2013 Dodgers in Review #22: RF Yasiel Puig, Part Two

90topps_yasielpuig.319/.391/.534 432pa 19hr .398 wOBA 4.0 fWAR A+

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.

******

(Continued from part one.)

Picking up where we left off yesterday, Puig’s ridiculous run of everything was still going strong in early August, as were the Dodgers — no coincidence, to be sure.

Or, if I may put it another way:

But of course, the backlash continued, even beyond the foolish “but he snubbed a guy who he’d never met!” business from ridiculous Arizona writers, as we were fortunate enough to hear stories about how his defensive mistakes would certainly cost the Dodgers a playoff game.

And make no mistake, Puig’s mistakes were real. He’d get picked off. He’d make ludicrous decisions on the bases. He’d give up extra bases by throwing home on plays he had no chance on. Even the most ardent Puig defender wouldn’t deny that. And yet in the middle of the furor, it certainly seemed to some that this very simple point was being missed: the good things he provided were worth way, way more than the bad things were hurting, a point which we endlessly tried to make when Puig was benched for a game for lack of hustle near the end of the month.

In the second week of August, Tampa Bay came to town with their own bat-tossing rookie outfielder, Wil Myers, which allowed me the opportunity to compare the two:

You’ll have noticed, at this point, that Myers does a whole lot of the same things that Puig does, yet doesn’t seem to get 10% of the disdain. I think we all know why, and it’s because Myers is whi… ttling away his time in the relative baseball obscurity of Tampa Bay, as opposed to the bright lights of Los Angeles. It’s because Puig isn’t from this co… mmunity of ballplayers who “know how to play the game the right way”.

Puig continued to rake in August, turning around his slower July, to the tune of .320/.405/.515. But after going 2-4 in Philadelphia on August 17, he’d slump over the next week, collecting only two hits, and his OPS wouldn’t see 1.000 again. Despite some good games at the end of the month, that continued into September, and then… wait, hold on, September 4. Oh… oh my.

That was the second-longest in the history of Petco Park, and months later I find myself staring at it in awe. But even though he homered five times in September, he’d hit just .214/.333/.452, well off his earlier pace. Part of that is simply that no one could be expected to keep that up, of course; part of is is that the entire team was flat with the pennant race over and time to kill before October.

Before the playoffs got going, we tried to see what this slump was all about, noting that his plate discipline had improved:

Or, put another way — Puig’s September wOBA was .349, and this is causing concern as a slump. By comparison, that wOBA is still better than what guys like Dustin PedroiaAdrian GonzalezJay BruceStarling Marte, and Alfonso Soriano were able to manage this year.

Obviously, wOBA isn’t really a mainstream stat, and it’s difficult for most to overlook a poor batting average — and the honest truth is that if Puig doesn’t drive in runs over the next few days and the Dodgers lose, no one will care what his wOBA or wRC+ or WAR is. But while it’s okay to acknowledge that his September was not one of his better months (which I did in the upcoming NLDS preview that should go up today at ESPN), it’s important not to confuse that with “he’s awful now,” because it’s not the same.

The NLDS started, and any concern quickly wore off. Puig hit .471./500/.529 in the short four-game series against Atlanta. He didn’t quite have the same luck against St. Louis, but he did do this in Game 3…

…on a ball that absolutely did not leave the park. He still made it into third without a throw. It’s possibly the greatest moment in the history of baseball, while encapsulating in a single play both why we love him so much and fans of every other team do not.

Overall, the hand-wringing about what he’d do in the playoffs was a bit much, because he did hit .333/.366/.410, though that was heavily weighed towards the NLDS; in the NLCS, he hit only .227/.261/.318, though I think we saw that absolutely no one could hit the St. Louis pitching.

His defensive issues couldn’t be ignored either, with several miscues, including this…

…but though ugly, none of them really impacted the series. The Dodgers were doomed when Hanley Ramirez got hurt after Matt Kemp & Andre Ethier were already injured, when they had to send Skip Schumaker & Nick Punto against that pitching, and when Clayton Kershaw inexplicably blew up in Game 6.

So what did we end up with? Only one of the most memorable seasons in Dodger history. Puig was worth four wins in his rookie year, coming in second in the Rookie of the Year voting only because Jose Fernandez was phenomenal. He did that despite missing the first two months and giving a lot back on the bases and on defense; over the last 50 years, the list of rookies who put up five wins (as Puig conservatively would have had he played a full season) is short.

