Dodgers 5, Phillies 2: Zack Greinke Is Unspeakably Great

greinke_butera_2014-04-23

I’m almost completely and totally uncertain of what to say about Zack Greinke any longer. It almost feels like we take him for granted, which is completely unfair of us, because his brilliance is nearly unmatched. And yet here we are, after he just struck out 11 Phillies over seven innings, then doubled, walked, and scored a run at the plate, and the reaction is almost: well, yeah. Of course he did. It’s the 17th time in a row he’s thrown at least five innings and allowed two or fewer runs. He’s now got 40 whiffs and five walks on the season. It almost feels like he’s toying with the opposition.

I guess the highest credit I can give him is this: have you noticed the distinct lack of panic around the fact that Clayton Kershaw, the near-unquestioned best pitcher in baseball, has made zero starts in the Northern Hemisphere this season? Yeah, me too. That’s because of Greinke, and to a slightly lesser extent, Hyun-jin Ryu. Greinke was great tonight. Of course he was. He always is.

Oddly enough, the 5-2 score has little resemblance to the game Greinke pitched in. This was a 2-1 game into the seventh, when Yasiel Puig‘s triple — and more on that in a second — drove in Greinke to make it 3-1. In the eighth, things started to get a little wacky. Greinke came out to make one pitch, seeing his night end when Jayson Nix hit a leadoff homer. J.P. Howell sailed through the rest of the inning, then Hanley Ramirez crushed, and I do mean crushed, a homer off Mario Hollands in the bottom of the frame. That was one of two extra-base hits for Ramirez, and after how awful his last week has been, let’s hope that’s a sign of things to come. Matt Kemp had two doubles himself, and Scott Van Slyke, Puig, and Drew Butera (!) also had two hits apiece.

* * *

Kenley Jansen came in for the ninth, his fourth appearance in five days. The Dodgers have 13 pitchers. 13! If it had been a 6-2 lead, he would’t have come in. But it was 5-2, so it was a “save situation.” It was his 16th appearance, and no one else in baseball has more than 12. If you think that’s not going to come back and bite you at some point….

* * *

Back to Puig, this is the triple. SO BAT FLIP, VERY… not a homer (via Chad):

GIF Link

This is awesome. Everything about it is awesome. The flip, the slide, the hammer swing… love it. Now this, on the other hand…

…maybe not so much. Never, ever boring, though.

Dodgers 4, D’Backs 1: Puig and Some Other Stuff

puig-points_2014-04-01

After sitting out yesterday, Yasiel Puig certainly made up for it today. Everything that Dodger fans love about him was on display. In the second inning, it looked like Miguel Montero had a sure double off of Beckett, but, well, this happened (GIF via Chad):


GIF link

The game stayed quiet until the sixth. Dee Gordon singled, then Carl Crawford tripled. After Hanley Ramirez popped out, Kirk Gibson intentionally walked Adrian Gonzalez to get to Puig for some reason. He made them pay (GIF via Chad):


GIF link

Here’s a good photo of the ensuing batflip from the game, since the TV broadcasts cut away early.

Even though Puig’s great game will grab most of the headlines, Josh Beckett‘s performance shouldn’t be overlooked. Beckett struck out seven batters and walked two, and only allowed one hit in five scoreless innings. His removal from the game was puzzling at first, but it was later revealed that Beckett is sick and could not pitch any longer. His stuff didn’t suffer too much; he missed spots here and there, but his pitches looked sharp in general. He was only really in trouble once, partially due to Tim Federowicz‘ second catchers interference in three games.

After Jamey Wright, Chris Perez, and J.P. Howell combined to give one run back, Kenley Jansen closed out the game by striking out the side on 11 pitches. Jansen is now up to 17.18 K/9 on the season and his xFIP is down to 1.49. Nothing is “wrong” with him. His usage in a three run game is a bit confusing, though. He has now pitched 13 times in the team’s first 19 games. If you can’t trust a pitcher to not allow three runs in an inning, that pitcher shouldn’t be on the roster. It seemed like a good opportunity to give Kenley a night off, but unfortunately nearly every manager in baseball would have made the same move.

The Dodgers are now 12-7 on the season and are eight games in front of the 5-16 Diamondbacks. Next up is the Phillies, who enter Dodger Stadium with Cliff Lee on the mound tomorrow night.

