Currently the topic of some heated debate here on Baseball Professor, some of us are all in on Yasiel Puig as a rare type of player, while others are screaming regression. His .436 batting average is the highest in any month among all first-year players since 1916 (min. 100 plate appearances), and Puig also joined Joe DiMaggio as the only players in baseball history to collect at least 40 hits and 4 home runs in his first calendar month in the majors. While he is obviously due for some kind of regression, the real question on everyone’s mind is how much regression should we expect?
It’s easy to say that Puig is going downhill from here because his BABIP is a ridiculous .500 and his HR/FB% is a crazy 33.33%. However, what do those numbers really mean? Will he hit .350 the rest of the way or .250? Does he really have 40 home run power or 20 home run power? There are a lot of gray areas when you say that regression is due, and Puig could easily “regress” while finishing as a top-5 batter for the rest of the season.
In order to best predict what kind of numbers he will put up, we need to take a look at Puig’s batting profile. Surprisingly, he is actually a groundball hitter and hits the ball on the ground almost twice as often as he hits in in the air (1.95 GB/FB). His LD%, however, is right around the league average at 20.5%. Normally it’s not a great sign for an average player to hit twice as many groundballs ans flyballs, but Puig is no average player.
His 14.6 IFH% (the amount of groundballs that end up as infield hits) is more than double the league average and his batting average on ground balls is an unreal .488!! The league average on ground balls is .229 and Puig is hitting more than double that! While there’s no way he continues to bat that high on grounders, he is lightning fast out of the box and will continue to rack up those infield hits at an elite rate.
Even though Puig’s 33.3 HR/FB% seems like an indicator of his power capabilities, it is more just a reflection of his low FB%. Hypothetically speaking, if he hit fly balls at a league average rate, his HR/FB% would represent a 21% decrease without touching his home run total. Puig’s HR/FB% will always be a little higher than normal due to the fact that he doesn’t hit a lot of fly balls, but there’s no way he can keep it at the crazy rate it is at now.
Looking at the classification of Puig’s home runs, 5 out of his 7 dingers have rated as “plenty” shots; homers that are comfortably over the wall, but not moonshots. His blasts have also average just 389 feet, which is not bad, but is under the league average. Despite hitting home runs at a pace of almost 40 HR per 600 PA, Puig’s stats portray a 20-25 HR season as a more accurate representation of his ability. Using his current FB%, hitting 25 HR over a full season would take a HR/FB% of about 21% which is realistic and he should hit more fly balls as he progress through his career.
Outlook for rest of 2013
I’ll spare you the complicated formula, but if you calculate his expected BABIP using more realistic batting ball data, it translates to .387, and that BABIP translates to a .312 AVG. It’s pretty huge gap considering his current .500 BABIP and .436 AVG, but it’s still way above average. So far this year only twenty qualified players are hitting better than .312, and only four of those players are outfielders.
Assuming he gets 300 more plate appearances by the end of the year, Puig would just have to hit .267 for the rest of the season to finish with a .312 AVG. I think he hits close to .300 for the remainder of the year, in which case he would finish with a batting average right around .335. Adjusting his projected steals, runs and RBI due to the expected decline in batting average and throwing in my home run predictions, his rest of the season line looks like this:
300 PA, 40 R, 15 HR, 35 RBI, 10 SB, .300 AVG
So far in 2013, only ONE player has reached 15 home runs and 10 steals, and that player is Carlos Gonzalez (who currently has 22 HR and 15 SB). The fact that Puig plays for the Dodgers will hurt his opportunities to drive in and score runs (only the Marlins have scored fewer runs as a team), but he will still more than make up for it in other categories.
Using the ESPN Player Rater to see how Puig stacks up against other fantasy all stars, I took the line I projected above and compared it against stats that have been accrued so far this season. Puig’s projected line would rank as the 37th overall player, 24th overall batter, and 13th overall outfielder. The projections above are for a half season (300 PA), and considering that we are right around the halfway point for the season, it’s completely reasonable to expect him to live up to those rankings. While regression is definitely due, I’ll still bank on Puig as a top 50 player and top 25 batter for the rest of the season.
What to do?
Right now I would be shopping Puig because his value will never be higher than it is right now. If you can trade him for a top-30 player I would take that deal and run; you remove all the risk in the trade by securing a more consistent, and proven, player. Somebody in your league will probably overpay (the ones who don’t read this article), but don’t worry if you can’t get anyone to take the bait. If you can’t sell high and maximize his value, just stick him in your lineup and enjoy getting top-50 numbers from a free agent pickup.