Yasiel Puig falling victim to the harmless popup

Look, this whole Yasiel Puig benching really shouldn’t be as big a deal as it’s being made out to be.

Yes, he should have run harder out of the box on his 371-foot single. The fact he didn’t did not alter the outcome of the game, but the lack of effort should not be ignored. Dave Roberts was right to pull him from the game … that is, as long as he holds other players accountable, too. Puig has a reputation, but that doesn’t mean other players should get a free pass.

Let’s look at a positive, though: He hit the ball hard in that at-bat. Another positive, he went to the opposite field. My expertise baseball analysis says he needs to do that more often.

He’s hitting the ball the opposite way at a 24.1 percent clip — second-lowest of his career (23.8 in 2014). He’s also hitting it softer than at any point of his career (24.1 percent this season, 17.3 percent coming into the season). Despite an above-average 91.1 MPH exit velocity, Puig is still making soft contact far too often.

This is, in large part, to an MLB-worst infield fly ball rate — you know, popups. Puig has a 29.1 percent IFFB%. If the season ended today, it would be the worst in recorded MLB history (back to 2002, as best I can tell). His rate is worse than Eric Byrnes‘ 26.7 percent in 2007 and worse than Billy Burns‘ 26.3 this season. Oddly enough, nine of the 20 worst IFFB% rates have come from hitters in 2016. That will probably even out at some point, but Puig is having the biggest problem of all.

The poor popup rate would be bearable if Puig were producing (on offense) overall, but his 84 wRC+ is good (bad) for 150th in baseball. One could look to his .289 BABIP that is slightly worse than league-average, but the fact he’s hitting so many popups negates any argument that he’s getting BABIP’d. I know Mike is an advocate for swinging at the first pitch, but the way Puig is going right now (48.3 first-pitch swing percentage), it might be best for him to take a pitch or two so that he can improve his pitch recognition. He’s clearly not seeing the ball well enough to be hitting so many popups. That and/or his swing is broken. But when he hit the ball off the right-field wall last night, that was as textbook as it gets.

Puig is far too talented to hit so many weak popups and to be producing 15 percent worse than league-average. The Dodgers need him to get better. They need to him to be closer to the player he was to begin the season. Hell, they need him to be the player he was last season. With many veterans struggling, it’d be quite a boost if Puig could step things up. Thankfully, the kids (Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, Trayce Thompson) and one older gent (Chase Utley) have produced well to help keep the Dodgers afloat.

So, Yasiel, stop hitting so many damn popups, run out of the box on a ball isn’t a no-doubter and take a pitch.

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.