Yasiel Puig’s Struggles vs. Lefties

It’s well documented that Yasiel Puig has been having a rough second half to the season. FanGraphs’ own Jeff Sullivan covered Puig’s troubles in a great piece here, and other articles like this one, and this one, and this one, continue to pop up. Further, a recent dugout altercation with veteran Matt Kemp have only made the media scrutiny on baseball’s most volatile player tighter. Jeff discussed Puig’s inability to do anything but roll over inside pitches of late, and his failure to lift fastballs as well. Let’s keep that information in the back of our mind for a second and look at Puig’s L/R splits for 2013 and 2014.

 

Season Handedness G AB PA H 1B 2B 3B HR BB SO HBP AVG
2013 vs L 46 103 117 35 23 5 1 6 16 25 1 0.340
2013 vs R 100 279 315 87 57 16 1 13 23 72 10 0.312

 

Season Handedness G AB PA H 1B 2B 3B HR BB SO HBP AVG
2014 vs L 64 121 146 30 24 3 1 2 20 20 4 0.248
2014 vs R 135 405 457 126 74 32 8 12 47 96 6 0.311

 

Notice the drastic drop in Puig’s performance against left-handed pitching. Now both samples are limited in terms of plate appearances, but I don’t think you can attribute this drop in performance entirely to luck. First, see the difference in how right-handed and left-handed pitchers have attacked Puig by location in 2014.

 

Yasiel  Puig vs. L 2014Yasiel  Puig vs. R

Left-handed pitchers have made a significantly more concerted effort to pitch Puig inside, the same area that Jeff acutely pointed out Puig has been struggling. However, this isn’t much different than the way left-handers pitched Puig a year ago. See below for 2013 chart:

Puig vs. L 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What has changed though is Puig’s ability to hit left-handed change-ups, and off-speed pitches in general. In 2013, Puig swung and missed at a lot of change-ups (28% whiff rate), but when he did make contact he did damage (.539 SLG in 26 AB’s where he put a change-up in play). In 2014 though, Puig has cut down on the misses (20% whiff rate), but also lost his ability to impact the baseball against the pitch (no extra base hits vs. lhp change-ups). A similar trend, but not as exaggerated one, can be found if you look at Puig vs. breaking pitches.

This isn’t a secret either. In last night’s contest, during his at bats against the Cubs lefty Tsuyoshi Wada, 4 of the 7 pitches Puig saw were change-ups. Wada did let one creep over the plate in his second at bat and Puig was able to hit a grounder through the left side.

But let’s go back to the examples in Jeff’s article. In the at bats where Puig is successful he gets to the ball out front and is able to get extension through his swing. Yet, in the examples where Puig is unsuccessful he rolls over the ball, is late, hits the ball deeper in accordance to his body, and cannot get the same extension. Granted both of the examples are against righties, but it illustrates the greater point of how Puig’s timing right now is off against fastballs (particularly fastballs on his hands and up).

And the problem with being late against the fastball is the rest of the game starts to speed up. To try and account for his deficiency, Puig has likely started to to cheat (start his swing earlier), leaving him more vulnerable to off-speed pitches away. And if you’re a lefty with a good change-up, you have a serious advantage versus Puig right now.

The question you might be asking yourself is why can’t righties take advantage of the same flaw. Well, since August 1, they have to an extent, and against right-handed four-seam fastballs Puig is a mere 5 for 35.

However, against off-speed pitches it’s a different story. For his career Puig recognizes and hits breaking balls considerably better than change-ups. Against sliders and curveballs, he’s batted .327 and .298 respectively, compared to a lowly .219 against change-ups.

And given that Puig is right-handed he’s a lot less likely to see change-ups from right-handed pitchers. Per Max Marchi’s data, pitchers are more than twice as likely to throw change-ups to opposite-side hitters than same-side hitters. This holds true for Puig, who in 2014, has seen 16% of pitches from left-handers be change-ups, compared to only 7% of pitches from right-handers. So while the advantage is still there for righties, it’s less likely they’ll get to it, or can do so within the limits of their arsenal.

What’ll be interesting to see is if a team will actually bring a lefty out of the bullpen to face Puig in the postseason. If it happens, one likely scenario would be Marco Gonzales of St. Louis (if he makes the playoff roster), whose profile suggests him being Puig’s kryptonite. He throws over 30% change-ups against right-handers and 51% of his fastball to righties have been located inside.

Another poor match-up would be if the Dodgers face the Nationals and Gio Gonzalez is on the mound. Gonzalez has upped his change-up usage against right-handers to 23% in 2014, and has limited hitters to a .230 average against the pitch with a 23% whiff rate.

I also think it’s important to watch how Puig handles inside fastballs the remainder of the season. It’s conceivable the adrenaline of a playoff series could help him regain his timing against the pitch and get him back in sync. Like any hitter his swing is constantly adjusting, and it could start clicking for the Cuban slugger at any point in time. The Dodgers are hoping it clicks soon, or else they’ll be stuck searching elsewhere for offensive production when October rolls around.

Data courtesy of FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball

Featured Image courtesy of USA Today



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Alex Smith is a senior at Cornell University in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He's the founder of the blog www.battingleadoff.com and can be reached at aws77@cornell.edu.

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Babyspittle
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I like this year’s BB to K ratio against lefties, though.