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Learning to Appreciate Yasiel Puig

October 7th, 2017 · No Comments · Baseball, Dodgers

I have come around on Yasiel Puig.

Not because he has turned into the greatest player in baseball, because he has not. Not because he had a great 2017 season, because he did not. Not because he is a fundamentally sound ballplayer, because he is not.

Why, then?

Because he is a fun player to watch. Almost like a big kid (a really big kid; 6-2, 255) set loose in the schoolyard, having a great time running around and doing goofy stuff — from which he derives great pleasure and for which he means no harm.

Fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers enjoy watching their 26-year-old Cuban outfielder: No one gets a noisier reception when the lineups are announced or when he comes up to bat.

And either the stodgiest among us have developed a fondness for his theatrical charms, or we have become inured to his flakier stuff because he has been doing it in L.A. since 2013. The bat-licking, the tongue-wagging, the little dances, the gestures toward the crowd or his teammates — or all of the above.

Tonight, he again brought more-tangible benefits to the game as the Dodgers defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 8-5 to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five National League Championship Series.

To wit: Three singles and two runs driven in.

–In the fourth inning he dumped a single into short right-center. Oddly, he flipped his bat on the way out of the batter’s box, and at least one member of the TV broadcast team suggested that center fielder A.J. Pollock’s hesitation on charging the short fly was influenced by the bat flip — which generally means a ball landing near or over the fence.

Puig’s hit did not score a run; it merely loaded the bases, yet he celebrated standing on first with “raise-the-roof” gestures — which got a reaction from the crowd. The Dodgers scored twice in the inning to take a 3-2 lead.

In the fifth, he singled to center, bringing home Austin Barnes to, as usual, much excitement from Puig. A moment later he was picked off first, which also is classic Puig.

In the seventh, he singled to third base, helping set up a run that made it 8-5.

As usual he was exuberant.

In 2017, for the first time since 2014 (when he was ninth in MVP voting), he had a solid season, despite spending most of it batting in the No. 8 spot: 28 home runs, 74 batted in, 72 scored, along with perhaps his best season in right field.

His Wins Above Replacement (WAR) number was semi-notable, at 3.7.

In 2015 and 2016, when the Dodgers were entertaining trade offers for him, he had barely noticeable WAR numbers (1.1 and 1.4) in part because of injury issues in 2015 (both hamstrings) and health problems (a sickly bat) as well as reliability problems in 2016.

Now, he looks like someone the Dodgers will happily keep through the final season (next year) of his seven-year, $42 million contract.

If Puig can continue to hit home runs and also get his on-base percentage closer to the .382 he had in 2014 (he was .346 this season), he might even be able to induce a bidding war for his services.

The mugging and arm-waving and playing at 100 mph is fun — but not if Yasiel Puig spends too many at-bats walking directly back to the dugout.



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