The Roller Coaster That is Yasiel Puig

Sunday, the American League Championship Series brought us wild swings in win expectancy, a roller coaster of a game that left people in awe. Game Three of the National league Championship Series brought us wild swings in emotion, but they didn’t show up in the game graph. Or, they didn’t show in the entirety of the game graph: they showed in that one highlighted at-bat in the graph, and in the actions of one player. Yasiel Puig inspired many emotions, before, during and after his game-changing triple, but he was also, maybe fittingly, the batter that added the most win probability to his team’s chances Monday night. In essence, the game turned on his matchup with Adam Wainwright in the fourth inning.

PuigPItch1

The first pitch from Wainwright to Puig was a sinker inside. Fairly innocuous. Except that Wainwright was a league leader in first-pitch strike percentage (17th among qualified pitchers), and yet his first pitch was almost ten inches off the inside corner. He almost certainly threw inside on purpose, instead of throwing in the zone, and he probably did so because of the Yasiel Puig baseball saw in the first half. That Puig offered on 41.1% of balls outside the zone (seventh-worst in baseball). Pitchers saw that eagerness to swing and, in the second half, threw him in the zone less than anyone not named Chris Davis, Josh Hamilton, Pablo Sandoval, and Miguel Cabrera. So Puig adjusted back. He cut his swing rate on pitches outside the zone to 34.7%, only slightly worse than league average (31%) and good for 58th-worst in baseball. Only 13 regular players improved their second half O-Swing% as much as Puig.

Puig didn’t swing on the first pitch from Wainwright, a sinker. Ball one, a triumph in making adjustments.

PuigPitch2

You face Adam Wainwright, you know you’ll get a yellow hammer, a yakker, a knee buckler. Since 2009, that curveball has been worth almost twice as much as any other in baseball and that’s why he’s thrown it more than all but five other starters in the same time frame. The curveball was coming, and even given all of Puig’s second-half adjustments, he was probably going to whiff at one. After all, given 400 plate appearances, nobody had a higher swinging strike rate than Puig this year. And by pitch type values, the curve is Puig’s second-worst pitch.

Puig swung at the second pitch from Wainwright, a curve ball. He missed, highlighting the flaws he still sports.

PuigPitch3

“Soft away, hard inside” said Ron Darling, and he was right that the approach was clear. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Puig had seen the pitch before. And he didn’t swing the first time. For all the belief that the player can be hard headed, here he demonstrates some restraint.

Puig didn’t swing at the third pitch from Wainwirght, a sinker inside. The count was two and one.

PuigTrip

By the PITCHf/x data, this pitch was the furthest outside. The network pitch tracker didn’t see it that way, and perhaps that has something to do with the fact that it was tailing towards the batter at the end, as sinkers do. If it was indeed outside the zone on the outside corner, Puig wasn’t necessarily out of his element. His five opposite field home runs ranked in the top 20 in baseball this year despite the fact that he only went to the plate 432 times (his isolated slugging to the opposite field was 12th). High and outside is actually a strength for him, according to this run value heat map from BaseballHeatMaps:

Puig

Puig took a high sinker — not a flat one, if PITCHf/x and its double-digit vertical movement number can be believed — deep to right field.

PuigFlip

Of course, this wouldn’t be a roller coaster with just a dip and a peak. So to provide a little more spice, Yasiel Puig flipped his bat, thinking he’d hit a home run. This could have been a big deal. In the past, other players around the league have called him out for this sort of bad behavior. It could have cost him bags. Particularly because he continued to admire his blast.

PuigRun

Today, you know that Puig hit a triple. But in the moment, at the game, you might have been screaming. Run until you know! That ball isn’t gone yet! At least one fan in the stadium dreaded the possibility of a long single and cursed his team’s exciting young outfielder. Luckily, Yasiel Puig is not just about power.

Puig flipped his bat. He admired his hit. He went into third standing. He slowed at the end. And Puig came up two-thirds of a second short of one of the fastest men in baseball legging out an inside the park home run.

No player is all parts ‘fireplug’ or ‘veteran’ or ‘headcase,’ even one as controversial as Yasiel Puig. All year long, he’s made blunders in the field and on the basepaths. All year long, he’s shown us feats of strength with his arm, his legs, and his bat. In Game Three Monday night, he showed us that he’s not as incorrigible as he’s been portrayed to be. And yet, he also showed us the same flaws that have inspired some to wonder if he would cost his team with a big blunder in October. You can’t fit him easily into one narrative, but at least it looks like the emerging story is a compelling one.



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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Jason B
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Jason B
2 years 9 months ago

Good article Eno. For folks (and sportswriters!) that dislike him, everything is viewed through the “He’s hot-dogging! He’s show-boating! How lazy! How indolent!” prism. And likewise for those that totally adore him, everything is seen through the “The prodigious power! The amazing start! The feats of speed and strength! He raised the moribund Dodgers from the dead!” lens. Like all of us, he’s more complicated than either of those simplistic narratives would indicate.

