Has Yasiel Puig turned the corner?

It’s hard to argue that Tuesday night’s game wasn’t among the most exciting games of the year for the Dodgers. I mean, when was the last time you can remember the Dodgers coming back from an 8-3 deficit to win? And while starter Chris Capuano and reliever Carlos Marmol tried their very best to bring a screeching halt the the Dodgers 4-game winning streak, the Dodger offense would have no part of that.

Trailing 8-6 in the top of the 8th inning, Dodger first baseman Adrian Gonzalez launched an absolute monster 3-run home run to straightaway center that had to be every bit of 430 feet. Two batters later, Andre Ethier followed with a solo shot to right to give the Dodgers a 10-8 lead and an eventual 10-9 victory.

But lost in the excitement of AGon’s and Ethier’s back-breaking blows to the Blue Jays was a simple at bat that in any other situation might have been meaningless, but was instead perhaps one of the most important at bats of the season. It was a seven-pitch walk issued to Yasiel Puig just prior to AGon’s blast.

If pitchers are going to allow base runners in front of Adrian Gonzalez, they will pay for it. (Video capture courtesy of KCAL 9)

If pitchers are going to allow base runners in front of Adrian Gonzalez, they will pay.
(Video capture courtesy of KCAL 9)

How can a walk be considered one of the most important at bats of the season? Because Puig has been completely lost at the plate and has been striking out on pitches not just a little off the plate but way off the plate. And while hitting coaches Mark McGwire and John Valintin have undoubtedly been working long hours trying to get Puig back to the dominant hitter that he was when he first arrived nearly two months ago, the one thing that they cannot teach him is plate discipline and laying off those sliders that are often a foot or more off the plate. The only person who can teach this to Puig is Puig himself and the only way to do it is by taking these pitches.

With Puig flailing away at pitches off the plate, why on earth would a pitcher throw Puig a strike, especially on the first pitch since he is a notorious first pitch swinger? Or at least he was a first pitch swinger. If Puig begins taking these pitches and starts drawing walks, opposing pitchers will have no choice but to start throwing strikes to him – and we all know what happens when they do that.

If Puig begins taking pitches  that are out of the zone, pitchers will have to throw strikes to him. (Photo credit - )

The only way that Puig is going to start seeing good pitches to hit is if he begins taking pitches that are not. (AP photo)

This is exactly what Puig did in his 8th inning at bat. After taking the first pitch for a ball, Puig took strike one and swung and missed at strike two. He then took two balls, one of which was probably strike three but he got the call for ball three. After fouling the next pitch off, Puig took an inside pitch for ball four. Say what you will, but this was a huge at bat for Yasiel Puig.

And that 8th inning walk wasn’t the first successful at bat of the night for Yasiel either. After striking out horribly in the first inning (on sliders way off the plate), he hit the sixth pitch of his at bat in the 4th inning for an infield single, was hit by the first pitch in the 5th inning, and hit the second pitch in the 7th inning for another infield single (I’ll give him the regression on that at bat because he hit a curveball that was a strike).

When all was said and done, Puig went 2 for 3 on the night with 2 runs scored, a walk, a HBP and a strikeout. But most important, after his first inning strikeout, Puig showed very good plate discipline; the kind of plate discipline that is going to force pitchers to throw strikes to him or run the risk of walking him in front of Adrian Gonzalez – and that didn’t work out so well for the Blue Jays on Tuesday night.

If what we saw in Puig at bats on Tuesday evening are any indication of what is to come, it is quite possible that he has turned the corner on his painful slump. If that is the case… look out.

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11 Responses to “Has Yasiel Puig turned the corner?”

  1. bigbluebird says:

    I agree that he appears to be coming more selective but there always seems to be a regression at least in one at bat every game where he is up there swinging wildly at pitches out of the strike zone.

    I have noticed one additional thing that is a little disconcerting. He appears to be modifying his swing to make it shorter. He has reduced his power-producing hitch as well. That has produced more foul balls instead of misses and may be producing more contact in general but it has definitely come at the expense of his power and ability to drive the ball. Whether this shorter swing is the result of McGuire and Valentin or whether he is doing it himself, I don’t know. It will produce more opportunities to get on base by simply putting the ball in play like last night which is great, but the shorter contact swing shouldn’t be used all the time. He should pick his spots and counts for contact and for power, but not relying so much on the shortened swing which he appears to be doing recently. Adrian is a master at this choosing his count and pitch to pull out a big swing and he still receives a lot of passes making contact with selective power.

    Too much tinkering can kill a great natural swing. You can tell he is thinking at the plate trying to implement a strategy when he has these short check swings. Adding a contact swing is good to get the ball in play and take advantage of his speed but he should also maintain his natural power swing trying to focus on more patience. Selectivity comes with experience in dealing with specific pitchers, working the count, and doing his homework before the game. It would be great if he could implement a selective power and contact strategy like Adrian does but it will take time and may look ugly at the beginning. There is a lot more art here than science.

    • Ron Cervenka says:

      I believe that Puig must focus on taking pitches off the plate before he does anything else. When he does this, he will begin seeing better pitches, as this article suggests. Once this occurs, I believe that Puig must then focus on contact hitting before trying to hit for power. Once he begins making contact with success on a relatively regular basis (as he did last night), then and only then should he focus on hitting for power; much like Matt Kemp needs to do (and appeared to be doing before his bonehead injury). Once Puig begins making contact on a regular basis, the line drives and the power will come.

      I absolutely agree that a good (or great) hitter is one who has the ability to adjust their swing during each at bat as the situation and the count dictates, and your use of Andre Ethier is a very good example, as is Adrian Gonzalez. It makes me smile when I see Andre go to left field when he is facing a lefty or when he has two strikes on him. Trying to pull the ball out of the ballpark in those situations is the wrong thing to do and usually ends with an ugly strikeout.

      I believe that Puig absolutely needs to focus on making contact and putting the ball in play. As this begins to occur with success, his confidence will return. When this happens, his power will return. But I believe that going up there right now trying to jack everything out is a huge mistake. I am perfectly fine with Puig striking out once or even twice every game as long as he gets 2 or 3 hits every game. But going up there trying to hit 2 or 3 home runs every game is a recipe for disaster.

      • bigbluebird says:

        Yes, you see him very obviously trying to make those adjustments at the plate but it is pretty hard for such a young player to work pitchers when he hasn’t seen many of them before nor experienced how they are going to specifically pitch to him.

        I agree with you totally that he has to have a selective contact swing especially with his speed but he appears to have lost his opposite field power which was so impressive early on. His contact swing is producing a lot of balls pulled down the third base line which he wasn’t doing early on. He should have the contact swing and the big swing in the arsenal depending on the count and what the pitcher is giving him. Just seems right now that he is a little lost on when is the right time for either producing some awkward swings.

        Totally agree with Ethier. He has silently and without much fanfare improved his batting strategy. With all of the focus on Puig he really needed to step it up and he has.

  2. OldBrooklynFan says:

    I agree with you Ron, in regards to Puig adjusting to the way pitchers have discovered his weaknesses and in his last few ABs last night, he really showed improvement. As you say it helped him to concentrate on contact and laying off those outside pitches rather than swinging for the fences. I think we’ll see improvement in is discipline at the plate from now on.

  3. bigbluebird says:

    After last night I think he has definitely turned the corner! Couldn´t have hit the ball harder. Looked very confident at the plate.

    Now 1 1/2 games up!!!

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