Yasiel Puig Just Had The Most Yasiel Puig Inning Ever

We don’t usually do in-game posts, but Yasiel Puig doesn’t usually do, well, this.

In the third inning, with one out and Brandon Belt on first, Brandon Hicks lifted an easy fly ball to right field, where Puig lazily tried to one-hand it and let it drop. But before a million columnists could register a billion articles worth of “HE’S RUINING THE GAME!” outrage, Puig made up for it by firing to second and getting Belt on the force.

But still! The laziness! The insolence! The… very next play!

Good… lord.

I get that Puig is infuriating sometimes. I get that he acts a fool out there, and I get that although his strong arm and talent allowed him to salvage his mistake, it would have been better if he’d just caught the damn ball in the first place. But come on, now. Baseball is a game. It’s supposed to be fun. And is there anyone more fun in the sport than him right now? Is the game not more entertaining and exciting because a guy who can do this on back-to-back plays — sadly, he only singled in the next inning, rather than hitting a nine-run homer — exists?

Register your displeasure, stodgy old columnists. No one cares. This was great. (The Dodgers currently hold a 1-0 lead in the fourth.)

Dodgers @ Diamondbacks April 11, 2014: The Return of the Puig

puig_yasiel_st 3.13.14

Puig will start for the first time since April 2. (By: Dustin Nosler)

After splitting a 2-game series with the Tigers, the Dodgers (6-4) travel to Arizona to take on the Diamondbacks (4–8). We all know what happened last time these two teams met in Arizona — the Dodgers clinched the National League West title for the first time since 2009.

Yes, the Dodgers, behind a strong bullpen performance and home runs from Hanley Ramirez (two) and A.J. Ellis helped to clinch. The Dodgers then celebrated in the Chase Field swimming pool — something that pissed off seemingly everyone in Arizona. Oh, then they allegedly peed in said pool.

Chase Field - Flickr Ryan Leighty

Hope that pool is clean. (via)

Much was made about this situation (which I refuse to call “poolg–e,” mostly because the term is idiotic), but the fact of the matter is: if the D-Backs didn’t want the Dodgers celebrating in their pool, they should have played better baseball. For everyone’s sake, I hope there’s no retaliation tonight for the Dodgers, because the Dodgers will likely have to retaliate, leading to a surefire brawl — something neither team needs right now.

The two clubs met in Sydney in the last couple weeks of March to play the opening series. The Dodgers won both games, but lost Clayton Kershaw for at least a few weeks, but more likely a month or two. There’s no definitive proof the trip played into his injury, but it’s hard to deny it had an adverse affect on him.

Dodgers
Diamondbacks
6:40 pm PT
Phoenix, AZ
LF
Crawford
CF
Pollock
RF
Puig
2B
Hill
SS
Ramirez
1B
Goldschmidt
1B
Gonzalez
3B
Prado
CF
Ethier
C
Montero
3B
Uribe
LF
Trumbo
C
Federowicz
SS
Owings
2B
Gordon
RF
Parra
P
Ryu (L)
P
McCarthy (R)

Hyun-Jin Ryu is making his first start in a week after getting shelled against the Giants in the Dodgers’ home opener on April 4. Yasiel Puig returns from a strained/sprained thumb he suffered by foolishly sliding head-first into first base. He pinch hit on Wednesday night (and struck out), but this is his first start since the injury. Ken Gurnick reported Puig might actually have more issues fielding rather than hitting. We’ll see if it’s a factor tonight.

With Puig back in the lineup and the Dodgers facing a right-hander, Matt Kemp is getting his first night off since returning from injury. He hit two home runs on Sunday night, but he’s 0-for-7 with two walks and five strikeouts. His swing looks like it once did, but he didn’t have much of a spring training, so some ups and downs are to be expected from him early on.

Oh, then there’s this:

Awesome.