Xeifrank
Guest
2 years 9 months ago

I’m a big Dodgers and Puig fan, but I have no trouble admitting that this was a dumbsh@t play, standing at home and admiring a fly ball hitting the RF wall. If he doesn’t get the good bounce off of the wall/gate that rolls away from Beltran he might not make it to third safely.

Dino
Guest
Dino
2 years 9 months ago

I haven’t decided whether I like him or hate him, but he commands people’s attention and I suppose that is good for baseball. How many guys in the sport make you legitimately ask “What the f is he going to do next?”

As a separate matter, what do you think Brian McCann would have done last night if he had been on the field during Puig’s triple? They would still be cleaning the blood off the field.

Bobby Bonilla
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Bobby Bonilla
2 years 9 months ago

McCann’s blood I presume

Bob M
Guest
Bob M
2 years 9 months ago

McCann would have blocked him from reaching 3rd.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 9 months ago

Ignore that Carlos Beltran publicly stated that he thought this was bush league. Beltran is also Hispanic so it doesn’t fit into the false narrative that has been created that all Hispanics are just trying to have fun and all Americans are being fuddy duddies.

However, there is also a huge difference between what Puig did and what Gomez did as Puig did not direct anything at any player on the Cardinals. Does anyone really think there is any other team in baseball that would just accept a player cussing them out as he rounds the bases? Sure, they wouldn’t all get in his way as he crossed the plate. Many would throw a very hard, painful object at his direction in the neighborhood of 90-95 MPH his next time up. McCann at least didn’t act cowardly.

ReuschelCakes
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ReuschelCakes
2 years 9 months ago

wait… what?

Mike Green
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Mike Green
2 years 9 months ago

He’s 22 years old. He is learning. With all his faults, he posted a 4.0 WAR in 104 games, and that is, if anything, a conservative assessment of his value.

I am not a Dodger fan, but this is not Bo Jackson we are talking about. The man can play baseball. When he arrived in the major leagues on June 3, the Dodgers were 23-32 and 8.5 games out. Obviously, there was more to their turnaround than Puig’s arrival, but adding a player who performs this well can be expected to play a significant role.

Tim
Guest
Tim
2 years 9 months ago

Why would his WAR be a conservative assessment of his value?

Bonertron5000
Guest
Bonertron5000
2 years 9 months ago

It doesn’t include BAT FLIPS.

Jason B
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Jason B
2 years 9 months ago

+1 for the comment, +800 for the name.

Oh, Beepy
Guest
Oh, Beepy
2 years 9 months ago

As everyone knows, the 5000 model was updated to measure all amounts of things in Bonetronics’ proprietary unit of measure ‘BAT FLIPS’

Mike Green
Guest
Mike Green
2 years 9 months ago

It uses the UZR assessment of his defense contribution. The DRS assessment is more positive for Puig. Subjectively I couldn’t tell one way or the other- very strong but sometimes erratic arm, so-so instincts in the right field but tremendous speed of course.

Bo Jackson
Guest
Bo Jackson
2 years 9 months ago

You’re right. He’s less athletic than I was.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 9 months ago

said everyone, ever.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 9 months ago

sorry, that failed miserably, meant said about everyone, ever.

Gus
Guest
Gus
2 years 9 months ago

We don’t yell ‘Yay!’ in the library every time we learn something awesome, but we probably should. I love Puig and his alien hybridization of an actual puppy with Bo Jackson. Just as youth doesn’t last forever, his antics probably can’t either, but he’s amazing now, and I don’t resent him his ignorance of/disregard for Brian McCann-isms.

Dustin
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Dustin
2 years 9 months ago

I’m glad he watched it. If he had simply run hard out of the box, he’d have been out by 30 feet at home.

Bonertron5000
Guest
Bonertron5000
2 years 9 months ago

He’s here to put on a show. “I always like to play aggressive and always try to put on a show for the fans. They [the fans] come to spend their time and lose sleep watching us play. It is one, to me, of the more emotional things in baseball.”

Baseball’s a spectator sport, and if anything we should be taking the McCanns of the world to task for trying to suck all emotion and fun out of it. Baseball players have such thin skins anymore that it’s no wonder everyone thinks there’s still a major PED problem in the sport: the needles and creams barely have to pierce anything to get through.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 9 months ago

Again, comparing Puig and Gomez is fucking stupid, and only done to try to further some narrative about American v. Hispanic.

Helladecimal
Guest
Helladecimal
2 years 9 months ago

It’s not that McCann doesn’t want emotion in baseball.

