The Yasiel Puig experience has been quite a ride for the Dodgers and their fans, and Mike Petriello has already said part of what I wanted to say about the ups and downs of his debut thus far (primarily ups). However, I did want to look at the part of the equation that focuses on his recent trend of striking out on soft stuff away.
To be clear, any criticism of him at this point is utterly ridiculous given the circumstances, but this investigation is about one recent common complaint I’m hearing about Puig: that he’s too far away from the plate.
In all honesty, when I started this exercise, my initial hypothesis was that this was a complete fabrication. That the fans were seeing negative results and were matching what they saw to the outcome with no actual change from Puig. Results-based analysis, essentially.
After all, this is the MLB and people adjust, especially since this was the Padres second look at him. I figured it was nothing. However, taking a closer look at the critique, I found that it did indeed have merit.
These are Puig’s setups at the plate from his debut, the last series of the homestand against the D-Backs, and the recent Padres series, respectively.
It’s not a significant gap, but by both the eye test and after being measured in pixels*, he is indeed standing further away. Specifically, he used to average about 52-53 away from home plate, but now he’s in the 73-75 range, and he was 87 away during one PA.
*Normalized for image size/camera angle/whatever else.
Remember that he has never crowded the plate, and I think it’s for good reason. His weaknesses at the moment are hard stuff in on his hands and quality breaking balls away. Breaking balls away are discipline related, but getting busted in is more about how he swings than anything else, as he can be long to the ball. Like Matt Kemp and Mike Piazza and a host of other great hitters, he loves to let the ball travel and get his arms extended and go to right field, and he has the power to hit it out to any part of the park. Thus, he has always sacrificed some plate coverage to combat getting busted in. The thing on trial here, though, is the extent to which he’s now doing that.
Perhaps more importantly, there’s a difference in his approach at footstrike.
Noticeably, he’s not diving over the plate as much as he used to, and it’s by a large margin (~37 vs. ~67).
Combine setting up further away from the plate with not diving into the plate as much, and yeah, there’s naturally going to be less plate coverage for him. I’m a big fan of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it … yet”, so if this was a purposeful change, it strikes me as a silly one.
Now is it the reason he’s not killing the ball? Of course not. Puig wasn’t going to BABIP .600 all year, he was always going to swing and miss some at breaking balls away, and there’s always an adjustment period. MLB players and coaches aren’t at that level for no reason, so while Puig is special, they’ve seen this story before (like with Kemp). As such, if you told me to guess why his OPS has dropped 200 points in the last week, I would still say the main culprit is simple regression to the mean, surely not anything to freak out about.
That said, there has certainly been a noticeable change in his approach recently, and I think it has relevancy and bears watching. Whether this change indicates intentional adjustments, that he’s currently uncomfortable at the dish, or maybe that he moved back after getting hit in the face, we don’t quite know yet.