Coming off a season in which he was demoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City and lost the starting job in right field, what to expect from Yasiel Puig was somewhat of an unknown. He expressed a desire to again become an everyday player, whether with the Los Angeles Dodgers or another team.
Puig has not only become that, but been integral to the Dodgers’ success. He’s continued to play Gold-Glove caliber defense and put together arguably the most complete, well-rounded offensive season of his career.
That’s been despite finding himself in the unfamiliar role as a No. 8 hitter more times than not. Prior to this season, Puig had only made four career starts in that spot in the lineup. He’s started 56 of 99 games this season in the eight hole.
While the 26-year-old has steadily produced at the plate, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has decided against moving him up in the lineup.
He maintained that stance when questioned on the possibility Sunday, via Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times:
Roberts on keeping Puig at #8 despite Pederson's struggles: "Right now I'm not prepared to move Yasiel."
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) August 13, 2017
The probe was tied to Joc Pederson and his August slump. He has just one hit, four walks and seven strikeouts in 36 plate appearances over 11 games (nine starts) this month.
Pederson is batting .155/.250/.310 during the second half of the season. Roberts expressed confidence his young center fielder would emerge from the skid.
As for Puig, he’s hitting .253/.335/.466 with 13 doubles, one triple, 21 home runs and 55 RBI in 111 games. His previous career high in home runs was 19, set as a rookie in 2013. Correlated to his success is improved plate discipline.
Puig’s walk rate has increased from last year’s 6.5 percent to 11.2 percent this season, while his strikeout rate has dropped from 20.1 percent to 17.1 percent. Though, Puig’s swings at pitches outside of the zone remains at 30.7 percent, which is nearly identical to last season’s 30.6 percent.
Another factor Roberts has highlighted in Puig’s progression is a trusting relationship with Dodgers hitting coach Turner Ward. That’s evolved into Puig giving Ward a bear hug and planting a kiss on his cheek after hitting a home run.