Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Yasiel Puig Rorschach test

Yasiel Puig misplays a base hit in the fifth inning
Friday night for his second error of the game.
The Los Angeles Dodgers played a really bad, no-good, horsebleep, rotten game on Friday night. Yasiel Puig was part of the problem.

So was just about everybody who took the field for L.A. — the Dodgers got just two hits, and likely Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw was ineffective — but Puig made some early and obvious mistakes in the field as the Cardinals jumped to a fat lead and carried away the NL pennant.

Had Puig played a perfectly clean game in the field, the Dodgers would still have lost Game 6, and with it the National League Championship Series. He didn't play a clean game. And because he is who he is, it was noticed.

Puig spent the season in the spotlight — his controversial contract as a Cuban defector from the free-spending Dodgers; his dominating spring training; his call-up in early June; his .391 batting average at the All-Star break; his .273 batting average after the break. He came to the Dodgers when the team was in the basement; the team's emergence as the power in the NL West largely coincided with his arrival.

His admirers love his gusto, his enthusiasm, his exposed emotions on the field. His detractors deride his frequent mental errors and, yes, his exposed emotions on the field.

Puig is a rare talent, somewhat reminiscent of Bo Jackson. Jackson did things we'd never seen — and could also look like he'd never seen a baseball game. For all his magnificent talent, Jackson was never a truly great baseball player. A great player doesn't just do one spectacular thing a week. He grinds out good play six or seven days a week and mixes in the did-you-see-that stuff.

Puig might get to that point someday. He's not there now.

The reaction to this man and his emergence was been interesting. There are the old-schoolers — self-righteous "protectors of the game"— who want him reined in and forced into a cookie-cutter mold. On the opposite side are his defenders, who often come from a sabermetric camp that routinely scoffs at talk of "doing the little things right." They frequently come off as having decided that chronically missing the cutoff man is no problem — and that any mention of Puig's blunders borders on ethnic insensitivity.

People look at Puig, and see what they want to see. An out-of-control "wild horse" on one hand, a refutation of stodgy baseball tradition on the other. It all says more about the viewer than about Puig.

Puig isn't a problem. He's a challenge. For the Dodgers, the challenge is to get him to refine his play, to strip out the miscues while keeping the passion and aggressiveness. For the rest of the league, the challenge is to cope with the talent he brings to bear.

Everything else is just nonsense.

1 comment:

  1. You are spot on re Puig....he is a real talent that needs some veteran seasoning. Bo Jackson is the fastest person I have ever seen run the bases....he was incredible, especially accelerating.