During Yasiel Puig’s breakout season of 2013 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he quickly developed a reputation as a free swinger who could be tempted by pitches outside of the strike zone. After a historic June of 2013, pitchers began making adjustments that slowed Puig down a bit. His hot hitting continued, though not anywhere near as well as he had started.
Over the first 50 or so games of 2014, however, it is Puig who has made the adjustment.
Currently boasting a slash line of .345/.440/.616 and an obscene 1.055 OPS, Puig’s production has been nothing short of impressive. And despite the fact that Don Mattingly questioned Puig’s ability to drive in runs during the offseason, Puig has nearly matched his season total of a year ago with 38 RBI, good for second in the league. The power has been there as well, as Puig has 10 home runs and a total of 25 extra-base hits.
It is easy to marvel at the numbers that Puig has put up so far this season, but the most impressive aspect has to be his improved plate discipline. Puig’s walk rate is up from 8.3 percent a year ago to 12.0 percent this season. He has also reduced his strikeout rate, dropping it from 22.5 percent to 19.1 percent. And while he has benefited from a high BABIP of .402, Puig’s production should remain relatively stable with this improvement in plate discipline.
Digging deeper into the numbers shows that Puig has been a much more discerning hitter at the plate. Known in 2013 for chasing bad balls out of the zone, Puig has made pitchers come into the strike zone with more frequency due to his improved patience. Pitchf/x provides some great insight into Puig’s patience, and he has decreased his O-Swing percentage (the percentage of pitches chased by the batter outside the strike zone) by almost a full 10 percent, going from 38.9 percent in 2013 to 27.2 percent in 2014.
Not only is Puig chasing less pitches outside the strike zone, but he is also more careful about the pitches inside the zone that he goes after. His Z-Swing percentage (the percentage of pitches inside the strike zone that the batter swings at) is also down from 79.6 percent (2013) to 70.6 percent (2014), indicating a patient approach that allows Puig to go after the best pitch in the strike zone he sees, as opposed to the first pitch in the strike zone he sees. The result is increased contact on all of the pitches he sees.
So, where is the credit due? Mark McGwire has a great relationship with Puig and is frequently seen working with the Cuban émigré. Adrian Gonzalez, known throughout baseball for his incredibly detailed approach to hitting, also has a close relationship with Puig. It is safe to say that if McGwire provides Puig with the theory, it is Gonzalez who is providing the proof that the theory works in practice.
When it comes to Yasiel Puig and hitting, the old adage that “it takes a village…” certainly applies.
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