How Does Yasiel Puig Fit into Dodgers’ Current Outfield Plans?

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(Photo Credit: mlb.com)

Up until just a few days ago, it seemed as if the Dodgers‘ front office crew was looking to move outfielder Yasiel Puig to another club in hopes of acquiring a player or two who could conceivably upgrade the squad in the 2016 playoffs. While it was rumored the Brewers claimed Puig off waivers and were working on a trade centered around veteran Ryan Braun, both sides failed to reach an agreement, and the Dodgers eventually decided to pull Puig back onto the roster.

After a bit of deliberation surrounding his progress and behavior during his latest stint at Triple-A Oklahoma City, management opted to recall Puig on Friday, and skipper Dave Roberts didn’t hesitate to include him in the starting lineup, mainly because the Padres ran out lefty starter Clayton Richard. Yasiel just so happened to be 2-for-3 with a home run and a double in his career against Richard before the series opener.

For those not familiar with the Dodgers’ struggles against left-handed pitching, just as a reference point, the team is hitting a combined .260/.329/.436 in 37333 plate appearances against right-handed pitching, while slashing a paltry .220/.297/.340 in 1389 plate appearances against southpaws.

So the typical fan would probably guess that Puig would be an ideal platoon candidate in right field with either Andrew Toles or Josh Reddick, being in the lineup most of the time against lefty opposing starters. The problem with that theory, however, is that Yasiel surprisingly hits right-handed pitching a few ticks better. Over the course of his four-year career in the bigs, he’s hitting .291/.359/.473 against RHP and .281/.374/.454 against leftys. In 2014, there was a huge disparity, when he recorded a .307 batting average against right-handed pitching vs. a .258 average against southpaws. He was better against leftys last year in an abbreviated campaign, but looking at the broader scope of things, it’s really tough to tell which direction Puig is headed since he’s steadily regressed from his stellar rookie campaign in 2013.

A more relative breakdown on Puig is possibly dependent upon pitch type and opposition velocity, in addition to where he’s at in the pitch count. Basing a few observations from the naked eye alone, the traditional scouting report on the 25-year-old still seems to apply, where he crushes fastballs of average speed directly in the zone, while struggling with very hard fastballs up and just about any type of breaking pitch away. More importantly, he’s highly successful when ahead in the count, yet borderline ugly when behind — about 20 ticks lower than the MLB average.

Regardless, if we’re playing the numbers game, he’s still much more successful against southpaws than say Andre Ethier, Joc Pederson, Reddick or Toles, although Tolesy’s numbers reflect an extremely small sample size. Throwing statistical analysis out the door completely, many Puig fans still believe that he can revert back to the electric player he was in his rookie season. In the early part of 2016, he showed extraordinary promise with both his production at the dish and defensive prowess, only to start deflating once his troubling hamstring problems returned.

All that being said, especially considering the expanded roster, it’s safe to guess that Puig will see an adequate amount of time against lefty starters, so long as he maintains an acceptable level of behavior in the clubhouse and relatively mistake-free play on the diamond. With Howie Kendrick, Pederson and Toles making strong cases for everyday play, coupled with the potential return of Ethier and the hungry attitudes of Rob SegedinEnrique Hernandez and Reddick, steady playing time in the outfield will be at a premium down the stretch.

In the same breath, if Yasiel can capitalize on the opportunities that he’s given over the next several weeks and show the form of the budding superstar he was just a few years ago, there’s no doubt he could be a key contributor for the Dodgers in the postseason.

 

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