What Has Happened to Yasiel Puig?
Yasiel Puig was the toast of the town back in 2013, posting a .398 wOBA as a 22-year-old outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers on his way to finishing runner-up in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. He followed that up with a .379 wOBA in 2014, making it look like the Dodgers had landed a bona fide stud out of Cuba.
Things escalated quickly this year, and not in the way the team was likely hoping.
Sources: Yasiel Puig was instructed not to report to stadium or plane today and did not. Told he would be demoted to minors or traded.
— Tim Brown (@TBrownYahoo) August 1, 2016
Puig was not, in fact, traded at the deadline Monday, meaning his next stop will likely have a bit less glitz and glamour than Los Angeles.
Here's how the Yasiel Puig brouhaha, first reported by @Ken_Rosenthal, likely ends: With Puig being sent to Triple-A and reporting to OKC.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) August 1, 2016
How did we get to this point, where Puig -- still in his age-25 season -- is suddenly not even worthy of a spot on a big-league roster? Let's dig a bit deeper into Puig's numbers this year to see if we can diagnose what on Earth happened to this once-promising star and whether or not there's still reason for hope.
A Steady, Year-by-Year Decline
Just by looking at Puig's yearly wOBA, you can see that things slid downhill quickly after his rookie campaign. But stats from a single season can be easily influenced by small samples or fluky luck, making it hard to put a ton of stock into them. Even when we turn to the more quickly-stabilizing peripheral stats, though, Puig's drop-off is astounding.
This table shows some of said peripherals to illustrate how far Puig fell from one year to the next. This isn't a decline that's confined to just this season; the struggles were evident last year, as well.
|Season||Hard-Hit Rate||Soft-Hit Rate||Strikeout Rate||Walk Rate|
When your hard-hit rate drops every year for four straight seasons, and your soft-hit rate increases almost seven percentage points, you know something's not right. That's what happened to Puig from his rookie season until now.
Puig's struggles were there last year, and they showed up both in those peripheral stats and in his more traditional marks. He finished the season with a .255/.322/.436 slash, a far cry from the numbers he posted his first two seasons. Yet, because of two separate stints on the disabled list, it would have been easy to write that off as being a product of injuries.
Puig also spent time on the shelf this year; could that explain his struggles?
Puig's splits pre- and post-injury only further muddy the waters. His pre-injury numbers include 198 plate appearances with 105 after, both of which are large enough samples from which to draw conclusions.
|Time Frame||Hard-Hit Rate||Soft-Hit Rate||Strikeout Rate||Walk Rate|
Even though his plate-discipline stats and his soft-hit rate were better after he returned, Puig couldn't sniff a hard-hit ball. If only he had posted a higher hard-hit rate, we'd be able to buy into the post-injury Puig, but that simply did not happen.
If you're looking for a reason to have hope for a potential Puig revival this year, a look at his Statcast data could prove helpful. His average exit velocity prior to his injury was 88.13 miles per hour. After he returned, that jumped up to 91.34 miles per hour. Even though his hard-hit rate was lower, the simultaneous reduction in his soft-hit rate helped cancel that out a bit.
That doesn't mean we should be holding our breath that Puig's recent struggles are simply the result of a small sample. Yes, his average exit velocity has gone up, but it hasn't led to an increase in his batted-ball distance. First, take a look at his spray chart before the injury, courtesy of Statcast.
Now, compare that with his spray chart since coming back while paying special attention to the balls to the outfield.
The depth of his flies to the outfield is significantly shorter in the post-injury chart than it was before. Overall, his batted-ball distance fell to 196.73 after the injury compared to 213.18 before. He's hitting the ball a bit harder, but without loft, those balls can't do much damage.
With this being the case, it's easy to see why the Dodgers would demote Puig. He's not providing the offensive production a team needs out of a corner outfielder, and the newly-acquired Josh Reddick is. Allowing Puig to go to Triple-A and play every day may allow him to work out whatever kink that's ailing him -- whether it be his head or his health -- so that he can get back to being the offensive force he was in 2013.
No matter which metric you use, one thing is abundantly clear: Yasiel Puig is not the player he was when he first broke onto the scene. However, that doesn't mean we should abandon all hope just yet.
Puig has dealt with injuries in both of the seasons in which he has struggled, leading to decreases in his batted-ball stats. His plate-discipline stats early in the year were discouraging, but with an increased walk rate and decreased strikeout rate since his return, he seems to be cognizant of that.
If Puig can figure some things out in the minors, there's plenty of reason to believe he could rekindle that old flame. He's still only 25 years old, and he has shown in the past that he has the talent. Puig has fallen immensely the past two years, but to say that his time has already passed would fall short of serving justice to this highly complex player.