McCann just wants to monopolize all emotion for himself to expend on others’ behavior he has internalized to be somehow incorrect.

Brian McCann. What a douche.

Ted Turner
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Ted Turner
2 years 9 months ago

Second sentence: *Game Three of the NLCS

Great read.

Sparkles Peterson
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Sparkles Peterson
2 years 9 months ago

If he somehow knew that Beltran was going to play the ball that poorly off the wall, so be it, but you can’t state that he went into third standing up without mentioning that Beltran absolutely gave him the extra base.

KDL
Guest
KDL
2 years 9 months ago

I love giving Cardinals shit whenever possible. (In fact, I’ve been trolling my Cardinal-fan friends pretty hard on facebook today.) But to say Beltran misplayed that ball is very unfair. How many times in 1000 does the ball come off the wall at that crazy of an angle?

Sparkles Peterson
Guest
Sparkles Peterson
2 years 9 months ago

Even Miguel Cabrera in his current state doesn’t get held to a single on that ball, so Beltran needs to play it off the wall further back and he needs to actually break past a trot running over to pick it up once it’s clear that not playing it conservatively enough made the triple possible.

KDL
Guest
KDL
2 years 9 months ago

Beltran was in fine position for a normal bounce off the wall. If we’re a fan-community that champions process over results, we can’t blame Beltran for being in the position he was. He was in the right place. The ball took an unexpected (and therefore not that important to plan for) bounce off the wall.

You may have a point about hustle, but I’m not sure how much faster he could have gone. If he runs faster – yes – he gets to the ball quicker, but is also less prepared to throw the ball well once he does. So he either makes a throw without being set, or takes extra time setting himself…both of which negate the time saved Eric Byrnes-ing it over to the ball.

Sparkles Peterson
Guest
Sparkles Peterson
2 years 9 months ago

The problem was his process. If he thinks he’s going to catch the ball and it takes a bad hop away from him, fine. He pulled up to play the ball off the wall, but he didn’t pull up in time to keep the ball in front of him. It was a mistake, and it cost Beltran.

Coked-up West Coast GM
Guest
Coked-up West Coast GM
2 years 9 months ago

Maybe he should’ve done the Carlton Fisk “Stay fair, stay fair” thing instead?

Frank
Guest
Frank
2 years 9 months ago

Except that the measurement is 1st to 3rd and ignores how long it took him to get to first because he was showboating, and also is irrelevant because by the time he hit 1st base he knew he had screwed up.

wannabe like mike
Guest
wannabe like mike
2 years 9 months ago

When all is said and done, I think he’s good for baseball. I’m not a Dodger fan, kinda old school about treating the game right. I do enjoy watching him and his enthusiasm. I admire his passion.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 9 months ago

I admire his passion too. I also admire the passion of guys who don’t flip their bats or do anything else like that. The point that should be made is that to my mind it does not seem like Puig is trying to cause shit with the other team. Comparing this to Gomez, who was clearly creating a beef with the Braves, is stupid. If you use the Fernandez situation, then you should be talking about Chris Johnson, as all McCann did was say he shouldn’t do that, oh the humanity!! But Johnson is a nobody and McCann is a star, so that makes the narrative better. Sad that this kind of shit is vomited out by so many on this website. And I’m not including obvious jokes in this, like “McCann wouldn’t let him get to third.” So many comments are being made to push some narrative that Hispanics are just trying to have fun and Americans will have none of it. It’s bullshit. The only person to complain about Puig was… Carlos Beltran. Fangraphs is supposed to be about reason and facts.

Ron B
Guest
Ron B
2 years 9 months ago

Maybe you should stop talking for a while, Champ.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 9 months ago

Why? I’m just being passionate and exuberant. Why are you trying to stifle me, dickface?

Maverick Squad
Guest
2 years 9 months ago

Most of his antics aren’t really that bad but I’ve heard people try to excuse it by saying- he’s from Cuba, he’s never played in the States before. Really, in Cuban baseball would his antics be perfectly acceptable? I don’t seem to see this stuff from other Cuban baseballers in the MLB.

Brian McCann
Guest
Brian McCann
2 years 9 months ago

I’m entirely way too busy fishing or playing golf to comment on this one.

chrishobson
Member
chrishobson
2 years 9 months ago

I love this at bat. The false home run trot to sprint just made it that much better.

I’ve hated the Dodgers since 1988, but (now that OAK is eliminated) I find myself wanting them to win the WS because of Puig.

Paul Wilson
Guest
Paul Wilson
2 years 9 months ago

Brain McCann will be a Dodger next year anyways, he and Puig can share a clubhouse like Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent.

Carlos Gomez
Guest
Carlos Gomez
2 years 8 months ago

Does anyone know where home plate is? I still haven’t crossed it.

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