2013 in brief: Hugely massive debut unlike anything we’ve seen before.
2014 status: Probably the Dodger outfielder most guaranteed to have a starting job.
The Yasiel Puig category tag goes seven pages deep since the beginning of the calendar year. Not posts; pages. I’m not sure if we’ve ever talked about anyone so often, so regularly, and especially about a rookie — and that’s why, for the first time ever, I need to break a single player’s review into two parts. He did so much this year that it’s not realistic to constrain him to one.
I mean, that Puig sure gets stories going, doesn’t he? We were so excited about the man that I actually GIF’d his first spring plate appearance, a mere single to left, on February 25. It took only until March 3 (!) that his ridiculous performance had reached the heights were I begged us all to keep some sort of perspective, arguing that while a week of spring play was certainly fun, it wasn’t really indicative of anything. (“Brian Barden, spring Hall of Famer,” anyone?)
Still, even I couldn’t help getting swept up in it. On March 9, it wasn’t his huge arm or massive power that was impressing us, it was the breakneck speed at which he beat out an infield grounder. On March 22, it was yet another discussion of whether he should break camp with the team, and it still wasn’t clear that he wouldn’t on March 26. Later that day, he was sent back to the minors, and despite a spring line of .517/.500/.828 (!!!), I was in a favor of it, arguing that not only did he have some obvious rough edges that needed to be smoothed out, but you’d never figure out what Carl Crawford could offer if you didn’t let him play every day.
Crawford’s early success took some of the heat off that decision, though we certainly noticed when video surfaced of him crushing a ball in Double-A. (And of course, when he came out because of a “mental mistake“.) Puig hit pretty much from day one for the Lookouts, though, and on April 18 it was time for another discussion about whether he should come up:
But good lord, people. Let’s apply the brakes and remember these three truisms:
1) Puig, gawdy stats aside, isn’t ready. (More on that in a second.)
2) Carl Crawford & Andre Ethier are absolutely not the problems right now
3) Even if you did want to bench Matt Kemp — which, I’m floored we’re even discussing this — Puig is almost certainly a corner outfielder in the bigs, not a center fielder.
When he was arrested barely more than a week later while speeding, that seemed to be further evidence that he wasn’t ready, and more bat tossing incidents, like this one on May 10, didn’t help. But as he kept hitting, and the Dodger outfield’s health fell apart, it was hard to ignore the gaudy stats he was putting up, and he joined the club on June 3. I was cautiously optimistic:
I know that no one likes hearing about Puig’s emotional style of play, because “bat flips” & “arrests” aren’t numbers that show up on the stat line next to “homers”. But there are real-world consequences to those actions, and they’ll only be magnified in the big leagues. If you show up an umpire on a questionable strike call, you can be all but assured you’re not getting the next one, either. If you show up a pitcher after a homer, you can expect that either you or one of your teammates is going to get a heater in the ribs.
All of that is less than great, and as I said, I think this is about more than Puig. It’s about the injury situation, and it’s about a dreadful season that is quickly spiraling into the toilet. I don’t think it’s a total coincidence that Puig’s debut is at the beginning of a long homestand — the immediacy of several ticket-buying tweets the official Dodger account sent out was hard to miss — and I don’t really think this decision was made without the input of upper management, anxious to inject some excitement in a way that Joc Pederson, arguably an equal or better choice because of his additional experience in center, simply wouldn’t. It’s often rare that ownership input in baseball decisions — to be clear, I’m not saying this is exactly what’s happened, but I do believe there was some pushing there — ends in winning baseball games.
…and then all Puig did in his debut was get two hits and finish off the evening with this:
We have officially reached the point where I have no idea what to say about Yasiel Puig any longer. In a game where Paul Maholm absolutely dominated the Dodger offense with ease, it was Puig’s sixth inning blast that prevented Hyun-jin Ryu from being saddled with an unfair 1-0 loss. (Let’s just take the moment now, since it will get totally lost, to point out just how outstanding Ryu was again. The man has been a savior this season.)
Puig’s homer didn’t just tie a record — and it did, because only two other players in history have driven in 10 runs in the first five games of their career — it sent what was already a fanbase fawning over him into complete overdrive. Put it this way: there’s now a Twitter account called @PuigAtBat. It’s a bot, dedicated entirely to letting people know that Puig is up so they can flip to the Dodger game. Whomever created it was absolutely correct to do so, because how can you turn away? You try to keep in mind that the only other hitter in history with four homers in his first five games was Mike Jacobs, who turned out to be nothing, but still. Puig is living in some rarefied air.
The next day, he dared to not homer. It’s okay, though, because he did this…
but also this..
We’re only up to June 9! Puig just kept on and on and on. On June 12, he was a central figure in the Arizona brawl. On June 19, I watched him homer and score three runs in the second game of a doubleheader in the Bronx. The next day, he homered again. While I couldn’t help but notice that pitchers were already figuring out that he’d flail away on outside breaking stuff, it didn’t matter — yet. On July 2 in Colorado, as the team finally got out of last place, he merely singled, doubled, and homered, putting his line over his first month at a mere .443/.473/.745. (Then he ran into the wall and hurt his hip. Hate you, Coors Field.)
While efforts to get him onto the All-Star team fell short, the backlash didn’t. On July 12, barely a month into his career, I already had to take time out and address the ridiculous hate flowing his way:
All of a sudden his public perception has gone from “fun breakout story of the year” to “mecha-Hitler multiplied by a thousand Barry Bonds,” but it’s difficult to identify exactly why, because it’s not like anything much has changed about him in the last week.
(snip) Unfortunately, and something that he’ll need to learn, is that the media goes a long way towards shaping your image. That’s how you get the Arizona reporter going with a poorly-sourced and probably untrue Gonzalez story. That’s how you end up with Bill Plaschke, in a what is otherwise a positive look at Puig, saying that he pulled a “rather villainous move” — his words! — by calling off Ethier on a ball in the gap the other night. (As though Puig colliding with Ethier while going full speed and failing to call him off hasn’t already cost Ethier playing time this season.)
That might be the reason that Pedro Gomez is reporting with a straight face that Puig tried to use his interpreter to pick up girls. I can’t say for sure, but I’m trying to figure out any other reason how that’s either relevant or in any way negative. BREAKING NEWS: 22-year-old athlete likes women and wants to meet some, and may have asked for help speaking their language. Won’t somebody please think of the children?
The next day, I had to look into his ”slump“, and concluded that it was partially the result of the sore hip, but mostly the fact that no one was ever going to continue hitting like he had indefinitely. Obviously. Still, the highlights kept on coming, as well as the base-running hilarity. Even in games like July 28 against the Reds, when he whiffed three times in his first four plate appearances, he still ended a 1-0 game with his first career walk-off. (And then slid into home plate, because, awesome.)
Puig was so much everything in every way, and I’m not sure anything sums that up better than this August 2 game recap:
Here’s a list of things Yasiel Puig did today:
- run-scoring single in the first
- walk (!) in the third, later scoring
- hit by Michael Bowden in the fourth
- made absurd throw from right field to third that would have had Junior Lake had Juan Uribe applied the tag (which he arguably, but not clearly, did)
- beat out infield single in the sixth (with some help from the ball hitting second base)
- struck out to end the top of the eighth
- made diving catch to end the bottom of the eighth
The very next day, it was more of the same, and it was so much everything that I can’t even reasonably quote it all here, except to remember this wonderful DEAL WITH IT moment:
And I think that’s a good place to call it for the day. There’s so much more to come.
Next! Part two!