The Los Angeles Dodgers boast one of the league’s most talented lineups from top to bottom, with a blend of youth and veterans that range from the likes of Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager to Curtis Granderson and Justin Turner.
The front office, headlined by president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi, has done an excellent job assembling depth and holding on to key prospects over the years– and the dividends are certainly paying off as the club inches closer to October with the best record in the Majors.
One name in particular that wasn’t expected to produce at the level he has this season, let alone reclaim his starting job in right field is Yasiel Puig, a fan favorite in Los Angeles and one of the more polarizing players around the league.
Puig, now in his fifth year with the organization, was prominently named in trade rumors over the previous two seasons. He was nearly dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers for Ryan Braun at the August 2016 waiver trade deadline.
Roughly a month before that, the 26-year-old saw himself demoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City as a result of the acquisition of Josh Reddick from the Oakland Athletics.
What a difference a year makes, as Puig is now considered a vital part to the Dodgers lineup going forward. In fact, a rival scout went as far as deeming the talented right fielder as a tough out at the plate, per Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball:
The same might have been said for Yasiel Puig last year, but as one rival said now, “He’s a tough out.” Hitting coach Turner Ward seems to have done a great job with him.
In addition to his elite defense, Puig’s surprising offensive resurgence has helped him become one of the more valuable two-way outfielders in the National League. In 561 plate appearances this season, he’s batting .262/.342/.483 with career highs in home runs (27), RBI (72) and stolen bases (15).
He has accumulated 3.4 Wins Above Replacement by Baseball Reference’s calculations, which is the third-best total in his career.
While Puig has struggled against left-handed pitching behind a .185/.319/.277 slash line in 144 trips to the plate, he has excelled against right-handers, hitting .286/.350/.548 in 417 plate appearances.
Only two home runs have come off a lefty, and all but 10 of his RBI this season have been driven in against righties. Puig has additionally added a new element to his game in the form of walks and plate discipline.
His 62 walks on the year are six short of a new career-best and his 11.1 walk percentage is the highest mark of his career. Puig has also cut back on swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, as evidenced by his 29.6 percent mark — two decimal points away from a new career-low.
With the aid of Dodgers hitting coach Turner Ward, Puig has elevated his game to a new level. As the regular season draws to a close, he figures to showcase his revitalized bat in front of a national audience during the postseason in the coming days and has the opportunity to help guide Los Angeles to its first World Series appearance in 29 years.