Reminder: Sliding Head First Is Still The Worst

puig-points_2014-04-01

Somewhat lost in the midst of A.J. Ellisknee surgery, Matt Kemp‘s two homers, Tuesday night’s exciting extra innings victory over Detroit, minor trades for minor leaguers, and the recent uncertainty over whether Josh Beckett would be able to make tonight’s start is the fact that Yasiel Puig has played exactly once since last Wednesday. That’s partially his own doing (his deserved benching for being late), partially due to the schedule (something like 78 days off this month), but mostly because he did this on Saturday:

It’s the Nick Punto special: sliding into head first for any other reason than to avoid the tag. It lessens your chances of being safe, and it increases your chances of being injured. It didn’t look quite as bad as this train wreck from Puig’s first week in the bigs last year…

…but it appears to have had more of an effect, because Puig didn’t appear on Sunday or Tuesday — even as a replacement — and, I would imagine, probably isn’t starting tonight, either. (Detroit has Anibal Sanchez on the mound, a righty, so having lefties Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier around Matt Kemp makes sense.)

We know that he’s wearing a splint, similar to what Hanley Ramirez had last year. But we also know that when Ramirez hurt his thumb last year, he was out for over a month. When Dee Gordon hurt his thumb, also on a head first slide, back in 2012, he was out for over two months. Obviously, every injury is unique — Gordon’s included a dislocation, and I think we’d have heard about anything that serious with Puig by now if it were the case — and so just because his teammates had bad thumb injuries doesn’t mean that he does as well.

Still, after a day off tomorrow (ugh), the team heads off on a six-game road trip to Arizona and San Francisco (with yet another day off, double ugh). If Puig doesn’t show some improvement soon, at least proving he can take batting practice tonight, you wonder how long this can linger before it turns into a disabled list stint. And if it does, you hope that it’s just rest that’s required, nothing more serious. Speculation, of course. For now, that’s all we have.

In the meantime, there’s still no such thing as “too many outfielders” until there are. And remember, kids: never, ever slide head first.

Yasiel Puig benched for being late, and deservedly so

YasielPuigBattingPractice

Yasiel Puig was benched for being late to today’s home opener against the Giants and will be replaced in the lineup by Matt Kemp, who was just activated off the DL for today’s game.

How late was he? Late enough to miss batting practice.

Almost a couple hours then. Not helping himself.

This is not exactly a new thing for Puig, as the tardiness issue dates back to the reason he was benched last season.

I suspect many fans will not be happy about this, but while I love Puig and believe stuff involving him gets played up all the time, I support Don Mattingly in this decision. This is not the same as Bill Plaschke literally fabricating things to complain about, as Puig’s consistent tardiness in the face of the rest of the clubhouse is an issue that should be punished, and Mattingly has to think about the rest of the team.

Maybe there’s a reason for this, but if it was valid, surely Mattingly and staff would have understood. So for now, we can only hope that he fixes this issue going forward so it doesn’t become more of a problem.

Dodgers 3, Padres 2: Puig Smash

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Other things happened in tonight’s 3-2 win over San Diego, and we’ll get to them, but also this happened, and thanks to Chad for GIFing it out:

GIF Link

Good lord, that’s just not right.

After Carl Crawford led off the game with a single and then stole second, Puig stepped up against Ian Kennedy and destroyed a ball that was officially listed as having gone 410 feet, but which I assume really left his bat at 410 miles per hour. Puig added a single to left in the seventh and otherwise managed to get through the evening without lighting any babies on fire, so we’ll call that a successful night.

Also successful, for the most part, the Dodger pitching. Zack Greinke probably isn’t quite at full speed after his abbreviated spring, and he was good enough — if not particularly fantastic — in getting through five innings. No one’s complaining about only allowing two runs, of course, and he did strike out five along with allowing a Seth Smith homer. But the fifth inning was a struggle, for after a leadoff walk to Jedd Gyorko, a Will Venable single, and a Chris Denorfia fielder’s choice, his wild pitch brought in Gyorko with the second run.

But Greinke got through it, and Paco Rodriguez, Chris Withrow, and J.P. Howell got through their innings cleanly — though not without a little heartburn from Howell.

Kenley Jansen, finally entering in the ninth, made it interesting, because that’s what closers do, allowing singles to Yonder Alonso and Will Venable, and allowing Alonso to bring the tying run within 90 feet, then — after striking out Denorfia — walking Yasmani Grandal to load the bases with two outs. Fortunately, he struck out Nick Hundley to end it. Fortunately, because I like the Dodgers and want them to win baseball games. But also fortunately, because I didn’t want to rewrite this post and deal with fools who say that Jansen doesn’t have the “guts” to close, or whatever the narrative might be.

