The Growing Legend of Yasiel Puig

Yasiel Puig has been in the Major Leagues for a week. In the seven days since he was called up from Double-A, he’s hit as many home runs as Andre Ethier has all season. He’s already doubled Matt Kemp‘s 2013 home run total. He ended his first game in the majors by starting a double play, throwing a laser from right field to nail a runner retreating to first on a long fly ball. Puig-mania is in full effect, and needless to say, he’s not going back to the minor leagues no matter how many Dodgers outfielders eventually return from the DL.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement. If you’ve missed his absurd debut, MLB.com has an embeddable five minute video of his early accomplishments, so you can relive the glory of Yasiel Puig’s incredible first week below.

It’s almost impossible to imagine a player having a better first week in the big leagues. Maybe he could have come on in relief and earned a save or something, but short of that, Puig’s first seven days in the big leagues were basically perfect. So, now, the question is whether we’re watching the emergence of a franchise player or the convergence of a great talent facing a bunch of bad pitchers who don’t yet know how to get him out.

Without trying to be a wet blanket, the quality of competition at least deserves a mention. His first three games came against the Padres — the team that owns baseball’s worst pitching staff — and were nice off to throw a pair of left-handed starters at him. When the Braves came to town and he faced Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, and Mike Minor, he stopped hitting balls over the fence every night, though he did go 3 for 9 against that group, so it wasn’t like he was totally helpless against good pitching. However, before we put him in Cooperstown, we should at least note that he’s not the only right-handed batter who has had fun hitting against the likes of Clayton Richard this year.

The other concern about Puig’s future as a superstar is his approach. He famously tore up spring training but did so without drawing a single walk, and he hasn’t been any less aggressive in the big leagues since getting called up. Puig is a supremely talented hitter, but he wouldn’t be the first exceptional athlete to fail because of a lack of strike zone judgment. After all, Josh Hamilton is showing just how vulnerable even the best physical talents can be when pitchers figure out how to attack weaknesses created by an over-aggresive approach.

But, just for fun, let’s run with that comparison. Here’s Yasiel Puig’s plate discipline stats compared to those of Hamilton.

Name PA O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
Yasiel Puig 29 42.9% 71.4% 57.1% 72.2% 86.7% 81.3% 50.0%
Josh Hamilton 571 36.4% 76.4% 54.5% 63.1% 82.3% 75.3% 45.1%

The number of plate appearances might have given this away, but those aren’t Hamilton’s 2013 plate discipline numbers; those are his numbers from 2010, when he hit .359/.411/.633 and won the AL MVP award despite taking the last few weeks of the season off. If the question is whether a hitter can possibly succeed with the approach that Puig is currently displaying, the answer is a definitive yes.

Mentioning Hamilton as a comparison right now might seem like a warning, given how poorly he is doing in Anaheim at the moment, but Hamilton has a career 130 wRC+ in the big leagues despite never really having any idea of the strike zone. And Puig’s first week plate discipline numbers are better than Hamilton’s were in Hamilton’s best season.

Puig is an aggressive hitter, but I’m not sure there’s a lot of evidence that he’s so aggressive that it’s actually going to keep him from being an elite hitter. Yeah, he didn’t walk in spring 58 spring training at-bats, but it’s spring training, and we all know that the numbers down there are essentially worthless. In Double-A, Puig didn’t really distinguish himself as some kind of hacker extraordinaire. From Minor League Central, his swing stats from Chattanooga — with the caveat that these are culled from much less reliable play-by-play data than we have at the big leagues, so add some uncertainty around these — show that he swung at 51.5% of the pitches he was thrown, not that much higher than the league average of 47.2%.

In 167 plate appearances at Double-A, Puig drew 15 walks, a 9.0% walk rate that was higher than the league average. He made contact nearly 80% of the time he swung the bat, and he’s maintained that rate in one week’s worth of big league plate appearances. And, really, look at the pitches that Puig has swung at in week one, courtesy of TexasLeaguer’s PITCHF/x plots.

PuigSwings

I mean, if one is trying to make the argument that Puig is an undisciplined hack who will be exposed if he keeps swinging as often as he is, that chart is a little problematic. He’s chased a few pitches in and a few pitches down, but by and large, the pitches that Puig has swung at have been hittable. That is the swing plot of a guy who is responding to being challenged by proving he can hit pitches in the strike zone, not the swing plot of a guy who is just wildly waving at anything coming out of the pitcher’s hand.

