There's never a dull moment with Yasiel Puig. In Monday's game against the Angels, he made a nice running catch of a fly ball in right-center field and then nearly doubled Erick Aybar off first base, wagging his finger at Aybar as if to say "Don't even think of running on me."
Well, Albert Pujols did. In the eighth inning, Puig caught a ball in deep center and Pujols took advantage of Puig's casual effort in getting the ball back in, tagging from first base. Here are both highlights. The best part of the second play may have Vin Scully's call: "Puig kind of nonchalantly catching it and then realizes, 'What am I doing?' And Pujols says, 'What are you doing? You're gathering wool, that's what you're doing.'"
Gathering wool. Love it. (Also love the Angels mimicking Puig's finger wag.)
Scully just didn't pull the phrase out of thin air. The word woolgathering means "indulgence in idle daydreaming." The Merriam-Webster online dictionary writes,
"Woolgathering" once literally referred to the act of gathering loose tufts of wool that had gotten caught on bushes and fences as sheep passed by. Woolgatherers must have seemed to wander aimlessly, gaining little for their efforts, for in the mid-16th century "woolgathering" began to appear in figurative phrases such as "my wits (or my mind) went a-woolgathering" -- in other words, "my mind went wandering aimlessly." From there, it wasn't long before the word "woolgathering" came to suggest the act of indulging in purposeless mind-wandering.
May we all be going as strong at 86 as Scully.
By the way, Pujols' play is classic Albert, but not necessarily what we've seen from him in 2014. On July 19, John Dewan published a list of the worst baserunners of 2014, using a statistic called Net Gain, which includes both basestealing and advancements on hits and outs. The bottom five guys were:
Victor Martinez: -24
Brandon Phillips: -22
Alex Avila: -22
Billy Butler: -20
Albert Pujols: -20
FanGraphs' current leaderboard for worst baserunners is topped by Avila -5.9 runs, Eric Hosmer at -5.4 runs and David Ortiz and Adam Dunn at -5.1, with Pujols tied for eighth-worst with Martinez at -4.0 runs.
Indeed, Pujols has taken the extra base on a fly ball, wild pitch or passed ball just seven times so far this season, compared to his career high of 27 in 2010. He's taken the extra base on a hit (more than one base on a single or two on a double) just 34 percent of the time. That's up from 21 percent last year, when he was hobbled with the bad foot, but well below his 47 percent career rate.
So, you can maybe understand why Puig didn't expect Pujols to tag up.
Is Puig cutting down on his mistakes? Let's break his career into two-month segments and look at his Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays & Errors, as charted by Baseball Info Solutions.
June/July 2013: 15 GFP, 13 DME (10 misplays, three errors)
August/Sept. 2013: 15 GFP, 14 DME (12 misplays, two errors)
April/May 2014: 10 GFP, 16 DME (16 misplays, no errors)
June/July 2014: 5 GFP, 13 DME (11 misplays, two errors)
The June/July total includes the first few games of August.
As you can, Puig's rate of misplays hasn't dropped from last year. He's now playing center, but spent most of his time right field. The "leaders" in Defensive Misplays & Errors among right fielders:
Yasiel Puig: 26
Gerardo Parra: 21
Giancarlo Stanton: 21
Jayson Werth: 21
Marlon Byrd: 20
Alex Rios: 20
Puig's net difference between Good Fielding Plays & Defensive Plays & Errors is -11, tied with Torii Hunter for worst in the majors among right fielders. Nick Markakis has the best net difference at +16.
Here is the breakdown of Puig's misplays from Baseball Info Solutions:
Ball bounces off glove: 5
Failed dive for fly ball/line drive: 4
Wasted throw after hit/error: 4
Mishandling ball after hit: 3 (including one charged as an error)
Wasted throw after sac fly: 2
Overrunning the play: 2
Bad route: 1
Cutting off a better positioned fielder: 1
Failing to reach pop foul: 1
Letting a pop fly drop between fielders: 1
Throw to wrong base: 1
Giving up on a play: 1
You may think some of these misplays are unfair -- maybe the ball bounced off his glove after a long run, a ball other right fielders wouldn't have go to -- but clearly many of his mistakes are still mistakes of exuberance. As teammate A.J. Ellis said after Monday's game, "He came straight to the big leagues, and he's still learning things. Hopefully, when you make a mental mistake, you'll never make it again."
Puig does make up for some of his mistakes with plus range; his overall Defensive Runs Saved is zero (compared to Hunter's MLB-worst -14).
But the perception of Puig has an exciting but erratic outfielder seems to still hold.