What Happened In 2014: Yasiel Puig is both the best and worst, depending on who you’re talking to. He’s overrated and underrated, depending on where you think he’s being rated. And he’s just a kid having fun out there or an immature idiot who’ll never learn, depending on whether he had three hits that day.
So much debate about him, and yet the most telling thing is that his critics don’t even bother speculating anymore whether he’ll be in the league in two years like they did before. Rather, the concern now is whether he’ll ever become a superstar. At 23 years old, the primary criticism after the 2014 playoffs was whether he’ll ever be that MVP cog on a World Series winning team. That says more about his place as a productive, All-Star caliber outfielder than any numbers I can cite, but I’ll do it anyway.
In his sophomore campaign, Puig posted a .296/.382/.480/.863 line, good for a 147 wRC+ that led the team among qualified batters. As I feared, his BABIP plummeted nearly 30 points, but he remained one of the better hitters in baseball by proving he was willing to learn and adjust to the ways pitchers were attacking him. Those adjustments led to a walk-rate spike (8.3%/10.5%) and a falling strikeout rate (22.5%/19.4%), and the deeper you went into his numbers, the more things made sense. One stat from 2013 that horrified me was his 16.9% swinging-strike rate, because it indicated that his strikeouts should balloon. But Puig reduced that to 11.5% in 2014, partially due to bringing his chase percentage down from 38.9% to 30.2% and his contact rate up around 7%. So people can talk about regression or struggles all they want, but Puig’s 2014 was a ridiculous success in my mind.
Puig’s peripherals in 2013 showed an extremely talented, but extremely lucky player. In 2014, he developed a sustainable profile to build on going forward, and he mitigated all concerns about sharp regression with improvement in basically all facets. Heck, even as people complained about his baserunning this year, there was noticeable, objective improvement. Throwing out his stealing of bases, which is obviously something that needs working on, the rest of his baserunning took a step forward from -2.9 UBR and 1.6 BRR in 2013 to 0.8 UBR and 3.3 BRR in 2014.
I mean, he even learned to slide a bit later in the year after looking like this while sliding early in the season:
Defensively, Puig did seem to take a step back. Going against the narrative last year, Puig played a plus right field in 2013. But in 2014 he was only above-average in right and was fringe-average in center, though he did show the potential to handle center and a willingness to switch positions for the team, which could come in handy down the road.
Whether it was in right or center, the flair for the dramatic was still there…
…but Puig needs to work on coming in on the ball, because he’s already quite proficient on retreating and moving laterally. The hand-wringing about cut-off men is almost entirely overblown, but his reads on balls hit in front of him is a legitimate area where he needs to improve.
2015 Status: Yasiel Puig is under contract with the Dodgers for four more seasons at the price of $24 million. Puig can opt into arbitration (probably after this year), which he’ll likely do, but he’s going to be an absolute steal regardless.
Puig put up a 5+ WAR season in 2014 and still only scratched the surface of what’s possible. Given his improvement in 2014, the hope has to be that he can continue to develop in 2015 and takes yet another step forward. It’s somewhat unfair to expect him to carry an offense when he’s surrounded by a $250 million roster, but thanks to the way the roster was constructed in the past, that’s the reality of the current situation.