Through the first two months of the season, Yasiel Puig looked like a superstar franchise player, as good -- and certainly as exciting -- as any position player in baseball. At the end of May, he was hitting .344/.436/.615 with 11 home runs, was drawing walks and making spectacular plays in the outfield. Sure, there were still some rough spots with the mistakes on the bases and some misplays in right field, but he looked like he was building upon his excellent rookie season.
But then the home runs stopped coming.
And lately he hasn't hit much of anything.
Since June 1, he has two home runs in 78 games -- or one fewer than Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner has hit on the season. Since Aug. 1, he's hitting .207 with no home runs and just three extra-base hits in 111 at-bats. The power has vanished. The Dodgers still hold a three-game lead over the Giants in the NL West as Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez have provided most of the punch, but Puig's struggles are a big reason L.A.’s offense has been middle-of-the-pack since the All-Star break and just 13th in the National League in home runs in the second half.
After Puig missed Saturday's game with a stomach virus, he was back in the lineup Sunday -- but hitting seventh, his lowest spot in the batting order in his career. "Yas is probably hitting where he should be hitting right now," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said before the game. "I think it's a place where you're not putting extra pressure on him. Who do you want the extra at-bat going to? Right now, that's not necessarily Yasiel."
Puig is still having a solid season overall, ranking fifth in the NL with his .382 OBP. But what has happened to the power he displayed in April and May? Let's start by looking at the pitches Puig has faced, to see if pitchers made some sort of adjustment.
Through May 31
Since June 1
So no real change in the mix of pitches. What about the location?
Through May 31
In the zone: 43.7%
Since June 1
In the zone: 45.0%
Again ... no dramatic differences here.
In looking at some of his totals against individual pitches, we see that he has really struggled against fastballs:
Versus fastballs, through May 31: .341/.437/.636, 14 BB, 13 SO, 6 HR in 88 AB
Versus fastballs, since June 1: .214/.311/.352, 20 BB, 38 SO, 1 HR in 145 AB
At the end of August, Mattingly told ESPNLA's Mark Saxon, "The season is long, and it wears you down. It's part of learning to regulate yourself here, as far as rest or anything else. We've seen Dee Gordon and how much more consistent his approach is day in and day out now, staying at a certain level. I think Yasiel's really emotional, and it's hard to be really emotional and play 162."
Mattingly seems to be suggesting Puig is tired. That could be the case; a tired batter would have trouble catching up to good heat. But I'm not sure that's the answer. Was he already tired by early June? Puig's breakdown of contact has also remained fairly consistent on ground balls, fly balls and line drives: 51/28/21 through May 31 and 54/27/19 since June 1.
The big difference has been the percentage of fly balls that have left the park (or not left the park): In the first two months, 24.4 percent of his fly balls were home runs, compared to just 3.2 percent since June 1. His average fly ball distance has deteriorated from 302 feet to 272.
Again, he could be tired. Or maybe the hip injury he suffered in early June has lingered more than Puig or the Dodgers are admitting. He left a game early June 8 and then missed a game the following day. On June 21, the hip flexor was bothering him enough that he was visibly limping during a game against the Padres.
Puig did hit well in July, at least for average -- .351, although with two home runs -- but it's possible the injury has flared up again. He hit well in July, just minus the power. Seems odd that Puig would suddenly start struggling against fastballs simply due to fatigue.
Whatever the reason, the Dodgers need Puig to start producing. His ability to get on base in front of Gonzalez and Kemp is what really made this lineup work. In the video above, Eric Karabell and I discuss the NL West race. I'm sticking with the Dodgers while Eric is going with the Giants. It's possible that Puig's bat -- and how he does in the six games remaining between the two teams -- will end up deciding the division title.