Now, here’s the downside: the middle of the order was punchless again. Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, and Andre Ethier combined to go 0-11 with a walk. In four games, Ramirez is 1-15 with two walks. Gonzalez is 1-13 with three walks. Ethier is 2-15 with two walks. It took a Juan Uribe double (and advancing to third on a bizarre error) followed by an A.J. Ellis walk and a Dee Gordon single in the 4th inning to drive the third run home. Through four games the Dodgers have scored just 14 runs.

They’re still 3-1, of course, and that’s all that matters. I think we just wouldn’t mind some baseball bashing from some other members of the lineup. Then again, it’s April 1. Let’s forget I even said anything.

There’s valid criticism of Yasiel Puig out there, but Bill Plaschke is delusional

YasielPuigToss

So last night after the game, I quipped that it would be hilarious if Bill Plaschke wrote a column today to somehow blame this game on Yasiel Puig.

I was being snarky, but he seriously tried to.

One of the few familiar sights at Petco was the play of Yasiel Puig, who encapsulated his 2013 struggles in the first inning alone, striking out wildly on three pitches and then overthrowing the cutoff man from right field.

In more Puig news — can there ever be enough? — there has been clarification on a report last week that Mattingly called a team meeting about Puig. Actually, it was Puig who summoned several players hanging around the clubhouse and asked them if anybody had a problem with the way he played.

One veteran spoke up. Then another. Both had the same problem, that Puig was playing too fast and loose with their championship hopes.

There is no sign yet that he has listened, but at least on this night, the losing story revolved around the older guys.
“It’s a hard one to swallow,” Wilson said shortly after a hopeful Dodgers nation quietly took the 2014 season’s first uncomfortable gulp.

Look, I know this was probably for page views so don’t click the whole article, but I had to address this.

Why? Cause it’s deluded. Hell, after the game I was mocking the fact that Puig had a boring game of hitting the cut-off man because of Plaschke’s previous column.


GIF Link

The fact is that Puig hit the cut-off man three times in a row in yesterday’s game. On the play Plaschke is talking about, Hanley Ramirez cut the ball and then dropped the ball and cost them an out either on the throw to third or at second.

But hey, maybe I’m the delusional one, right? So don’t take my word for it. Even ESPN, who has been pushing the “Puig is the worst” story all broadcast long, put the speculation on Hanley’s decision to cut the ball in the first place.

They even later pointed out that Hanley and Juan Uribe were debating it on the field.

HanleyRamirezJuanUribeWut

They later went in for a mound meeting to talk about it more after this stare down ended.

The broadcasters went on to speculate on Hanley’s decision, and even John Kruk described it as an “unbelievable throw” that was “right on the money” and mentioned that Hanley/Uribe had to communicate better. The broadcast team then spent the rest of the game nitpicking at Puig’s decision-making and plate discipline, so I’m sure they would have loved to drill him for this as well.

But they didn’t … because it’s nuts to think it was a reflection of Puig being some kind of uncontrollable animal or something.

So basically Plaschke is now saying he KNOWS Puig is at fault, even if the actual players involved blame themselves. Ugh.

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Look, I understand that the fan backlash towards the media for reporting concerns about Puig is overwhelming at times, and some of that is delusional as well. But it’s articles like this that made the fans so defensive against anything that happens with Puig’s situation to begin with. Because even when criticism of Puig is warranted and the concerns are real, how are we supposed to sort out what is trash (like this) and what is actually true? Especially if the thing we CAN see and confirm (play on the field) is lied about so blatantly. How are fans just supposed to later take your word that you’re not being equally deluded behind the scenes as well?

THAT is why people doubt reports. The columnists (and sometimes reporters) often do it to themselves by writing garbage like this or whining about Spring Training stats and alleged slumps that never happened.

Blame the fans for “having blinders on” all you want, but if the fans have them on, then it’s because certain media members have essentially rendered all of their Puig reports/articles/opinions moot by, ironically, “crying wolf” about him too often.

Congrats.

Yasiel Puig’s 2014 at the plate, regression, and his late-season ‘slump’

Via Dustin Nosler

Via Dustin Nosler

Most Dodgers fans are aware by now that Yasiel Puig is already at the center of a firestorm. And unfortunately, it is what it is no matter who you think is to blame. Puig isn’t doing himself any favors at the moment, and his name will always generate attention, so get used to the mess no matter what happens.

