COMMENTARY | "It kind of reminds me of myself," Kemp said. "Sometimes he plays too hard. Sometimes you've got to tell him to calm down. You can't make every play. But you can't really change his game. That's the way he plays. That's how he's going to be successful and let's just hope he doesn't get hurt because we need him out on the field."
That's perhaps the most apt description of Yasiel Puig and his style of play one could make. The Cuban import has excited Los Angeles Dodgers' fans with his power, speed, and gun of a right arm. All-out aggressive play has garnered Puig labels like "spark plug" and "a shot of energy" for what has been an injury-plagued and floundering last-place team.
Clichés aside, he's been productive and his mistakes have yet to really bite the Dodgers in the rear end, though that doesn't mean they should be brushed aside and not addressed. He looks like he's going to be a great player even as his .484 BABIP continues to drop, but that doesn't mean he's immune to constructive criticism.
A Ricky Bobby-like mentality of "If you're not first, you're last" engulfs Yasiel's game. His excellent play thus far can't be allowed to overshadow his flaws and mistakes, as eventually those will catch up to him and the club and begin to cost them not just in that particular moment, but also in the win column.
All players can improve at all points in their career, and that is particularly true for young, raw players at the outset of their baseball journey who are living off of pure talent and the element of the unknown.
Puig has shown his greatest weakness on the basepaths. He's got fantastic speed and can steal plenty of bags, go first to third, and do the necessary things to be a successful runner. However, he has not shown great feel for when to be aggressive and when not to be while running.
Puig has attempted to stretch numerous singles into doubles and while it worked once he's been out by a mile as well on plays that even made the venerable Vin Scully cringe. Running the bases has been the one area where he hasn't been productive thus far, and if he continues to test his luck, teams will bait him into mistake after mistake.
Puig's got a rocket for an arm and the ability to make spectacular defensive plays with said arm as well as with his speed and a willingness to lay out on a fly ball. However, his all-or-nothing approach has already yielded a number of mistakes he'll need to work on correcting.
Puig's missed the cutoff man, taken poor routes to balls, misplayed them in the outfield, and run into the right-field wall at Dodger Stadium full-speed, ala Bryce Harper (in 2013) and Matt Kemp (in 2007).
There's a reason I didn't think Puig was the right guy to get called up if he was going to be in center field, but in a corner outfield spot you can live with poor routes if they're accompanied by a fantastic arm and offensive production. They have been thus far, but there's plenty of room for the young man to grow.
Like all young and aggressive hitters, Puig has been susceptible to breaking pitches low and away that catch little to none of the plate. He's stood too far from the plate at times, which has contributed to that weakness, but he's also made necessary adjustments during at-bats to make pitchers pay for low and away pitches that don't fall far enough away from the plate.
Puig has drawn just three walks in 23 games and 94 plate appearances against 18 strikeouts. A slugger whiffing 19.1 percent of the time isn't bad at all considering how prevalent the punch-out has become, but ManBearPuig will have to start working counts and drawing walks more than three percent of the time as pitchers adjust and feed him more sliders off of the plate. A well-rounded offensive arsenal is the best chance a hitter has to sustain greatness.
Yasiel doesn't need to be Joey Votto or Barry Bonds in terms of plate selection, but he must show the willingness to take a free base when it's given to him. If he doesn't, pitchers will continue to limit the amount of strikes he sees and while Puig will reach the ones that catch too much of the dish, his struggles will be prolonged.
During Kemp's 2010 season, any mistake he made was received as a sign of lazy play, of an unintelligent player making boneheaded decisions. Puig's mistakes have been received very differently, and while Kemp had a down 2010 and Puig has been spectacular, the underlying message should be the same.
Boneheaded plays made over and over again are a sign of something. Whatever you attribute that something to, one thing is certain: it must be corrected, especially if the mistake is easily avoidable. A mistake hurts the team regardless of whether the team wins or losses and it hurts the player's productivity and value.
The remedy for those mistakes, especially in Puig's case, is quite simple: being selectively aggressive. Old-school aficionados talk incessantly about "playing the game the right way." Well, the right way is not to be overly aggressive every second of every game, as it's unnecessary to be effective.
Yasiel Puig has already shown the ability to make adjustments, and if he aims to continue reigning over the baseball world, he and the Dodgers will need to rein in his aggressiveness.
Greg Zakwin is the founder of Plaschke, Thy Sweater Is Argyle, a Dodgers' and sports card blog. He writes with an analytical tilt about The Blue Crew at ChadMoriyama.com. You can find and follow him on Twitter @ArgyledPlaschke. A graduate of UCLA in 2011 with a Bachelor's in History, he's been a follower of the Dodgers since birth and still mourns the loss of both Mike Piazza and Carlos Santana.
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