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Struggling Stars, Day 1: Yasiel Puig

August 28th, 2015 · No Comments · Baseball, Dodgers

This was the year Yasiel Puig was supposed to put it all together. The kid who got MVP votes after a fairly solid second season would emerge as one of the game’s best players.

Or, at least, his production would be so significant that we wouldn’t notice the things that pertain to his being a self-indulgent dope. Like throwing from right field to third base, even when it allows the opposition to improve their baserunning positions.

(The sorts of things adoring fans don’t seem to notice.  And, make no mistake,  he is the team’s most popular position player, if pre-game lineup announcements are any indication.)

Well, that “putting it all together” season has not turned out. At all. If you don’t believe anecdotal evidence, then look at the numbers.

This is a player who only marginally managed to improve the Dodgers this season. Best player in the league? It’s not even a certainty the Dodgers are better with him in the lineup.

Injuries have been a big part of this … but they are the sorts of injuries that an athlete ought to have some control over.

Puig missed 39 games early in the season … with a left hamstring injury.

He is currently on the disabled list, and had been missing games off and on before that … with a right hamstring injury.

Some say he is “so muscular” that he can’t consistently run hard to first base without popping a hammy.

Yet, we have an entire league of muscular men (the NFL) where hamstring injuries are not an everyday event. Where players are making short but full-speed dashes all the time.

Pretty clearly, he needs to get with the trainer and come up with a regime that includes some advanced stretching. Including during the game. Maybe he needs to be better hydrated, too.

The thing about hamstring injuries is that once you have them, you tend to get more. All Puig can do is work — and does he actually work at anything? — as best he can to be as limber as possible during games. Particularly in his upper legs.

And when he did play, this season, he was not very good.

His on-base percentage this season is .324. Which not only is about 65 points off his career average, it’s barely above league average — and that includes pitchers hitting.

He had occasional power, as before, with 11 home runs in 277 at-bats. He was striking out once every four at-bats, the worst rate of his career. His walk rate was down to about once every 10 plate appearances.

He remains an erratic baserunner and an outfielder so in love with his arm he never lets the idea of making the right throw interfere with his preference for the long throw.

It has been established, in various publications, including the book The Best Team Money Can Buy, that he is unpopular in the clubhouse. Fans may like the flamboyant stuff he does … but teammates, many of them, appear to loathe it.

His place on the team has deteriorated so much this season that just ahead of the July 31 trade deadline, the Dodgers issued a statement that they were not going to trade him.

And to think, he was a consensus top-five outfielder, before the season, and some people’s pick for National League MVP.

But unless/until he gets back in the lineup and does some good stuff … he will carry out of this season a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) figure of 1.1 — meaning he was worth one victory to the club, barely above the notional “replacement player” who has a WAR of 0.0.

I believe it is too soon to get rid of him and the final four years of his seven-year, $42 million contract. But only just.

Let’s see if he can get healthy ahead of the 2016 season, when he will be 25. If he can the hamstring issue under control, maybe he can produce on a regular basis.

Clearly he has the tools to be something special. But baseball history is littered with guys who had enormous physical gifts but never learned how to use them — or didn’t care enough to try.



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