But at the end of the day, unless there’s some type of legal or Milton Bradley-esque meltdown, what it really comes down to with Puig is how he does on the field. Would anybody even care enough to criticize OR defend him if he was a mediocre player? Probably not. So Puig’s performance is what powers a lot of the attention, and while Daniel took a look at his baserunning value recently, I wanted to look at how his hitting might project for 2014.

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The word of the day when it comes to Yasiel Puig’s 2014 is “regression”. Expect it to be used a lot about him, and primarily because it’s the rational thing to expect.

The expectations in some quarters is that Puig will be able to build on his 2013, and that’s exactly why he’s considered overrated to many, because it’s unrealistic to expect that out of him. Personally, all I really want from him is something I would label a “consolidation year”, where he regresses a bit due to unsustainable BABIP but shows signs of combining his skills into a sustainable foundation that he can build with in the future.

His 2014 projections all reflect the inevitable regression from his 2013 BABIP, but they all also believe he will end up as a 4-5 WAR player.

System BA OBP SLG OPS BABIP
2013 .319 .391 .534 .925 .383
Steamer .288 .353 .493 .846 .327
ZiPS .284 .354 .485 .839 .326
PECOTA .288 .352 .488 .840 N/A
Oliver .292 .362 .512 .874 .347

As you can see, he’s still a quality hitter, but he’s not an elite one, and the batting average regression leads to lower overall slash line. His performance, in large part, is tied to how far his BABIP regresses, and according to his batted ball distribution, his expected BABIP in 2013 was .348. So if he’s the same hitter as last year, there’s evidence he might be closer to the always optimistic Oliver projection than anything else.

But I’m not all that worried about his BABIP regression. No, the real concern for me is that he probably should have struck out more than his line indicated.

YasielPuigPlateDiscipline2013

In short, he swings at too many pitches outside the strike zone, he doesn’t make enough contact when he does chase, and he just generally swings and misses way too much. That hasn’t mattered a ton so far, but it is a red flag as far as his progression at the plate goes, and it’s something to monitor in 2014.

So the prudent thing is to expect Puig to put up something like the Steamer/ZiPS/PECOTA lines and go from there. I get the general feeling that expectations with Puig are a bit out of whack at the moment, and even if you take the optimistic approach, you shouldn’t expect a hitter anything like the guy we saw in 2013. That doesn’t mean he’s not valuable, not at all, it’s just unfair to him if fans go around expecting a Cuban version of Mike Trout.

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So what about his late-season collapse though, right? Pitchers figured him out and just punished him, according to Bill Plaschke and other concern trolls.

Put simply, it’s garbage and insulting to MLB players. They “figured him out” in July or earlier because they’re MLB players and not idiots. Especially in July, they started to bust him early in the count up and in with hard stuff to get ahead, then made him chase soft stuff down and away. This should sound familiar to anybody who has observed Matt Kemp‘s career. But like Kemp, Puig made adjustments back.

Month OPS BB% K% BABIP
June 1.180 3.7 18.7 .500
July .789 7.6 29.5 .393
August .920 11.6 19.8 .385
September .786 10.6 22.2 .214

While everybody ironically hand-wrings over his unsustainable BABIP early, they seem to completely ignore that he had a .214 BABIP in that late-season “slump” and STILL posted a 121 OPS+, well above league average. That’s exactly why I made the case that his September was more promising than worrying, specifically because he managed to be productive without an insane amount of ground ball singles.

Also, that swing and miss rate I talked about earlier?

YasielPuigWhiffRate2013

It stabilized or improved late in the season, but listening to people talk about his performance at the end of the year, you’d think he was the absolute worst or something.

So they can sit there and pretend that they “saw it coming” or whatever if Puig gets off to a slow start, but there’s no evidence that his late-season “slump” was anything but BABIP-luck induced. You know, sort of like how many point out his early season success was BABIP-luck induced. It works both ways, but admitting his September/October were unlucky doesn’t fit the narrative.

