In the Dodgers’ blowout victory against the Giants on Tuesday, Yasiel Puig went 3-for-5 with four RBI and two runs scored. On the whole, it was a very good game for him, and he was the offensive standout on a night when his team put up 13 runs. However, in the second of his five at bats, Puig grounded into a double play, giving him the unpleasant distinction of leading baseball in GIDPs so far this year.
Through the first 31 games of the season (30 of which he has started), Puig has grounded into 11 double plays (two in the series with the Padres). He hit into a total of 10 in 104 games played last season.
Puig’s not off to a great start offensively, in spite of being tied for team lead in home runs. At time of posting, he’s batting .243/.317/.405, and his wRC+ of 94 would be a career worst. Sure, a .259 BABIP is low, suggesting some amount of bad luck, and that’s certainly part of it. But there’s obviously more happening here, and the GIDP problem is a key part of his overall struggles.
So … what’s going on?
Puig’s hitting the ball on the ground
Puig’s always been a ground ball hitter. That’s especially true so far this season, as his ground ball rate of 53.3 percent is nearly 9 percent higher than league average. He knows this is something he has to work on, or so this quote from Opening Day would suggest:
“What I think about is putting the ball in the air,” Puig said through an interpreter. “Or else I’m going to have no money in my pocket.”
What’s interesting, though, is that Puig’s fly ball rates have pretty much always lined up with about league average — in fact, this year, they’re slightly higher than league average (as was the case the last two seasons). The issue, rather, is that Puig isn’t hitting enough line drives. Puig’s line drive rate of 13.3 percent is well below the league average of 20.1. It’s also down about 3-4 percent from his past two seasons.
Puig apparently worked on his swing in Spring Training of this year to try to change that. Travis Sawchik of FanGraphs noted in April that “last season Puig’s bat plane appeared flatter and his swing seemed more upper-body dependent,” whereas, in his two Opening Day home runs this year, there was considerably more “loft and lower-body involvement.”
Let’s look quickly at a couple of Puig’s recent swings:
It seems that Puig’s swing may have shifted back a bit, hindering his goal of elevation. But that’s clearly not the only reason for the GIDP problem.
He’s hitting the ball hard … sorta
Puig’s average exit velocity this year is 87.7 MPH, which is both slightly lower than it’s been in years past and also the same as the MLB average (87.7 MPH). His hard contact percentage is nearly the same as what it has been for the past two seasons (though his soft contact rate is way down and his medium contact rate is way up).
What of the GIDP balls, though? Well, six of Puig’s 11 GIDPs left the bat at 98 MPH or higher. This hardly seems fair — Puig stings the ball, and gets penalized. Again, though, that goes back to the elevation problem.
This brings us to this crucial point:
He’s hitting the ball right at people
Being a right-handed batter, it makes sense that most of Puig’s contact goes to the left side of the field, especially when you look at how he’s being pitched. (It’s largely fastballs down-and-away, as it has been for most of his career.) Indeed, nine of his 11 DPs have been hit to the left side, which is the optimal spot for double plays.
Now, this is consistent with rest of his career. It seems teams have just learned how to position themselves against him. Let’s look at the defensive graphs of a few of his double play balls, as provided by Baseball Savant:
5/2/17 vs. San Francisco: Yasiel Puig grounds into a double play, third baseman Christian Arroyo to second baseman Joe Panik to first baseman Buster Posey. Chris Taylor out at 2nd.
4/30/17 vs. Philadelphia: Yasiel Puig grounds into a double play, third baseman Maikel Franco to second baseman Cesar Hernandez to first baseman Tommy Joseph. Justin Turner out at 2nd.
4/22/17 at Arizona: Yasiel Puig grounds into a double play, third baseman Jake Lamb to second baseman Chris Owings to first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Justin Turner out at 2nd.
Notice how little movement the fielders need to get to the ball, suggesting good scouting on Puig.
Finally, while this may seem obvious, it’s also worth mentioning:
He’s hitting with people on base
You can’t hit into a double play if there’s no one on ahead of you. Puig’s had 126 plate appearances this season, and 22 of them have been what MLB.com classifies as “Grounded Into Double Play Opportunities.” That’s 17 percent of the time that Puig has come up with the opportunity to ground into a double play, which, though it is still just a month in, would be the highest rate of his career. Actually doing so half the time is a bit jarring, though.
Puig’s likely not going to break the single-season GIDP record (that’s 36, set by Jim Rice in 1984). His BABIP luck will shift at some point, though it might not reach the heights in years past if he’s being better positioned against. Rather, Puig’s best shot at helping his own cause is elevating the ball more, which likely means altering his swing plane to something more like what it was at the start of the season.