There’s a lot of work to be done here, as we all expected there would be. Those stupid errors need to be smoothed out, and hopefully they can be; for all the national worry about what kind of person he is — some small amount of which is valid, no doubt, because he made mistakes — he’s spent his offseason being awesome to kids. The talent is real. The future is terrifying in every single way. I love it.

******

Next! We finish off the hitters with a reminder that Alex Castellanos existed!

2013 Dodgers in Review #22: RF Yasiel Puig, Part One

90topps_yasielpuig.319/.391/.534 432pa 19hr .398 wOBA 4.0 fWAR A+

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:

On day two, he homered… twice. And another in game four, and another in game five:

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:

puig_onthird_2013-08-02

And I think that’s a good place to call it for the day. There’s so much more to come.

******

Next! Part two!

Yasiel Puig Doesn’t Win Rookie of the Year, But You Knew That

puig_2013-06-27_face

Just as expected, Yasiel Puig came in second in the Rookie of the Year balloting to Miami Marlins righty Jose Fernandez, not because Puig isn’t great — he is — but because Fernandez’ season was just ever so slightly better. Again, that’s nothing to be held against Puig, since the 2013 NL rookie class was just so ridiculous. For example, Wil Myers easily won in the American League, but if he was in the NL, he’d have been, what… fifth? Sixth?

Over at ESPN, where I had a vote, Fernandez took home 30 of the 32 ballots. As for the real one, Fernandez got 26 of the 30, with Puig picking up the other four. Shelby Miller did not receive a single first place vote because he does not exist. One voter, John Maffei of the San Diego Union-Tribune — I have never heard of this man in my entire life — left Puig off entirely, instead putting San Diego’s Jedd Gyorko on as his third place vote. Hyun-jin Ryu finished fourth.

Yasiel Puig Isn’t Going To Win Rookie of the Year, And That’s Okay

puig_points_2013-07-02The Rookie of the Year awards come out today, and I think it says a lot about just how unbelievably stacked the rookie class in the National League is this year that guys like Nolan Arenado, Tony Cingrani, Gerrit Cole, Evan Gattis, Jedd Gyorko, Hyun-jin Ryu, A.J. PollockPaco Rodriguez, Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Adams, Michael Wacha, Julio Teheran — many of whom might have a case to make to win it outright in other years — don’t even sniff the top three. Hell, some of those guys won’t even make the top ten this year, and that’s a shame, because they’ve all been very valuable additions in their big league debuts. I just can’t remember a group of rookies in one league who contributed so much in the same year.

For my money, the top three rookies in the NL are pretty easy for me to get to, and it’s exactly the same three as the finalists were announced – Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, & Yasiel Puig. Miller’s clearly the third of those three, and if you’re asking me why he’s above Ryu or Teheran, who would be my next two, the answer is that there’s no wrong answer. I’ll demerit Ryu slightly because he’s an older player who was a professional elsewhere, and in a field this stacked that’s enough to bump him out. I’ll take Miller over Teheran as a matter of personal preference, I suppose. Otherwise, their profiles are similar, and if you prefer one over the other I wouldn’t put up much of a fight.

Anyway, argue about who’s #3 all you want, because we all know that this comes down to Puig vs. Fernandez, and the fact that one of them is going to lose this seems wrong, because they’ve both been so phenomenal. With obvious credit given to Hanley Ramirez, Puig was one of the catalysts of the Dodger turnaround, and while the Marlins didn’t come close to the playoffs, the 20-year-old (for most of the season) Fernandez was their best pitcher since day one. Forget just mere Rookie of the Year talk, because Fernandez would have a great case for the Cy Young if not for Clayton Kershaw.

There’s a ton of positives for both of these guys, enough to make your argument for either. But the one category they’re pretty dead-even in is “pimping homers,” as you can see from this Fernandez shot against Atlanta in his final game of the season (via FanGraphs) and one of about a dozen Puig examples I could have gone with:

Glorious, both of them. On the 20-80 scouting scale, those are some 70-level pimping efforts right there. MORE CUBANS PLEASE.

