Did Dodgers’ Right Fielder Yasiel Puig Lack Fundamentals on Defense Last Season?

Los Angeles Dodgers’ right fielder Yasiel Puig emerged as an instant sensation when he debuted June 3rd in a Dodgers’ victory. A defector from Cuba, Puig immediately contributed to the Dodgers turnaround midseason from division bottom feeder to pennant contender. Puig made many “web gems” on defense, from outstanding throws to amazing catches; he showed no dearth of extravagant plays. Amidst Puig’s rise to stardom were critics who focused attention on his at-times lethargic play and perceived lack of fundamentals on defense. But was all the noise and critique surrounding his defense warranted? Digging into Yasiel Puig’s defensive misplays and errors will help determine if his perceived lack of fundamentals on defense was justified.

Yasiel Puig’s effort was brought into the discussion concerning his defense during the season, to the point that Dodgers manager Don Mattingly removed Puig after the fourth inning of a Dodgers victory in August. The exact reason for Puig’s removal wasn’t revealed, but Puig said after the game through an interpreter that he was not preparing well for each pitch on defense and that he understood manager Don Mattingly’s decision. While this supports the supposition that Puig at times struggled with his level of effort during the year, there is a distinct difference between the lack of effort Puig displayed and the absence of fundamentals on defense.

Concentrating on the categories in which Yasiel Puig had two or more Defensive Misplays or Errors (DMEs) isolates the actions where Puig made repeated mistakes during the season. There were five such types. These five areas accounted for more than three-quarters of all the defensive misplays that Puig accrued during the 2013 season:

Defensive Misplays/Errors in Right Field in 2013

Yasiel Puig

Mishandling ball after safe hit

6

Ball bounces off glove

4

Failed dive for fly ball/line drive

3

Bad Route

2

Wasted throw after hit/error

2

Failing to anticipate the wall

1

Failure to yield

1

Offline throw after hit

1

Throw toward wrong base

1

Wall difficulties

1

22

Despite these problem areas, Puig was ninth among all right fielders in saving runs for his team in 2013. In fact, Puig was far from the only right fielder among the top 10 in Defensive Runs Saved to have similar defensive misplays. Jay Bruce and Marlon Byrd had more cases of mishandling a ball after a safe hit and Josh Reddick had more wasted throws after hits. Each of those players saved more runs last season than Puig. Moreover the leader in Runs Saved last season, Diamondbacks’ outfielder Gerardo Parra had more misplays concerning failed dive attempts after fly balls and instances where the ball bounced off his glove than any right fielder among the top 10. Additionally Puig took fewer bad routes to balls than either Parra or Shane Victorino, who finished second in Runs Saved last season.

Total instances of DME types:
mishandling balls after safe hits, balls bouncing off gloves, failed dives for fly balls, bad routes, and wasted throws after hits and errors

Player

DRS

Total

Gerardo Parra

36

18

Yasiel Puig

10

17

Marlon Byrd

12

13

Shane Victorino

24

12

David Lough

10

12

Josh Reddick

13

11

Jay Bruce

18

10

Norichika Aoki

13

10

Jason Heyward

15

7

Cody Ross

15

2

The misplays Yasiel Puig committed in 2013 arguably reflect more on his judgment as a first-year major leaguer than his defensive fundamentals. The over aggressiveness displayed by Puig in the field may have led to his failed dive attempts as well as wasted throws on the bases resulting in the needless advancement of runners. Balls careening off his glove could potentially be a byproduct of his speed, enabling him to get closer to more balls in the air rather than letting those balls drop in front of him, which would have allowed him to play them cleanly. Conversely, Puig undeniably struggled last season with a high number of mishandled balls after hits and poor routes to balls. Nevertheless, his overall numbers in the five misplay categories did not vastly differ from other elite right fielders in the game.

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