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2020 “Puig-stakes” Preview

Yasiel Puig has had an interesting MLB career thus far, to say the least. The 28-year old went from budding superstar with the Los Angeles Dodgers to a bit of an afterthought between Cincinnati and Cleveland. The current value of Puig has been widely debated across baseball. It seems likely that some big market teams with cash to spare will gamble and put a big offer in for Puig. His boom or bust potential still raises concerns for big league teams, but could also lead to the ultimate payout.

Pros

Puig did not set the world on fire in Cincinnati, batting for just a .252 average. That average spiked after he was traded to Cleveland, posting a .297 average in 49 games in the American League. He also was one of just a few hot bats for the Indians down the stretch, hitting for a .349 average through September. Not only does Puig lock-in at crucial points in the season, but he continues to be productive in clutch moments. He batted .331 with runners in scoring position and could be fruitful in the middle of any lineup.

His sheer strength and power have wavered since entering the league in 2013. Puig’s exit velocity, according to Baseball Savant, resides in the middle of the pack among big leaguers. His wRC+ in 2019 tied a career-low of 101, the same number he posted in 2016. Despite the decline, that is still quality run production out of a player in the role that Puig has. Moving forward, it’s hard to imagine any team assumes Puig will be a star worth building around. That could be a good thing for Puig, as the pressure of being an elite run-producing, home run-hitting talent is much less than it was a few years ago. 

If nothing else, Puig’s cannon for an arm will be effective for any MLB outfield. He continues to showcase his arm strength, sometimes to a fault, but can save the occasional run or two with it.

Looking at his spray charts and heatmaps on FanGraphs, it is clear Puig continues to be a pull hitter that loves low and inside pitches. Despite some minor decline with his numbers since his LA debut, Puig’s skill set is certainly one that a major league ballclub will welcome. 

Cons

As mentioned, Puig has steadily declined since entering the league, at least according to the numbers. As already mentioned, his wRC+, and his second-lowest career WAR posted in 2019 with just a 1.2 (he recorded only a 1.0 in 2016).

Plate discipline has been somewhat up and down for Puig. With the eye test, Puig sometimes he looks like an elite hitter and is completely locked in. Other times he is totally off balance and swings at just about anything. FanGraphs has his O-Swing% at 34.2%, meaning he is swinging at over a third of the pitches that he sees that are outside the strike zone. That percentage is the worst since his first year in 2013. 

Of course, when talking about Puig, non-baseball factors must be considered. We all remember the fight between the Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates on the same night of Puig’s trade. Coincidence or not, Puig was the prizefighter of the mini NL Central scrap. He was in Cleveland a day later. We never heard a peep about Puig causing issues in Cleveland. However, who is to say they just didn’t keep things under wraps. 

His carelessness on the field continues to present issues as well. This breakdown from YouTube describes an incident earlier this year in a game against the Minnesota Twins

Puig tapped a dribbler back to pitcher Jake Odorizzi, and, instead of running it out, simply walks back to the dugout with the bat still in hand. Indians first baseman Carlos Santana got in his ear immediately. Not in a yelling, “you idiot!” kind of way. Rather, an encouraging sentiment from Santana that probably sounded something like “Hey man, we just don’t do that here”. Puig then laced an RBI-double his next at bat. 

It seems like for every good play Puig makes, there is an equally dumb one to follow. That kind of play is passable for those middle-of-the-road teams that don’t have high playoff hopes and are still finding an identity. However, if Puig hopes to resume playing for an October-determined club, he’ll have to clean things up.

Projected Contract

This continues to be the big question around Puig, especially if you are the Cleveland Indians. Cleveland has already expressed interest in bringing Puig back, but that could quickly change once a price tag is discovered. 

Puig joined Cincinnati last winter on a one-year, $9.7 million deal. Expect something similar for him moving forward. It seems unlikely that any team offers him a lengthy deal considering the amount of question marks around him as a player. The current market does not bode particularly well for guys like Puig, but a young team like the Blue Jays or White Sox (who both need OF help) could take a flyer on him hoping he can also mentor the younger players.

Overall, anticipate another one-year, “trial run” type deal for Puig this winter. 


Rocco Nuosci is a Baseball Writer for Overtime Heroics.

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