Friday, September 13, 2013

Puig's Good Outweighs Puig's Bad

David Schoenfield of ESPN analyzed Yasiel Puig yesterday, and was largely positive about Puig's defensive impact, despite his areas of improvement:

Yasiel Puig is one of the most fascinating players we've seen in a long time, for many reasons: His seven-year, $42 million contract that many believed was a huge overpay by the Dodgers, his quick rise to the big leagues, his amazing athleticism, that hot start, the controversies that he has rubbed opponents the wrong way, the reprimands from manager Don Mattingly ... what a whirlwind few months it has been for the 22-year-old Cuban.

As good as he has been at the plate -- .340/.404/.556 with 16 home runs in 87 games -- it's his play in the field that is simultaneously dynamic and frustrating. Maybe no player since the young Vladimir Guerrero has made as many great plays undermined by those that drive a manager crazy. What's the net result? We'll get there in a second.

First, let's look at some of his best and worst plays on defense. Scott Spratt of Baseball Info Solutions looked up Puig's five best and five worst plays on defense, as evaluated by BIS' Plus/Minus system, which values each play based on what percentage of similar balls were caught.

Five best plays

1. Aug. 12: Daniel Murphy lines out to Puig, who catches the ball on the warning track in deep right-center. This doesn't factor into the plus/minus system, but the play came with the bases loaded and two outs. He made this play look easy.

2. July 22: Puig jumps and crashes into the wall to rob J.P. Arencibia. Holy cow ... Puig was playing center field here. Look how far he ran. Look at the raw speed. And then the wall. Probably not the smartest play since the Dodgers were up 14-5 at the time.

3. June 23: Puig dives to catch a Pedro Ciriaco liner in the gap. Out of the way, Andre Ethier!

4. July 3: Puig catches a Nolan Arenado fly ball while crashing into the wall. This drew a visit from the training staff but he remained in the game.

5. Aug. 3: Puig robs Starlin Castro with a diving catch. As Dodgers announcer Charley Steiner said, "He's done it yet again."

As Scott pointed out, these plays don't include any of the great throws Puig has made. [...] (Puig has seven assists, fourth among NL right fielders.) [...]

Now, those are plays Puig failed to make, which are different from the errors (he has made four) or throws to the wrong base or missing cutoff guys. There also was the Aug. 28 game against the Cubs, in which Mattingly removed Puig in the fifth inning, citing the player's effort. This story has video of Puig's effort that day, which included two catches made in the outfield where he loped after the ball.

"I talk to him like I talk to my kids, honestly," Mattingly said that day. "I try to be honest and represent the whole ballclub with the decisions I make and I feel, in a sense, it was in the best interests of the team."

As to the misplays on defense, Baseball Info Solutions tracks those as well. Puig has been credited with 25 good fielding plays and 22 defensive misplays and errors -- both are high totals (at one point a couple of weeks ago he led all outfielders in both categories since his recall), confirming the perception that he's mixing in a lot of great plays with bad plays and mistakes in judgment.

Overall, BIS gives a positive evaluation to Puig's defense, 9 Defensive Runs Saved. Other metrics, which don't have the detailed video analysis that BIS employs, are also positive: plus-8 in Total Zone, plus-3 in UZR. [...]

Puig makes a lot of mistakes but also makes plays most right fielders don't. Of course, when we get to October and Puig makes a spectacular catch that maybe saves a run but then follows that up with a mental error that maybe costs the Dodgers a run, which play will be discussed and hammered the next morning?

There's no doubt Puig needs to rein in the recklessness -- that includes on the basepaths, where he has made 11 outs on the bases and is just 11-for-19 as a base stealer. Let's keep in mind he's a young player with little professional experience outside of Cuba. For some reason, there has been a trend to tear him down lately -- He showed up a few minutes late! Opponents don't like him! He showboats! The Dodgers better get him under control, or else! -- which the Dodgers aren't helping by making some of their issues with him public.

To me, the bottom line is the kid can play. If he's not a model citizen, well, he won't be the first great player who did things his own way. But let's be mindful he has been in the majors for just three months and is still learning a new culture both on and off the field. I can't wait to see what he does in October.

The kid can play. And he can stroke. What more can we ask for?


Fred's Brim said...

It'll be interesting to see how he approaches things when the games really matter. Will he be more patient at the plate? I assume he'll still swing at a lot of first pitches but he's not always like that. You see it at different times in a single game, where he'll swing for the fences three times in a row (and we just hope the ball is somewhere near the plate) and then in a different AB take 4 out of 6 pitches, almost trying for the walk