A year ago, Yasiel Puig took baseball by storm. In his first month in the big leagues, the Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder collected 44 hits, the second most for a new big leaguer behind Joe DiMaggio. Of course he cooled off from that ridiculous start, but by season’s end he had an excellent .319/.391/.534 batting line for a 160 wRC+.
Despite his phenomenal debut season, there were some holes in Puig’s game. His strikeout rate of 22.5 percent was very high, and he possessed the highest swinging strike of any player to receive at least 400 plate appearances at 16.9 percent. He offered at nearly 40 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone. In the NLCS, the St. Louis Cardinals did an excellent job of exploiting those holes and limited Puig to a .227/.261/.318 line in 23 plate appearances with 10 strikeouts.
This year Puig has closed those holes. He’s cut his swing rate by ten percentage points, and he’s offering at only a quarter of pitches outside of the strike zone, which is lower than the big league average. His swinging strike rate is down to 10.7 percent. Accordingly, his strikeout rate is a respectable 18.6 percent, and he’s walking at a 11.9 percent rate.
Meanwhile, he’s still hitting the ball with the same authority as before. Puig’s batting line of .335/.430/.591 comes out to a 187 wRC+, which is the second best mark in baseball behind Troy Tulowitzki. He’s totaled 3.2 fWAR, which is 6th in baseball.
All in all, the first 161 games of Yasiel Puig’s career ranks as one of the best starts in major league history. Only Frank Thomas and Fred Lynn have produced comparable numbers to start their careers. That doesn’t guarantee that he will be this good in the future. After all, Lynn was more of a solid player than a great one after his rookie season. Nevertheless, it’s remarkable what Puig has done.