Starting Andre Ethier over Yasiel Puig is stupid & other things I thought were obvious

Yasiel Puig sucks. Well, right now he does. Since August started, his line is an amazing .203/.295/.228/.523, but what’s even more amazing is the predictable hand-wringing by the press every time he struggles. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to ignore agitating things more often (believe it or not), but the recent onslaught of subtle suggestions by the media to bench Puig has reached a point where it just can’t be ignored.

As many of you have already heard, this Puig slump has completely boiled over recently, leading Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times to call for Andre Ethier to: 1) start 2) start in center field 3) start over Yasiel Puig 4) start over Joc Pederson.

And I guess for all the complaining and whining about Puig, this is at least a new angle!

OK, enough. Enough waiting for the Golden Boy to become an overnight sensation or last year’s overnight sensation to get going again.

The idea is to win right now. In September with a pennant on the line. It’s not time to experiment.

You don’t keep playing Joc Pederson, called up nine days ago, and hope he starts tearing up the majors the way he did triple-A. You don’t keep sending out Yasiel Puig every night when he’s hit .209 since July 31, which also happens to be the last time he hit a home run.

It’s time to start Andre Ethier in center again.

But Ethier isn’t very goo…

And, sure, he has career-lows going in almost every offensive category. But at least he has a history. He’s been through the playoff wars. He’s responded under pressure.

It’s time to start Andre Ethier in center again.

…ok.

To refute this is easy enough: 1) Ethier isn’t a real center fielder either (he’s been as good/bad as Puig or worse there) 2) you’re trading Puig, around a top-10 hitter in the MLB, and his one-month slump for Ethier, his season-long slump, and the third year of a decline in his skills 3) you’re even starting him over the upside in Pederson, proclaimed by everybody as the best center fielder in the system, and the upside in his bat 4) the “playoff wars” aren’t a great point since he has a .726 OPS in the playoffs compared to an .821 OPS for his career.

So yeah, anybody could get hot for a month. But if you were a betting man, this is like betting on Dwight Howard to beat Stephen Curry in a best-of-10 three-point shooting contest because Howard hit his last three and Curry clanged his last three. Could it happen? Yes. Are you dumb for thinking it’s the best bet? Yes.

But the fact that the suggestion to start Ethier over Puig is ridiculous isn’t really the issue here. I’m not sure why he wrote that or why he thinks that, but it could be for a number of reasons and it doesn’t really matter in the end. Rather, I’m writing about this now to make the point that this is just the cherry on top of the gigantic mountain of shit that’s been building since the start of August, where Puig is the worst player in the universe and needs to be replaced, followed by a bunch of narrative-building anecdotes for you to shovel down your mouths to justify this train of thought.

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Generally speaking, there’s a few problems I have with this whole thing being pushed on fans wholesale.

1) Arbitrary end points.

If an up-and-down streaky player has four consecutive months of varying results, depending on which route one takes, you can frame things any way you want in a three-month sample.

Puig had a .995 OPS in May, June, and July, and has a .544 OPS in August. Or Puig has a .745 OPS in June, July, and August. Everything is true, but the latter makes it seem like he’s been mediocre since June started or something.

And certainly stuff like this doesn’t help:

“It’s been a lot longer than that,” Mattingly said of Puig’s struggles. “It’s been June, July, August. I don’t think that has anything to do with it.”

This is why writers start citing this “three-month slump” garbage, when in July he pounded 17 extra-base hits en route to a .351/.425/.688/1.114 line, which is absolutely ridiculous.

Sorry, but the reality is that it’s a one-month slump that’s currently growing into September. Reason to be concerned? Absolutely. Reason to delusionally cite that he’s slumped for a majority of the season? No.

2) Narratives and stuff.

Puig is lazy and/or dumb and that’s why he sucks now. When you boil it down and parse through the bullshit, that’s what’s being said.

Yasiel Puig spent at least 30 minutes visiting with friends in the stands while the rest of his teammates were either taking batting practice, fielding ground balls or shagging fly balls before the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 6-3 loss to the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night.

Puig is often the last player to arrive in the Dodgers’ clubhouse and he is rarely seen on the field for early batting practice. Nobody, least of all manager Don Mattingly, seems to be willing to make it an issue, at least not publicly. The lax management style of Mattingly and the rest of the organization with Puig is an in-house matter, after all. He’s their player. Maybe they have a better idea how to get the most out of him than others might.

It just looks a bit funny when he’s batting .189 in his last 28 games and hasn’t homered since July 31 — plus when he sparks the team’s most embarrassing defensive sequence in years with a bad throw, as he did Monday night.

And:

No teammate has called out Puig publicly, but several Dodgers players have wondered privately how a player in such a prolonged slump can continue to show up to the ballpark too late to get in extra work before batting practice, and how long a leash management might continue to afford him, even with his unquestioned talent.