And, perhaps most impressively is how well Puig is driving the ball to right field. Look at this spray chart.

PuigSpray

He’s basically pulled two pitches to the outfield, and one of those he put it into the left field seats. Everything else in the air has been to center or right field, including a pair of opposite field home runs. A lot of the frustration that stems from watching undisciplined young hitters is that they tend to pull a lot of pitches on the outside corner, rolling them weakly to an infielder or hitting a shallow pop fly if they get under it. When Puig gets pitched away, he’s hitting rockets to right field.

It’s seven games, four of which came against a Triple-A pitching staff. Major League pitchers haven’t yet had time to scout Puig and adjust to his weaknesses. They will adjust, and he’s going to have to make counter adjustments, or else he may very well end up as Alfonso Soriano 2.0.

But, so far, there’s no reason to think that’s the most likely outcome. What Puig has done since arriving in the U.S. all point to him being a phenomenally talented player whose baseball skills were undersold last summer. Calling him raw might be fair to an extent, but he’s not so raw that he’s showing glaring weaknesses in his game that are just waiting to be exploited.

Seven days in, Yasiel Puig looks like a star in the making. Maybe his approach will eventually become a problem, but it took opposing pitchers seven years to figure out how to get Josh Hamilton out. He might not walk much, but he looks like a guy who could be so good at everything else that it won’t matter.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


99 Responses to “The Growing Legend of Yasiel Puig”

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  1. Froglegs Jackson says:

    “They will adjust, and he’s going to have to make counter adjustments, or else he may very well end up as Alfonso Soriano 2.0.” You say that like it’s a bad thing. I’m sure the Dodgers would gladly take 37.9 career WAR from Puig.

    +22 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Brandon T says:

      Not if they have to pay him so many millions to do it over so many years.

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      • Injurypronedodgers says:

        They already paid $42 mill on the HOPE that they could get anything out of him so I don’t think they care too much about the money right now.

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  2. hamjenkinsIII says:

    Puigraphs

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  3. Oh, Beepy says:

    Man-Bear-Puig has the eye of a man, the strength of a bear and the eyes and strongs of a Puig.

    Formidable; to put it lightly.

    +16 Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Steve says:

    small. sample. size.

    -50 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ben says:

      Duh.

      +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • G.O.B. says:

      silly. predictable. comment.

      +20 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Steve says:

        sometimes the obvious needs to be stated, before we all label him baseball jesus 2.0

        -31 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Ben says:

          From the article:

          “Yasiel Puig has been in the Major Leagues for a week.”
          “In the seven days since he was called up from Double-A”
          “It’s almost impossible to imagine a player having a better first week in the big leagues”
          “And Puig’s first week plate discipline numbers are better than Hamilton’s were in Hamilton’s best season.”
          “Puig’s first seven days in the big leagues were basically perfect.”
          “Seven days in, Yasiel Puig looks like a star in the making.”
          “It’s seven games, four of which came against a Triple-A pitching staff.”

          Pretty sure Dave’s cognizant of how long Puig’s been up.

          +51 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Steve says:

          also from said article: “looks like a star in the making.” Through 30 PAs. Yaaaaaa. Star in the making.

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        • PackBob says:

          “also from said article: “looks like a star in the making.” Through 30 PAs. Yaaaaaa. Star in the making.”

          Cherry. picking.

          Omitted “Seven days in,” a necessary qualifier to understand the intent of the sentence.

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        • Wobatus says:

          Yeah goes without saying. But to reiterate, people should go look at Brett Lawrie’s line in 2011 and see how he has done in 2012 and 2013 since. Still plenty of time for him of course.

          Or Chris Davis in 2008 in June and July. Or really his whole 2008. It took him 3 years of scuffling until he really started showing some sustained success last year and then became a huge stud this year.

          You can cherry pick guys like Kevin Maas of course, but I’m talking even highly touted minor league hitters (and of course Davis is a completely different type of hitter than Puig).

          Guys can come up and take a while to get going. Some produce hugely off the bat and then fade.

