Should Yasiel Puig Be Traded?

Yasiel Puig is a mercurial talent and as such expectations are very high. This season has been marred by subpar performance especially when compared to his 2013 campaign.  Puig quickly became a star in his rookie season and we all know how rare that is.  He batted .319 that season with 19 homers, 42 RBI’s and a .925 OPS in 104 games. By means of comparison, Mike Trout erupted in his 2nd season. Many may forget that Trout batted just .220 in his 40 game introduction to MLB and he started his magical 2012 sophomore breakout season in the Minors.  So shrouded in the veil of high expectations, this is the lens that we should use to look at Puig today.

A serious hamstring injury robbed Puig of 40 games this year. Leading up to the injury he was batting .279 with a .380 OBP, a .465 Slugging Percentage, and a .373wOBA. Lesser talents are expected to need time to work their way back into game shape. Perhaps we expected that Puig would fire right away but he hasn’t.

Timeframe PA’s Chase% BB% K% OBP SLG OPS wOBA
Pre-Injury 50 30% 10% 14% .380 .465 .845 .373
Post-Injury 167 37.8% 9% 24% .311 .411 .722 .313

Assuming that the Puig is still not injured, when your K% rises from 14% to 24% and your chase rate goes up 8%, it seems clear that Puig has been pressing. Did pitchers somehow figure out how to pitch to him differently in the 6 weeks he was out? No, but they approached him as they would with any overly aggressive hitter. Puig had a chase rate of 39% and a K% of 22.4% in his rookie campaign yet experienced so much success. So what is different this year?

I think we need to examine his relationship to the team and his manager. Manager Don Mattingly was an outstanding ballplayer who extracted every ounce of talent he had every time he came to the plate. As a diehard Yankee fan when things were not going swimmingly well in New York, I admired Mattingly, the player.  He was a breath of fresh air on and off the field. Puig is a player of a different makeup. He exudes physical talent, is temperamental, and reportedly immature in the locker room. To add to the high drama, a recently released book by former ESPN staff writer Molly Knight entitled “The Best team Money Can Buy” purportedly details Puig’s clashes with teammates. This puts Mattingly and the Dodger Organization in a difficult position and while I can’t claim to know what Mattingly is thinking, some of his recent comments about Puig are very revealing.

Mattingly made a point to support the recent development of Justin Turner in an interview with ESPN in July, which if you read between the lines, is a veiled shot aimed at Puig. Mattingly said, “Pitchers are predictable, too. You can understand what they can do over time. But you won’t understand if you don’t watch and study. Somebody can tell you, but if you don’t pay attention”. So it appears from Mattingly’s perspective that Puig has not put in the time watching film and has not made the adjustments required to have the same level of success.

Puig is only 24, so as a young ballplayer we could reasonably expect that the hail of criticism that has rained down on him–even if he has brought much of this on himself– has had an effect on his play. Could I be giving Puig a pass he doesn’t deserve for his recent performance on the field? Perhaps, so hopefully the numbers will tell us more about what is going on.

As my esteemed colleagues at FanGraphs had pointed out last year, Puig has changed his approach at the plate on occasion, which has led to periods where he did not drive the ball to the opposite field. His ability to use the whole field was one of the keys to his success in his Rookie season. In addition, he started to see an increase in fastballs “in” because he was swinging more at pitches on the inside of the plate. Not driving these pitches to the opposite field resulted in topping the ball and an increase in his Ground Ball Rate.

Are pitchers on to him and throwing him more fastballs because he not using all fields? Has he picked up bad habits that account for his lackluster performance? The numbers in 2015 just don’t support this.

Pitch Category sample through Puig’s Career courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

Month/Year Hard% Breaking% Offspeed%
3/2013 62.96 33.33 3.70
6/2013 62.72 25.72 11.56
9/2013 59.52 26.38 7.36
4/2014 72.30 21.62 6.08
6/2014 62.62 18.81 18.33
9/2014 70.49 18.31 11.20
4/2015 68.72 21.54 9.74
6/2015 63.16 27.86 8.98
7/2015 56.95 31.46 11.59

There was a period last season where pitchers started to pound Puig with the fastball as FanGraphs had pointed out but that pattern has not continued. In fact, pitchers are now throwing Puig fewer fastballs as they recognize that he is overanxious at the plate.

The other question about Puig’s swing was that he was not using the entire field like he did in 2013. This change in approach did result in a higher percentage of ground balls in 2014 but not in 2015. In fact, as you can see in the numbers below, he is hitting the ball to the opposite field slightly more than he ever has. Perhaps the fact that he is pulling the ball less could offer some explanation for reduced results but also notable is the decline in his HR/FB% from his rookie season. While a 21.8% HR/FB rate in 2013 seemed sure to regress, Puig certainly has the bat speed and fly ball distance to support a higher number than 11.1%. FanGraphs Mike Podhorzer included Puig in his 1/15/2015 treatment of xHR/FB% rate underachievers.