I see hints at this a lot, so don’t take it out on Mark Saxon or Bill Shaikin. They may have been the first to put it in print, but a bunch of writers have alluded to it, and others have privately mentioned this behavior to me as well.

The problem is that it tells me absolutely nothing alone.

Yeah, I would prefer if Puig were the earliest guy in and the hardest working in the room, I get it. I think he should improve that aspect of his preparation and makeup, especially looking at the long-term. But my problem with mentioning all this now is that it only seems to come up when he’s struggling.

Just think about when you’ve heard these stories about work ethic and tardiness and attitude show up in the press. Last September/October when he scuffled down the stretch and in the NLCS, March of this year when he couldn’t hit a thing in Spring Training, and now during the worst slump of his career. So what I want to know is if any of this nonsense is new to Puig. Was it happening when he was hitting? Did you not report it because he was hitting? If it’s all for the sake of truth-telling, then either report it when his OPS is 1.200 or don’t pick-and-choose narratives to enforce just so one can create a story that “because he’s late and/or socializes, that’s why he’s not hitting” as opposed to “he’s doing the same thing he always does and right now happens to not be hitting”.

And, in my opinion, it’s more the latter. Hell, they even admit it themselves in the articles and tweets (“as usual”, “as he’s done all year”, “never been the most punctual”), and from what I’ve heard privately, this is what Puig has always done and I would argue that he used to be way worse about it.

So to then blame this stuff and use it as a reason he’s struggling is pandering to the mob at best, and probably just lazy. You know, sort of like all those “Matt Kemp is a preening, spoiled, lazy discontent” articles that for some reason you haven’t read since the All-Star break came around and he started pounding the ball.

“We’ve looked at him like he’s Superman and we all build him up,” Mattingly said, “and now he’s struggling and we want to tear him down.”

Let me put it this way, if you really wanted, you could build a narrative about how Puig has only started to struggle immensely after he “selflessly” took over center field for the team when they had nobody else that could do it effectively. And that probably would be the narrative if he was the first to arrive and he wasn’t such a dick to the media most of the time.

Just ask Michael Young.

The bottom line is that if you want to find an angle, with as many options as baseball gives you, more often than not you can. And that’s what’s happening.

3) “So what do you want to know, Chad? All you do is complain about us, wah wah wah.”

I want to know really why he’s struggling. I don’t want smoke blown up my ass, because educated fans know better than to buy into BS.

Did his attitude change around the time he started struggling? What is he doing now differently than before? Is something going on with his personal life?

Hell, is Yasiel Puig hurt? That seems to be a popular theory which has been proposed by Dustin Nosler here, speculated on by Daniel Brim here, told to me by just about everybody on Twitter, and recently pondered by Anthony Castrovince at MLB.com. I personally don’t believe it, but the Dodgers being idiots about injuries to stars wouldn’t be anything new, would it (Matt Kemp/Hanley Ramirez)?

Basically, I want to know why. If it’s no different than when he’s destroying the ball, I don’t want to know who’s whining about his work ethic or whether he diddles himself in the shower to Michael Bolton or whatever irrelevant crap like that.

For example, it was mentioned in mid-August that he had hitting sessions with Mark McGwire and John Valentin. Great. WHAT were they working on? Did they think he’s not getting enough reps? Do they think he needs to change his approach and/or attitude?

Just something/anything substantial that has changed or matters now.

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So what’s my solution, right? As of right now, I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that the amount of mental gymnastics it must take to reach the conclusion that Yasiel Puig should be benched is amazing enough that these guys could start a their own version of Cirque Du Soleil.

In the near future, I very well may look at Puig’s struggles like I have done in the past with other players, but just from casual observation, I don’t have anything concrete to go on at the moment. And I think that’s at least partially why the media is running with these lazy narratives of whatever they can dream up. Because the people inside aren’t giving them much concrete, they can’t analyze the swing and/or stats themselves, and so what else is there to do besides tie what they’ve observed of his personality to his baseball production?

It’s really ridiculous to me, but that’s where we are now. In Ridiculous Land.

They’re obviously free to disagree and so are you, but what I currently know is this: I’m willing to let the guy who’s still fifth on this list work his way out of the worst month of his career to date:

YasielPuigPanic

(Players sorted by wRC+ from 2013-14, who had as many PA as Puig. Also, even after this slump, he’s still 12th in 2014.)

So I’m willing to go out on a limb and be #Brave and risk that.

I’m betting on Yasiel Puig for the same reason I bet on Matt Kemp in 2005 and 2009 and whenever else: talent. But then when does that ever work out? As we all know, the Dodgers would be better off if they ate Kemp’s contract and released him back in May.

Right?

About Chad Moriyama

Chad Moriyama
"A highly rational Internet troll." - Los Angeles Times