          I think Dave’s big takeaway is pitchers don’t even have a read on him yet. Puig may have a huge half season and then struggle next year. Or it may take 7 years to figure him out (as with Hamilton). Pitchers may never figure him out until he ages like Pujols. We don’t know.

          That’ll be the fun part, finding out.

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        • atoms says:

          Oh come on Steve. He DOES look like a star in the making. Yes, the conclusion has to come with a huge caveat (yes it’s only been a week and any player can have a hot week), but based on the tools we’ve seen Puig display, the scouting reports, and what he did over spring training and double-A this year, as well as the things he’s done in his first week in the majors, that’s plenty sufficient to be excited about his long-term potential. And yes, it’s only 30 plate appearances so of course that’s all it is, *potential*. Nobody’s guaranteeing anything, but it’s borderline stupid to refuse to let yourself get the least bit excited and deny yourself the enjoyment of a phenomenon just because the sample size is just too darn small. Who cares? It will eventually sort itself out, so just enjoy the ride. Even Chris Shelton Month back in April 2006 was fun while it lasted. But who knows, maybe you’re a Giants fan or something.

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        • scraps says:

          “Star in the making,” Steve quotes, and immediatly ignores the “in the making” part. Apparently Steve wants more precision: “Star in the making (unless of course he fails, he’s still in his first week, we must emphasize this every sentence or Steve will roll his eyes).”

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        • steex says:

          He’s bigger than Baseball Jesus. That was the title of his second album!

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        • Gyre says:

          I don’t think they like you Steve

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        • aprilglaspie says:

          Anybody that ever watched a Braves game knows that can’t be. Ask Atlanta’s homer announcers. Braves always have the best player that ever lived at every position.

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        • Jeff says:

          Someone missed out on the waiver claim

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    • That’s what she said to you? Damn.

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      • Max says:

        you talk as if these 30 AB’s are the first anyone’s ever seen of puig. He’s hit everywhere he’s gone, and so far no level has been able to slow him down.

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        • Dave says:

          I mean, technically he slowed down a little when he went from hitting .500 in Spring to hitting .313 in AA. But your point still stands :)

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    • Taylor says:

      So you mean Puig ISN’T gonna finish the year with a 306 wRC+? I’m shocked.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • KG says:

      Steve walks warily down the street
      With his brim pulled way down low
      Ain’t no sound but the sound of
      him articulating that all analysis should be done after a long breadth of time has passed in order to ensure that the results are sustainable: accounting for variance, luck, and adaption; therefore rendering your entire article, and any conversation on the topic, a thoroughly worthless endeavor.

      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Alfonso Soriano 2.0, it should be noted, is not a terrible alternative.

    +22 Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Perry says:

    Puig’s double play throw was in his debut. Dodgers’ fans comparing his arm to Raul Mondesi. Fun to watch!

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  7. BenG says:

    You have worth instead of worst in “against the Padres — the team that owns baseball’s worth pitching staff.”

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  8. Paul says:

    Braves fan here, so watched Puig all weekend (4 game series). His willingness to take the ball to RF really jumped out. And he did not get cheated… I feel like all of his opposite field hits were well-struck line drives. He might be aggressive, but at least he’s aggressive to all fields.

    And this post is obviously focused on his offensive ability, but I feel like I have to mention his arm. Holy smokes. He made multiple throws this weekend that could only be described as “perfect”. Powerful and accurate. And there were also at least two occasions where he hit the cut-off man square in the chest on plays when plenty of big-leaguers would have made ill-advised air-mailed throws just to show off their arm.

    I know it’s early, but he certainly looks like a future star to me.

    +9 Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. David says:

    Wait – I thought Puig wasn’t ready for MLB cause he doesn’t hustle off the field fast enough in between innings???? /Complete Fangraphs Fail

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    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      Wait – You clearly didn’t get the point of Newman’s piece.

      /Reading comprehension fail.

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    • James says:

      Everyone hustles when they’re hitting .500 and slugging 2.000

      His attitude problems may come to light when he goes on his first 0/25 skid.

      +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Without trying to be a wet blanket…

    You know what’s tasty? Puig in a Blanket.

    +28 Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Dan says:

    You forgot Maholm when mentioning Atlanta starters he faced. He homered off him too.

