Yasiel Puig is one of the most fascinating players we've seen in a long time, for many reasons: His seven-year, $42 million contract that many believed was a huge overpay by the Dodgers, his quick rise to the big leagues, his amazing athleticism, that hot start, the controversies that he has rubbed opponents the wrong way, the reprimands from manager Don Mattingly ... what a whirlwind few months it has been for the 22-year-old Cuban.
As good as he has been at the plate -- .340/.404/.556 with 16 home runs in 87 games -- it's his play in the field that is simultaneously dynamic and frustrating. Maybe no player since the young Vladimir Guerrero has made as many great plays undermined by those that drive a manager crazy. What's the net result? We'll get there in a second.
First, let's look at some of his best and worst plays on defense. Scott Spratt of Baseball Info Solutions looked up Puig's five best and five worst plays on defense, as evaluated by BIS' Plus/Minus system, which values each play based on what percentage of similar balls were caught.
Five best plays
1. Aug. 12: Daniel Murphy lines out to Puig, who catches the ball on the warning track in deep right-center. This doesn't factor into the plus/minus system, but the play came with the bases loaded and two outs. He made this play look easy.
2. July 22: Puig jumps and crashes into the wall to rob J.P. Arencibia. Holy cow ... Puig was playing center field here. Look how far he ran. Look at the raw speed. And then the wall. Probably not the smartest play since the Dodgers were up 14-5 at the time.
As Scott pointed out, these plays don't include any of the great throws Puig has made. Like this one or this one or this one from his first game. (Puig has seven assists, fourth among NL right fielders.)
We don't have direct links for his five worst plays, but here are the descriptions.
Five worst plays
1. July 10: Cliff Pennington lines a ball that hits off Puig's glove.
2. Aug. 5: Fearing a collision with the wall, Puig pulls up, allowing a Carlos Beltran deep fly to drop.
3. Aug. 31: Puig gets turned around on Rene Rivera's fly ball that hits off the wall. (This was right before the second throw above, when Puig then threw out Rivera at home.)
4. June 24: Puig doesn't catch Buster Posey's fly ball at the wall.
5. Aug. 9: Jerry Hairston and Puig let Wil Myers' pop fly drop.
Now, those are plays Puig failed to make, which are different from the errors (he has made four) or throws to the wrong base or missing cutoff guys. There also was the Aug. 28 game against the Cubs, in which Mattingly removed Puig in the fifth inning, citing the player's effort. This story has video of Puig's effort that day, which included two catches made in the outfield where he loped after the ball.
"I talk to him like I talk to my kids, honestly," Mattingly said that day. "I try to be honest and represent the whole ballclub with the decisions I make and I feel, in a sense, it was in the best interests of the team."
As to the misplays on defense, Baseball Info Solutions tracks those as well. Puig has been credited with 25 good fielding plays and 22 defensive misplays and errors -- both are high totals (at one point a couple of weeks ago he led all outfielders in both categories since his recall), confirming the perception that he's mixing in a lot of great plays with bad plays and mistakes in judgment.
Overall, BIS gives a positive evaluation to Puig's defense, 9 Defensive Runs Saved. Other metrics, which don't have the detailed video analysis that BIS employs, are also positive: plus-8 in Total Zone, plus-3 in UZR.
In a sense, Puig is the opposite of Derek Jeter. Jeter made all the routine plays -- with the exception, of course, of a couple memorable highlights -- but rarely made the exceptional play and lacked the range of elite shortstops. But he earned a lot of praise -- and five Gold Glove Awards -- because you never saw him making mistakes.
Puig makes a lot of mistakes but also makes plays most right fielders don't. Of course, when we get to October and Puig makes a spectacular catch that maybe saves a run but then follows that up with a mental error that maybe costs the Dodgers a run, which play will be discussed and hammered the next morning?
There's no doubt Puig needs to rein in the recklessness -- that includes on the basepaths, where he has made 11 outs on the bases and is just 11-for-19 as a base stealer. Let's keep in mind he's a young player with little professional experience outside of Cuba. For some reason, there has been a trend to tear him down lately -- He showed up a few minutes late! Opponents don't like him! He showboats! The Dodgers better get him under control, or else! -- which the Dodgers aren't helping by making some of their issues with him public.
To me, the bottom line is the kid can play. If he's not a model citizen, well, he won't be the first great player who did things his own way. But let's be mindful he has been in the majors for just three months and is still learning a new culture both on and off the field. I can't wait to see what he does in October.