CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (02/10)
<< Previous Column
Pebble Hunting: Watchi... (02/04)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Im... (02/12)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Perfect Game Presents:... (02/10)

February 10, 2014

Pebble Hunting

Yasiel Puig and the Prototypical Young Hitter

by Sam Miller

When you think of a young hitter, you probably imagine a kid who can catch up to a fastball but struggles to lay off breaking balls and off-speed stuff outside the zone. There’s no “used to be a thrower but now he’s a pitcher” equivalent for hitters, but if there was it would likely be used to describe a batter who learned how to lay off tough sliders. When Yasiel Puig came up last year and couldn’t lay off sliders, and teams responded by throwing him sliders, it surprised nobody.

There’s some confirmation bias at work here. Try as we might not to, there’s a tendency to create cultural profiles for players, and also to create age profiles for players, and probably also to create behavioral profiles for players. So Puig—young, by appearances a bit out of control, Latin—seems to the prejudiced mind to be a guy who would be a free-swinger, and perhaps a guy who would swing and miss at sliders out of the zone. And he is, and he does! Just don’t throw that guy a fastball and you’ll be fine.

And yet, the surprise is that fastballs are actually, arguably, possibly, Puig’s relative weakness. Last year, when Puig swung at a fastball—which here includes four- and two-seamers and cutters—he whiffed 29 percent of the time. This is terribly high. Batters who took swings at Craig Kimbrel fastballs last year whiffed only 25 percent of the time. Thanks to Puig's near-impossible BABIP on grounders, his results on fastballs were credible, but his isolated power—.151—was low.

This is very odd for a young player. Since 2009, there have been 26 players who got 350 plate appearances or more in an age-22 season. Puig’s whiff/swing rate on fastballs was the worst of them; only Oswaldo Arcia (28 percent) and Mike Stanton (26 percent) were close, and only one other player (Jason Heyward) whiffed on more than a fifth of his fastball swings.

Now, Puig also whiffs more than most players on breaking balls and off-speed pitches. His whiff rate on fastballs was only 72 percent as high as his whiff rate on breaking and off-speed pitches. But that figure—72 percent—is way higher than the typical 22-year-old. Pablo Sandoval, amazingly, whiffed more often on fastballs than on breaking and off-speed pitches. But otherwise, since 2009, Puig stands alone:

22-Year-Old FB/Non-FB Whiff ratio
Sandoval 1.38
Puig 0.72
Hosmer 0.69
Beckham 0.69
Arcia 0.68
Rizzo 0.63
Stanton 0.58
Heyward 0.56
Myers 0.52
Tabata 0.52
Freeman 0.51
McCutchen 0.51
Parra 0.51
Franklin 0.49
Castro 0.49
Upton 0.49
Arenado 0.46
Lowrie 0.46
Andrus 0.43
Bruce 0.40
Rasmus 0.39
Cabrera 0.39
Montero 0.38
Altuve 0.32
Moustakas 0.32
Tejada 0.25

Puig is, in other words, not like the young hitter you imagine when you imagine a young hitter. Nick Franklin—that guy’s a 22-year-old hitter:

  • Fastballs: 21 percent whiff/swing
  • Breaking: 47 percent
  • Off-speed: 39 percent

Jesus Montero—that guy was a 22-year-old hitter:

  • Fastballs: 13 percent
  • Breaking: 34 percent
  • Off-speed: 34 percent

Justin Upton—that guy was a 22-year-old hitter:

  • Fastballs: 20 percent
  • Breaking: 37 percent
  • Off-speed: 45 percent

These feel like prototypical Young Hitter ratios, but as it turns out the "young" part of it seems to be a bad lead. Hitters don’t, it appears, change all that much with age. Our sample of 22-year-olds actually didn’t whiff any less often on breaking balls and off-speed pitches when they were 23. They did, however, whiff more often on fastballs than they had at 22—as a group and, in almost two-thirds of cases, individually. This isn’t close to an exhaustive sample, but if Puig follows his precedents, his troubles with fastballs could get even worse.

We tend to focus a lot on style. If we were pitching coaches or catchers, we’d have to. (And pitching coaches and catchers did; through July 22nd, Puig saw 57 percent fastballs, but from July 23rd on the league spiked that figure up to 62 percent.) But do we have to? Is there any reason to think that Puig’s particular style is significant? Should we conclude something important was happening in October, when postseason opponents threw Puig a whopping 65 percent fastballs—and he struck out 14 times and walked once in 41 plate appearances?

It’s tempting, from a narrative standpoint. Fastballs are the foundation of a pitcher’s plan. If establishing the fastball is so important for pitchers, why should it be any less important for Puig to establish that he can handle the fastball?

But we also know that good hitters come in all styles, and swing-and-miss is no disqualification to stardom. Chris Davis was one of the few players last year who whiffed nearly as often on fastballs as Puig. He survived.