Year LD% GB% FB% HR/FB% Pull % Center% Opposite% Hard%
2013 19.1% 50.2% 30.7% 21.8% 43.1% 32.3% 24.7% 37.5%
2014 14.8% 51.7% 33.4% 11.1% 40.0% 36.2% 23.8% 34.6%
2015 20.3% 43.2% 36.5% 11.1% 33.8% 40.5% 25.7% 33.1%

When Puig returned from injury he was put into the 6th position in the order. There are a number of ways to handle a player coming off injury. One is to drop him in the order like Mattingly did to allow him to ease back into things and keep the pressure off him. Another is to do the opposite. Get him as many at bats as possible at the top of the order and provide him with the chance to get off to a fast start.

With all due respect, I don’t think Mattingly made the right choice here especially if you look at Puig’s historical performance batting in different spots in the lineup. And it’s not like there wasn’t a clear opportunity for Mattingly to shake up the lineup with Dodger leadoff hitter Joc Peterson scuffling in July with a .185 BA, .250 OBP, 1 HR, 0 SB, 28.4% K Rate,  4.5% BB Rate, and a .284 Slugging Percentage.

Puig’s career performance in different lineup spots…..

Position Games PA BA OBP SLG OPS
Batting 1st 46 175 .286 .369 .497 .866
Batting 2nd 159 641 .310 .386 .523 .908
Batting 3rd 35 127 .291 .372 .409 .782
Batting 4th 21 64 .359 .488 .500 .988
Batting 6th 16 58 .207 .266 .345 .610

Focusing on the largest sample size, it seems like Puig is pretty comfortable and productive in the 2 spot in the lineup.

In 2015, which has been Puig’s most disappointing season, here is his performance in the 3 lineup positions where he has played most often…

Position Games PA BA OBP SLG OPS
Batting 1st 7 29 .207 .281 .345 .626
Batting 2nd 19 76 .329 .400 .526 .926
Batting 6th 13 54 .220 .259 .380 .639

Small sample for sure, but it certainly looks like batting him 2nd seems to work for Puig.

Furthermore, if we look at an analysis done by Baseball, which looks at the batting lines of all players in each of the lineup spots in 2014 and compare them with Puig’s career line, I think it is safe to say that he is not a prototypical hitter who would be batting 6th in the lineup.

Batting 1st .268 .326 .389 .715
Batting 2nd .261 .321 .393 .714
Batting 3rd .276 .350 .450 .800
Batting 4th .256 .329 .422 .751
Batting 5th .257 .318 .413 .732
Batting 6th .244 .303 .382 .685
Batting 7th .246 .304 .381 .685
Batting 8th .241 .305 .348 .653
Batting 9th .200 .251 .280 .531
Puig .296 .376 .489 .865

Recently, the Dodgers were forced to address all the controversy surrounding Puig again when they announced that Puig would be staying with the Dodgers and would not be traded. It was reported, and later denied by Puig, that it was a frustrated Puig that had approached club officials and they gave him these assurances which were now made public.  How often have we heard a vote of confidence go sour?

Steve Dilbeck of the LA Times wrote on 7/25, “Puig has become the Dodgers’ new Matt Kemp, pre-2011. This ridiculously talented player who can’t seem to live up to his enormous potential, who divides fans and teammates by his inconsistent play on the field, on the bases and in pregame preparation. For years July 31 brought annual Kemp trade rumors. Then he had his monstrous 2011 season and you suddenly never heard them any longer. You barely heard them even before he was traded this last off-season”.

There could be much room for improvement in his overall numbers since Puig has an unlucky .303 BABIP this season which is well below his .355 career number. As we have seen many times before, a great player makes an adjustment and returns to prior glory while all is forgiven. The fact is players like Puig have rare gifts that sometimes defy categorization. However, in this case I don’t see an easy fix for this most curious situation. Yasiel Puig is just not Don Mattingly’s type of ballplayer and he might have worn out his welcome. A club friendly contract may be the only reason he stays.

Of one thing I am quite certain…there are many other clubs who would love to have Puig on their team and perhaps a change of scenery would be the best outcome for all concerned.

Fell in love with baseball at a very young age. My dad claimed that Joe DiMaggio picked me up as a toddler when we were sitting behind the Yankee Dugout. Do remember walking across the lush green grass of the old Yankee Stadium outfield when there were three baseball teams in New York. Fantasy Baseball Analyst for Fantistics and Insider Baseball. Thrilled to be part of the FanGraphs Team. Fantasy baseball team owner since 1990.

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Not saying this is a bad article, but it doesn’t really seem Roto related.


I mean its obvously Roto “related”, but not Roto-centric.

Steven Shumansky
Steven Shumansky

I appreciate your perspective on this. I traded for Puig in my 12 team Roto League just a few weeks back and have seen the impact of batting him 6th in the lineup. It made me want to explore why this was done. They removed Joc Pederson from the leadoff spot last night and replaced him with Jimmy Rollins who is batting .213 and has a .270 OBP. Just saying…..