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  12. Tony says:

    “He ended his second game in the majors by starting a double play, throwing a laser from right field to nail a runner retreating to first on a long fly ball.”

    Actually I’m pretty sure that was his FIRST game in the majors..

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  13. Perry says:

    It’s going to be real interesting to see him in Pittsburgh this weekend facing AJ Burnett’s curveball and the awesome Pirate’s bullpen.

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  14. tylersnotes says:

    The Outlook wasn’t brilliant for the LA nine that year:
    Their win count stood at 22, with the trade deadline drawing near.
    And then when HanRam fell apart, Kemp and Ethier did the same,
    A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

    A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
    Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
    They thought, if only Puig could get but a whack at that –
    We’d put up even money, now, with Puig at the bat

    Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
    The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
    And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children yell;
    But there is no joy in LA – cuz they still got no chance in hell.

    +41 Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. tehzachatak says:

    That spray chart to RF is GORGEOUS.

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    • AndyRTR says:

      Not to mention, that’s a RF manned by Jason Heyward, who, while having problems with the bat is still a sick glove.

      I am likewise a Braves fan and I found myself glued for Puig’s ABs. It is awfully early to label him as anything but someone with raw talent and a phenomenal first week, but what a phenomenal first week…

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  16. Lipson says:

    So, do I trade this guy for a pile of players, or hope he doesnt get sent down in a few weeks?

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    • Perry says:

      Kemp had a setback this weekend, Crawford’s strain is worst than they originally thought. He’s not going anywhere.

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    • atoms says:

      He’s not getting sent down. Maybe if he manages to fall into a horrific slump, but right now he’s the Dodgers best power threat and on-base guy.

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  17. AjTwink says:

    Jay Bruce arguably had a better first week. Not that Bruce isn’t great, but temper expectations.

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  18. Jaker says:

    So what happens to Puig when Crawford and Kemp come back?

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    • Frank says:

      The Dodgers trade Either and eat a large portion of the contract

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      • They’re going to have to find someone wiling to take him. Even eating most of his contract, he’s still a fringe player at this point.

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        • Jason B says:

          False. With the Dodgers eating most of that contract I would feel very confident that there will be several potential suitors who could employ him as part of a productive platoon.

          Might he be expensive (on the whole) relative to his production? Perhaps. Will the Dodgers get a windfall back? Likely not. But ‘fringe player’? No.

          +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Perry says:

      With how fragile things have been with injuries, I doubt they get an itch to move anyone. My guess is that Crawford and Ethier platoon in left depending on health and Kemp gets more regular rest.

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    • The Foils says:

      Objection: foundation

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  19. i_love_mud says:

    That’ll do Puig, that’ll do.

    +21 Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. i_love_mud says:

    My dynasty league team name was just changed to Bay of Puigs.

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  21. bakes says:

    Alfonso Soriano 2.0. So really he’s 28, that is bad news.

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  22. B Tebbetts says:

    Chavez-Ravine is the Bay of Puigs.

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  23. Eminor3rd says:

    The combined time of his 4 home run trots is like 21 seconds. I like how he almost passes Hanley “tater trot” Ramirez on his grand slam.

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  24. Doogolas says:

    I’m confused:

    “Mentioning Hamilton as a comparison right now might seem like a warning, given how poorly he is doing in Anaheim at the moment, but Hamilton has a career 130 wRC+ in the big leagues despite never really having any idea of the strike zone. And Puig’s first week plate discipline numbers are better than Hamilton’s were in Hamilton’s best season.”

    Puig makes better contact outside the zone, but how is swinging at 42% of pitches outside the strike zone better than Hamilton’s swinging at 36% out of the zone in his best season? I feel like I’m missing something.

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  25. Swfc-dan says:

    Looks like I should be happy I traded Dickey for him the day he got called up then, right? Just missed out on him on waivers and was a little pissed and had a good feeling about this kid, so I made an offer for him.

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    • scraps says:

      I don’t know how Dickey was involved in this, but I think it’s neat that we have a Dodger higher-up among Fangraphs commentariat. Congratulations!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  26. Kevin Maas says:

    Keep your eyes on this guy, he’s the real deal.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  27. dcs says:

    I come to this topic having never heard of Puig. All I have to look at is his rest of season Steamer projection, which does include his 29 Dodger PAs in however it’s weighted. This essentially represents Steamers idea of his true talent. It’s .262/.304/.432 –essentially a marginal hitter for an OF unless he’s a good defensive CF. Why are people talking like his 29 PA means anything more than those initial hot PA of Shane Spenser a decade ago? Is there something I’m not aware of?