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Most importantly, though, does any of this carry over into 2014? Who really knows? We hope his progress does, but we don’t really know what Puig has been or hasn’t been working on. He’s far far far far far from a complete player and has a lot to learn at the plate, but he DID learn last year over the course of the season. So if that carries over, he has a chance to put up sustainable numbers that will make him extremely valuable in 2014, even if he doesn’t end up outstanding.

The Value of Yasiel Puig’s Baserunning

(By: Dustin Nosler)

It’s fitting that I can’t figure out which way Puig is going to run in this photo. (Photo by Dustin Nosler)

Since the Dodgers departed Australia, a lot has been said about Yasiel Puig‘s demeanor on and off the field. Two baserunning mistakes that Puig made during the series’ concluding game sparked the discussion. During that game, Puig was caught between first and second after a single (which Kershaw did in game one) and was thrown out attempting to advance to third on a wild pitch. These gaffes have resulted in calls for Puig to be benched, and the familiar refrain of “Puig’s mistakes will cost the Dodgers wins” has returned once again.

(The intent of this article is to address Puig’s issues on the field. I’m not in a position to know about off-the-field issues, which have perked up once again.)

While the mistakes on the bases last weekend weren’t great and should be avoided in the future, it’s worth looking at Puig’s baserunning value from last season to add additional context to this discussion. It’s not like Puig making mistakes is something new. Below is a summary of evaluations of Puig’s baserunning value on the three main statistical sites.

Fangraphs

Weighted stolen base runs (wSB): -1.3
Ultimate Baserunning runs (UBR): -2.9
Total Baserunning Runs Above Average: -4.2

Fangraphs breaks down baserunning value into two categories: value added by steals (wSB), and value added by everything else that happens on the bases (UBR). Of the three major statistical websites, Fangraphs has the least favorable view of Puig’s baserunning. Despite that, the value “removed” by Puig on the bases is less than half of a win. Less than three runs were removed by Puig’s non-stolen base “decisions,” which is quantified in UBR.

Baseball Reference

Baserunning Runs Above Average: -2

Baseball reference does not surface their summation methods of baserunning value as clearly as the other sites. Instead, they choose to show only the total value, which is slightly better than what is found on Fangraphs. Baseball Reference’s value shows that Puig only cost the Dodgers 0.2 runs over an average player last year.

Baseball Prospectus

Ground Advancement Runs: +0.63
Stolen Base Runs: -1.00
Air Advancement Runs: -0.08
Hit Advancement Runs: +1.01
Other Advancement Runs: -0.01
Total Baserunning Runs Above Average: +0.6

Baseball Prospectus gives the most detailed breakdown of baserunning value, showing value added by advancement on ground balls, advancement on fly balls, advancement on passed balls (filed under “other”), and stolen bases. Even if stolen bases are included, Baseball Prospectus concludes that Puig added value with his baserunning last season.

While Puig’s baserunning value would be higher if he didn’t make as many mistakes, saying that he “costs the team games” on the bases is overly dramatic. The lowest of the three values above assesses him at 4.2 runs below average, and the highest has him slightly above average. The real answer is probably somewhere in the middle. If stolen base value is removed, focusing only on Puig’s decision-making on the basepaths, then his value looks even better.

Given how good Puig was last season, it’s pretty easy to forget that he hasn’t even played in the majors for a full year. He’s only played a season and a half of organized baseball since defecting from Cuba. He’s 23 years old and has reached base fewer than 200 times in his big league career. This level of experience means that he’s going to make mistakes every once in a while. Often times, those mistakes are made up for by taking extra bases and keeping defenders off-balance in other situations.

Even if Puig stopped making all mistakes, his value would not increase by a large amount. The highest baserunning value last season per Baseball Prospectus was Matt Carpenter, with a value of 8.4 runs above average (only 7.8 runs above Puig). Per Fangraphs, the site with the harshest evaluation of Puig’s baserunning, the highest baserunning value last season was Jacoby Ellsbury‘s +11.4 runs. Mike Trout was 8.1 runs above average. Andrew McCutchen was 5.1 runs above average. In the last 10 years, only fourteen rookies have produced baserunning value more than a win more than what Puig produced last season.

It’s easy to be focused on the negatives, but the Dodgers have only played two games this season. It’s too early to determine if Puig’s mistakes in game two were part of a larger pattern or two random events happening close to each other. Calling for Puig to be benched due to these on-field issues is premature, especially given the value that he adds elsewhere.