The main demerit against Puig is that he didn’t arrive in the big leagues until June 3, which meant that he had about two months less playing time. I get the argument, but I’m not really buying into it; after all, no one seemed to mind that Mike Trout & Bryce Harper missed just about all of April 2012, or that Buster Posey‘s 2010 debut didn’t come until May 29, just a few days earlier than Puig’s arrival this year — or that potential AL recipient, Wil Myers, didn’t appear until June 18 this year. Is that really worse than a rookie who was up on April 1 and struggled for two months? Toss in the fact that Fernandez made only two September starts before being shut down — that’s not equal to two months, of course, but it’s something — and that’s not a consideration that I can really put a ton of weight into.

Still, just like with Ryu, it’s a minor demerit, and in a race this close, that might be all it takes, and for as wonderful as Puig has been, what Fernandez has done is downright historic. After skipping Double-A and Triple-A, not only did he stick in the Miami rotation all season long, he had what might be considered one of the best age-20 seasons of all time. Fernandez isn’t just one of the best rookies in baseball, he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball, right now.

Puig of course energized the Dodgers with homer and rocket throws and insanity and so on, and 99% of the time he wins this award in a unanimous sweep. As with Fernandez, it’s limiting to just look at him through the prism of “rookies,” because he’s simply one of the best players in baseball, no matter what age. He finished the season seventh overall in wOBA — that’s with an arbitrary 400 plate appearance minimum, so he appears but Ramirez does not — and to think what he can be when he stops making stupid mistakes is just stunning.

Really, there’s not a wrong answer between either, but I guess I’d put it this way — if I’m the Dodgers, and I was given the opportunity to swap Puig for Fernandez straight up, would I do it? You know what? I think I would. And I think Fernandez is going to take this award, easily.

NLCS Game 3: Dodgers 3, Cardinals 0, Momentum Changer?

In the three games of the NLCS, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, & Adam Wainwright — who are only three of the what, six or seven best starters in the NL? — have all pitched. They’ve all pitched well… and not a single one of those aces left the park after their starts knowing that he’d pitched his team to victory. Baseball is a weird, weird game sometimes.

In what was clearly the toughest matchup of the first three games for the Dodgers, Hyun-jin Ryu came up huge. He came up huger than huge; in what was unarguably the biggest game of the year to this point, Ryu was not only phenomenal, he was rarely even in trouble. With a fastball that occasionally touched 95 (higher than I’ve seen it all year) and taking advantage of what was a big strike zone for both sides, Ryu allowed three lone hits, at one point setting down 11 in a row.

The Cardinals didn’t have a man reach second until the fifth, when David Freese & Matt Adams led off with back-to-back singles. But even that led nowhere quick when Jon Jay flied out to left, and Carl Crawford easily doubled Daniel Descalso (running for the injured Freese) off of second. Ryu came back to get a 1-2-3 sixth and finish off his night by striking out Adams to end the seventh; he is the first Dodger lefty with seven shutout playoff innings since Jerry Reuss in 1981 (h/t Jon Weisman).

But we’ve seen good pitching before, obviously, and that alone doesn’t win playoff games. After 22 scoreless innings, the Dodgers finally broke through in the fourth, when Mark Ellis “doubled” — if you wonder what those quotes are for, you didn’t see Jay try to play center field tonight — and advanced to third on a Hanley Ramirez flyout. Adrian Gonzalez doubled in Ellis for the first run, and I shouldn’t be glossing that but I am because then (after Andre Ethier grounded out) Yasiel Puig came up and THAT BAT FLIP:

The best part, of course, is that this ball did not go out of the park, and so after a few steps Puig realized he was going to need to start moving… and he still turned the play into a stand-up triple without a throw. (Yes, as some will note, had he been running hard off the bat he may have had a chance for an inside-the-parker. Don’t suck our joy here.) I get why fans of every other team hate him; I do. But it’s not hard to get why we love him, is it?

The Dodgers tacked on an insurance run when Crawford came around to score on a Ramirez blooper in what was an extremely close play at the plate, and there was a dancing rally bear who got kicked out of the park, and Brian Wilson & Kenley Jansen nailed down the final two innings for the win.

Down 2-1, the Dodgers are still in a hole. But Matt Holliday is hitless in the series, and Adams has only one hit, and Freese may be hurt, and Carlos Beltran didn’t have a hit in Game 2 or 3, and the Cards looked pretty goofy on defense and the basepaths today. It won’t be easy, but it’s not over. With the win, Wednesday’s Game 5 (at 1pm!) is now guaranteed… and we wait to see if Ricky Nolasco really starts tomorrow in Game 4.