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    • NHPirate says:

      Because projection do not work for him. There is no minor league history to base projections. Sky is the limit right now.

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    • Ivdown says:

      The fact that he’s 22 and has mashed everywhere he’s played the last year at every level? The fact that if he was not in the majors right now, he’d likely be a top 25 prospect or higher for the midseason prospects publications? Or possibly the fact he’s built like a beast, lol.

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    • Johnny Come Lately says:

      “I come to this topic having never heard of Puig.”

      Do you live under a rock? Serious question.

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  28. zenguerrilla says:

    Good read Dave! The chart reminds me of a young Piazza. Mondesi was much more a pull hitter I believe? I normally am not a big band wagon jumper but I am buying Puig in all formats, within reason. He’s not going to be Trout’12 but we saw what a guy can do when he is in the “zone” for 4 months last year. Puig sure looks like he is in the zone right now? Just keep the Kardasian’s away from him!!! :)

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  29. Frank says:

    Soriano didn’t have the arm Puig does. That alone makes the Soriano comparison inaccurate. In general, Puig looks like he’ll be a plus defender.

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  30. Oscar Taveras says:

    I heard you guys were talking about me?

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  31. Zigs says:

    I enjoy your pieces Dave. It is funny that you got your biweekly Josh Hamilton bashing in.

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  32. Wub says:

    BUT DOES HE HAVE TWTW ???

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  33. Peter2 says:

    Here’s the question that’s been on my mind: In a standard redraft league, what is Puig’s present market value? What players would make for a fair one-for-one trade for Puig? Keep in mind that “we’ll have to wait and see how he does for a couple more weeks” is not the answer I’m getting at…all potential upside and downside and uncertainty considered, where do we place him in the hierarchy today?

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  34. Bronnt says:

    Just because I’m a Braves fan who has a memory of highly touted prospects with poor plate discipline:

    Jeff Francoeur, July 2005: 49 PAs, 6 HRs, .413/.413/.913, .554 wOBA.

    Jeff Francoeur plate discipline, July 2005: O-Swing: 42.3%, Z-Swing: 77.8%, Swing: 59.3%, O-Contact: 69.7%, Z-Contact: 78.6%, Contact: 75.3%. Fairly comparable to Puig, with the only real difference in Z-Contact%.

    Even better, Jeff Francoeur’s 2012 Plate discipline:

    O-Swing: 42.7%, Z-Swing: 70.6%, Swing: 54.1%, O-Contact: 73.8%, Z Contact: 86.3%, Contact: 80.5%. This is even more similar.

    So Josh Hamilton is the upside. The downside is that pitchers start throwing him the ball in the zone just 40% of the time and he becomes Jeff Francoeur, explosive talent (With a rocket arm to boot!) whose first professional base on balls was also an intentional walk.

    Though I suspect people didn’t need to see the flip side to recognize this.

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  35. Gyre says:

    Who? What? Are the Dodgers over .500 finally?

    If the Dodgers won every game for 2 weeks straight, they might be in front of a couple teams, leaving at least two more in front of them.

    In the meantime, a nice show to make you forget all the money down the tubes (again). It’s a pretty good show as they go of course.

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  36. Bryson says:

    How about Vladimir Guerrero? He reminds me of a squatter version. Soriano is more of a lanky muscles, fluid easy swinger. Puig is powerful and short to the ball.

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    • Peter2 says:

      Puig is definitely powerful and short to the ball. He doesn’t appear to have a big swing, and he actually doesn’t appear to be overly aggressive on balls outside the strikezone. He also has clearly demonstrated an ability to hit the ball the other way with authority. For these reasons, I think he has a good shot to be a low BB + low K + good AVG guy, sort of in line with Guerrero or Cano early in their respective careers.

      Guerrero wowed everyone completely with his arm when he came up, but ultimately the accuracy was lacking. We’ll see if Puig got lucky on those couple of throws or not—On the accuracy…obviously, the arm strength can’t be faked.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

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