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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 2013Yasiel Puig
Mishandling ball after safe hit6
Ball bounces off glove4
Failed dive for fly ball/line drive3
Bad Route2
Wasted throw after hit/error2
Failing to anticipate the wall1
Failure to yield1
Offline throw after hit1
Throw toward wrong base1
Wall difficulties1

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.

Gerardo Parra3618
Yasiel Puig1017
Marlon Byrd1213
Shane Victorino2412
David Lough1012
Josh Reddick1311
Jay Bruce1810
Norichika Aoki1310
Jason Heyward157
Cody Ross152

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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