Inside Yasiel Puig’s Production Plunge

yasiel puig dodgers

Had you Google-searched ‘Yasiel Puig‘ exactly nine weeks ago today, there’s a one hundred percent chance that the results would have brought about vastly different themes than that same search today. Two months ago, you were likely to find an article of the 23-year-old’s haircut, recent ejection, fantastic production from the top of Los Angeles’ lineup and how he impresses Torii Hunter. Today, the focus is on Puig’s rather questionable path from Cuba to the United States, and his genuine lack of recent offense from that same lineup.

Considering this is Peter Gammons’ baseball analysis site and not CNN.com, we’ll focus on the second issue. Since going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts against American League pitching at the midsummer classic in Minneapolis, Puig has managed a batting average of .248 and on-base-plus-slugging of .706 — both lower than the qualified league-average hitter since the break. Those are both massive lapses in production set aside his .309 average and .919 OPS prior to the All-Star break, a period of time in which he ranked fourth among his NL counterparts with 25 offensive runs above average, according to FanGraphs.

Without question, the biggest issue hampering Puig in the second half of the season has been quality of contact. Prior to the All Star break, 25.1% of Puig’s at-bats ended in a ball in play with ‘hard’ contact behind it — higher than 80% of the league during that stretch. Since that date, only 17% of his at-bats have concluded in hard-hit balls, which is comfortably below the second-half league mark of 19%. That might not seem like much of a difference, but it is; Conor Gillaspie (17.1% hard-hit rate) and Jose Altuve (17.2%) — both talented in their own respects — have hit the ball ‘hard’ at a nearly identical pace to Puig since the break.

What, specifically, has caused Puig’s hard-hit frequency to drop? His inability to handle fastballs.

puig first half

strike-zone (57)

Before a player can produce ‘hard’ contact on a baseball, contact on the baseball — regardless of what form that may come in — is necessary. In this respect, Puig has struggled mightily in the second half of the season against four and two-seam fastballs, sinkers, cutters and splitters, generating contact on just 71% of his swings against these offerings. Prior to the break, Puig’s contact rate against fastball variations was 79.7%, which was then nearly the league average of approximately 80% this season.

Why the contact rate decrease? Simply put, he’s coming up empty on a heightened percentage of his swings. In fact, a lofty 29% of Puig’s second-half swings against ‘hard’ offerings have ended up as misses, which is trumped only by five other qualifying batters since the All-Star break, and only one National League hitter (B.J. Upton, 31.5% fastball miss rate). By comparison, Puig’s first-half fastball swing-and-miss rate was only 20.3%, which ranked lower than approximately 80% of the league prior to the midsummer classic. He’s been susceptible against elevated heat, specifically, as the contact rate heat grids show; missing at 42.9% of fastballs located to the upper-third of the zone (increased from 34.1%).

Yasiel Puig vs. ‘Hard’ Offerings

First Half: .308/.395/.540, .340 BABIP, .280 hard-hit avg

Second Half: .202/.330/.298, .279 BABIP, .167 hard-hit avg

Another troubling aspect of Puig’s regression against fastballs has been his propensity to ‘top’ the baseball against them, which has led to a hefty dose of ground balls in consequence. Admittedly, Puig did struggle to lift the ball off the ground against fastballs prior to the break, garnering a 52.4% ground-ball rate against hard offerings, which ranked higher than 90% of the league. But since that 0-for-3 performance in the All-Star game, Puig’s ground-ball rate against fastballs has elevated to 62.3% — fifth-highest in baseball. And it’s not simply that Puig has hit more ground balls; his quality of contact on grounders has been essentially cut in half (25.6% hard-hit frequency to 15.8%), which has reduced his ground-ball slugging percentage from .424 to .263.

Opposing pitchers no doubt have recognized these struggles and have attempted to exploit them, increasing their four and two-seam fastball frequency from 45.9% prior to the All-Star break to 52.3% since. Additionally, 45.3% of those fastballs have been located to the inner-third of the plate, a mark that has increased from the 41.8% in the first half of the season. This has clearly been an effective game plan, as Puig has had to compensate by bringing his hands prior to and at the point of contact, which has decreased his frequency of full extension at the point of contact, resulting in all those ground balls.

The big question moving forward for Puig: Can he adjust?

Alec Dopp is a contributor to Gammons Daily and also covers the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League. Connect with him on LinkedIn and give him a follow on Twitter @alecdopp

Comments

  1. Aside from his trip here, maybe the guy is human after all!