Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Will Yasiel Puig be a Superstar?

Yasiel Puig has caught the baseball world by storm, after signing a large contract with the Dodgers out of Cuba, much of the baseball world scoffed at the enormity of the contract, especially since it seemed that he was far off from the big leagues. Puig then had a monstrous spring training that had some calling for him to make the team out of camp. After a dominating stint in AA and a couple of outfield injuries, Puig was eventually promoted, where, in a small sample size, he has been hitting well.

The average of all pitches Puig has seen so far is 86.64 MPH, which is about normal. The pitches he has swung and missed at have averaged 84.26 MPH and the ones he has made contact with have been 87.84 MPH. So he appears to be a dead fastball hitter. His average strike zone also shows that his problems, at least when it comes to swinging strikes, are on pitches low in the strike zone, usually non-fastballs

This chart also shows the average release points per each result. Not surprisingly, his success is coming on pitches released closer to the center of the rubber than far out right-handers. The strange part is that the swinging strikes are coming closer to left-handed than his success. I thought this might be because he is struggling against left-handed changeups, but he isn't (I have just 19 changeups faced according to MLBAM tags, with no swinging strikes). Instead, the problem was a few traditional breaking balls (curves and sliders) from lefties.

One thing you can poke a whole in Puig's numbers so far is that he hasn't walked yet, and in both spring training and the season he is relying on high BABIPs. This graph shows which pitches he has been chasing, the pitches he has swung at that are not in the traditional strike zone (labelled with MLBAM tags)

Obviously some of these are borderline pitches that he can't really be blamed with swinging at, but we see two general areas that he is chasing pitches at, low and away breaking balls, and inside fastballs. Pitchers have tried to throw him inside, and while he will swing, it is hard to argue that it is working real well, as his velocity on contact is higher than the average velocity he has seen.

As this spray chart from Texas Leaguers' shows, Puig has shown power to both fields, not pull happy, but not without pull power.

In the average strike zone above (the first graph) we see that his homers are actually coming on the outside of the plate, further away from him than the average pitch he saw or the average pitch he made contact with (which were virtually the same).

The power is real I think, as he can hit the ball out anywhere in the ballpark, and he likes to hit fastballs. The problem is that he isn't going to set a record for batting average on balls in play, which has been what has made his MLB and ST numbers look so absurd. He is going to have to walk eventually, or he's not going to get on base enough to be a real impact hitter. If the holes against breaking balls outside continue to be exposed, and he doesn't adjust, it is hard to imagine, even with his evident natural skill, that he will be successful in the big leagues. If he makes the adjustment, I do think he will be a star, an elite player, but at this point, it is hard to tell if he will or not. Perhaps the best thing for him would be for his BABIP to regress to worldly numbers, for him to struggle for a while, which would force him to make adjustments. When this happens, we will be able to evaluate Puig in a better manner than we can now, when everything is going right.
Thanks again to Daren Willman of Baseball Savant, as I got the regular season data from his website, and he also got me the Spring Training data.

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