In 2011 and 2012, there were a total of 45 hitters who whiffed on at least 25 percent of their fastball swings (minimum 200 swings) in either season. Seven didn’t get a significant amount of playing time the following season (one retired), and the remaining 38 underperformed their PECOTA-projected True Average the following season by about seven points. It’s a group that includes severe disappointments—B.J. Upton, J.P. Arencibia, Danny Espinosa—but also breakout stars: Brandon Moss, Chris Davis, along with the continued excellence of Giancarlo Stanton (who outperformed PECOTA each of the past two seasons).

So maybe it matters, maybe it doesn’t. All things considered, I’d take the guy who can hit fastballs instead of the guy who can’t. But, all things considered, it’s never possible to consider all things.

(Notable: In 2011, there were 20 players who whiffed on a quarter of their fastball swings. In 2012 there were 25. In 2013, thirty freaking eight.)

Thanks to Dan Brooks and Brooks Baseball for research assistance.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Hitting,  Yasiel Puig

7 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links


Very interesting. I wonder what the change in FB whiff ratio was for Chris Davis, who made such a striking change in letting the ball travel, staying back, staying balanced...and is plenty big enough to hit the ball out of the park with this approach.

I don't know if Y/Y is the right way to measure it, since he really succeeded with this starting in August 2012, I think. But still would be neat to see.

Feb 10, 2014 06:55 AM
rating: 0

Is there a difference in the character or type of fastball that Puig swings and misses at than other young players ? Do his whiffs skew towards higher velocities or more movement ? And how does that compare to other young players cited ?

Feb 10, 2014 10:02 AM
rating: 0

Is this derived from pitch/fx data at Brooks? Is this data available for minor league players?

Feb 10, 2014 12:30 PM
rating: 0

Unsustainable this or that...can't hit a slider...can't hit fastballs...how did he possibly hit .319 over 300+ AB?

Feb 10, 2014 17:28 PM
rating: -1

Can you say ".383 BABIP"? I thought you could.

Feb 10, 2014 18:32 PM
rating: 1

Puig keeper league owner here. I live in the LA area and have watched Puig play live, while there are many things that frustrate me about Puig he is FUN to watch.

I went and looked at his spray charts for last year:


If you un-check the FBs and PUs the spray chart is troubling to say the least. He has just a handful of linedrives to OF and while it looks like he's a ++bunter down the third base line, if you watch him play you know he has way too many of these "barely/awkwardly made contact infield hits" that are hit to such a funky place that his speed gets him to first on time.

This year is going to be an interesting year for Puig. I'll be watching.

Feb 11, 2014 06:31 AM
rating: 0
Pat Folz

That rise in fastball-whiffing hitters mentioned in the last line is fascinating. Parks said a few times that he thought there were more bad hitters in MLB than ever, while I've been more in the Pitchers Are Better Than Ever camp. Either way, we're suddenly in a pitching-dominated era, and we ought to figure out why. I don't think the problem is intractable, and I think sorting out the source of that rise might be a good start, acknowledging that 20-40 out of I think ~500 qualified players isn't a ton to go on.

E.g. we know that pitcher velocity has gone up over the last 5 years or so, and velo correlates with Ks of course, but I couldn't easily find how velo correlates with whiff%... but assuming it does, one could figure out how many hitters one might "expect" to whiff 20% in a given year and go from there.

Feb 11, 2014 12:23 PM
rating: 0
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (02/10)
<< Previous Column
Pebble Hunting: Watchi... (02/04)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Im... (02/12)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Perfect Game Presents:... (02/10)

Fantasy Rounders: The Slump Buster
Premium Article What Scouts Are Saying: July 1, 2015
Premium Article Going Yard: Futures Game: USA Bats
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of Tuesday, June ...
Premium Article What You Need to Know: July 1, 2015
Premium Article Notes from the Field: July 1, 2015
Premium Article The Call-Up: Miguel Sano

Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Plenty of Arms Available
Premium Article Minor League Update: Caribbean Series Final
The Week in Quotes: February 3-9
Fantasy Article Fantasy Players to Target: Third Basemen
Fantasy Article State of the Position: Third Basemen
Fantasy Experts Mock Draft
Fantasy Article TTO Scoresheet Rankings

2014-02-12 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Importance of Top Prospe...
2014-02-12 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 3...
2014-02-11 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 3...
2014-02-10 - Pebble Hunting: Yasiel Puig and the Prototyp...
2014-02-10 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 3...
2014-02-07 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 3...
2014-02-06 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild Episode 3...

2014-02-24 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Position Players Who Cha...
2014-02-14 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Search for Yuni's Succes...
2014-02-12 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Importance of Top Prospe...
2014-02-10 - Pebble Hunting: Yasiel Puig and the Prototyp...
2014-02-04 - Pebble Hunting: Watching the Worst Game of 2...
2014-01-31 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Opt-Out Hater's Case for...
2014-01-28 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Who's Faster, Mike Trout or ...

2014-07-30 - Premium Article Moonshot: Separating the Phenoms Who'll Make...
2014-02-26 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Introducing the Attackabilit...