I really hate to admit that.

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    • Bip says:

      In terms of athleticism, probably, but Mike Trout has fielding and baserunning instincts imparted directly to him from the gods. I’d say that is the main difference between them on the field.

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    • Steven says:

      You can’t tell the difference between a player worth 10.4 WAR over 154 games last year (and 2.7 in 45 this year) and a player worth 6.6 WAR over his 145 career games?

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      • The Foils says:

        Comments like this are probably why people hate us.

        It’s pretty hard to visualize 4 WAR. What I can visualize is Puig if he were an elite baserunner, could translate his burgeoning defensive skills to CF, and had a super boring personality.

        Such a dude would be the best player in baseball.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        Good point, Foils. If there’s a 4 WAR gap in offense, that should be pretty evident. But if it’s primarily baserunning, defense and positional adjustment, most people won’t notice that as much. Especially if they don’t see both players on a daily basis.

        Yesterday was a good example of the great, and bad, parts of his game. He made a diving catch in right center last night that was absolutely unbelievable. The Mets’ broadcasters were saying it’s as good as a catch as they’ve seen, and I don’t know if I’ve seen better. On the other hand, he also got thrown out on the bases because he didn’t know what to do when a player drops a pop-up after the Infield Fly is called. He didn’t realize he could stay on first, so he ran to second, overran the bag by a few feet and just stood there until he was tagged out.

        Later in the game, he crushed a pitch to dead center. Flipped his bat even though it wasn’t over the fence. Next batter was up, lined out to left field, and Puig got doubled off of second. To be fair, I think most runners would have been doubled off because it was a terrific diving catch by the LF.

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      • Hurtlocker says:

        Really?? WAR determines if a player is good or not?? Have you actually watched a game? I get that Puig is rough, but what a talent. He is ceratinly as talented as any player in baseball, including Mike Trout. (who is hitting about .270 right now and leads the majors in strikeouts)

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  10. Mr Baseball says:

    Most, not all, but most of the stat people said Puig was going to regress. As if the first 400 PAs is 4,000 PAs. The stats community needs to realize that the awesome advanced data we have is TERRIBLE at predicting breakouts and improvements. It is a limited data set, by definition. Young players improve and change all the time, not all, but many do.

    Remember the advanced data we now have is great is confirming past performance was “real”, it’s terrible at predicting change or breakouts or improvements.

    The analysts got Puig wrong in most cases, he continued to improve and few said it was possible.

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    • Bip says:

      The stats community needs to realize that the awesome advanced data we have is TERRIBLE at predicting breakouts and improvements.

      Again, stats are not terrible at anything, it’s whether we apply them properly. Of course past performance numbers can’t predict if a player is going to adjust his plate discipline because he is being pitched differently.

      If someone’s idea of sabermetric analysis is “This guy has a high BABIP, therefore he’s going to regress”, then yeah, of course that person is not going to be right that often. However, in general, when observe performances like Puig’s more often than not, the player doesn’t quite maintain that performance. That Puig is providing a counterexample to this observation does not invalidate the observation.

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    • James says:

      He also improved on all the areas that would have led to regression.

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  11. Mr Baseball says:

    Further, many younger, prodigous sluggers reach a tipping point where pitchers decide to pitch around the threat. Mike Stanton for example was never projected to have these kind of all around offensive numbers. What happened is what often happens to most huge power threats upon breakout, the league “adjusts” in subesquent seasons and simply decides to avoid the risk. Many players, Bonds and Manny, for example, see an additional and rapid increase in productivity into the statosphere, especially BB rate, which almost always blows the roof off projections. Stanton reached this tipping point this year and Puig has already reached it, quite quickly.

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  12. Shankbone says:

    Lot of fun to watch him play, even as a Giants fan. I would bet on generational talent personally. Great signing for the Dodgers, and it makes up for a lot of bonehead moves in a hurry, like Tony’s analysis states.

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  13. Big Daddy V says:

    So, by saying Puig’s number will compare to all these players except for Trout, you’re saying Mike Trout is a better hitter than Ted Williams. Right?

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    • Jason B says:

      First two years wRC+:

      Trout, 166, 176.

      Williams, 156, 159.

      Yes, Trout was a better hitter than Williams in his first two years.

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