Ian Kennedy on Yasiel Puig:
"He plays with a lot of arrogance," Kennedy said.
I don't think anyone can really dispute that. Though perhaps Dodger fans would use the word "self-assuredness" or "fire" or "cocksurinity." Puig plays with a lot of something. And it's alternately terrifying and fascinating. Here he is harassing the person with the ball, daring him to throw:
Here he is after winning an important game:
Arrogance, fire, whatever. Puig plays like the rules of physics don't apply to him. He plays like he's the first person to figure baseball out, as if he were a mathematician showing up, first day on the job, with a proof of Fermat's Last Theorem. He goads runners into running, fielders into throwing. He looks for the extra bag on a ball hit back to the pitcher. So when Kennedy says Puig plays with a lot of arrogance, it's like saying Puig plays with a pair of cleats. Everyone was already aware. And it doesn't have to be a bad thing.
Now, Puigmania isn't exactly simmering down. Dodger fans are still agog. There's still a chance for him to make the All-Star team, at which point everything will flare up again. He'll be the talk of the All-Star Game if he makes it, even if he gets just a single at-bat. But he's not hitting .450 anymore. His average dipped below .400 for the first time in his career after a 1-for-7 game Wednesday night, and he's hitting .293/.333/.439 in July. Fine numbers, but more Starling Marte than cyborg Joe DiMaggio.
Jeff Sullivan wrote about Puig here and had some interesting conclusions:
And look over at those contact rates — Puig was acceptably below-average before, but lately he’s been swinging and missing two-fifths of the time. We have contact-rate data going back to 2002, and since then, the only rates below 60% belong to Jared Sandberg and Aaron Harang. This year, baseball’s lowest rate belongs to Pedro Alvarez, at 64%. It’s probably not impossible to succeed while whiffing that often, but Puig’s been making it harder on himself.
And while the arrogance, the showmanship, the wait-what of Puig have been some of the most compelling parts, there are two possible scenarios:
1. Puig will never slump in his career;
2. Puig will slump in his career.
You can believe in the first one, if you want. I mean, Ted Williams hit .269 the first month after hitting .406 for a season, but maybe Puig will be the first player to never slump. He'll just keep doing this and rewriting the rules.
Just about everyone will accept the second one as a truism, though. Mike Trout slumps. Albert Pujols in his prime slumped. Barry Bonds slumped. Yasiel Puig will slump. It might be next year, of course, but he plays baseball. He'll slump. And this brings us to Fascination With Yasiel Puig, 2.0, in which we ask an interesting question:
What happens to the arrogance/fire when Yasiel Puig slumps?
Puig has failed at a baseball-related task before, you know. It's true! He couldn't hang on to a ball after backing into the wall:
Tough play, to be sure. It was a double, and for good reason. Can't expect a guy to make a catch when he slams into the wall.
Well, most of us can't expect it. Yasiel Puig expects it. And he absolutely wore the shame of not making a great play.
He can't believe it. He expected to run through the wall, grapple onto the back of the bleachers like Bionic Commando, and flip back over to land on home plate. And when he didn't, he looked disgusted with himself. The next stage of Yasiel Puig fascination is how he handles a slump with these kind of self-imposed expectations.
I promise, this isn't concern-trolling. This isn't me picking on Puig and chiding Dodgers fans just to get a rise. If I wanted to do that, I'd use single sentence paragraphs.
What happens when Puig can't?
What happens when Puig doesn't?
Reality check, that's what.
By definition, this story has been unreal.
When Dorothy woke up after the tornado hit, she questioned if her adventure was real in the first place.
Maybe Puig won't be able to convince himself.
No, I promise! But I'm curious to find out. Does he …
- Play just as hard, just as furious, sticking to his game at all costs?
- Dial it back a bit and get a little more deliberate, waiting to get hot again before he resumes playing like he has bees in his pants?
- Play twice as hard, going completely insane and swinging out of his shoes?
It's probably a spectrum. He's not suddenly going to become some sort of rage-monster, biting through bats after every strikeout. He might press a little, or he might dial it back a little. Or he might have just one setting, rain or shine.
Puig plays the game like no one I've ever seen. That part is already compelling. But now I want to see what happens when the game plays him like it does with everyone else. It doesn't have to come soon, but it'll come. And I have no idea what to expect.