Yasmani’s Brand New Bag, ft. Yasiel Puig
I love it when a plan comes together to write an article about two (or more) players that I’ve mentally attached at the hip. The two Dodgers sluggers, Yasmani Grandal and Yasiel Puig, have long held my attention for being able to hit the ball so damn hard, yet have drawn my ire because they put the ball in the air so infrequently. Neither Puig nor Grandal will be mistaken for Joey Votto, Bryce Harper or Freddie Freeman when it comes to hitting a lot of line drives. Since 2015, Grandal (17.7%) and Puig (16.6%) rank in the bottom two percent of all qualified hitters in line drive percentage. Grandal, however, is in the 75th percentile for Hard%, a fact which sets the stage for our analysis and a quick peek into what’s going on with each of these hitters in 2018.
The Batted Ball Profiles
You didn’t think I was going to start this article without a chart touching on their batted ball profiles, did you?
Good, because I am. I’m quickly able to glean a lot of information from this. I can see that Puig is launching balls at the favorable angles (8-40°) at the same rate, if not slightly better, than he has in the past. Can you spot the glaring issue? Zero home runs and a .150 wOBA from that black bin. If you trace your eye down to the exit velocity chart below, we can see he’s not barreled anything this year in the air. No 97+ mph batted ball events. The Statcast leaderboard has him down for four total barrels which must have come on some line drives and ground balls.
With Grandal, we’re seeing something a little different. He’s hit almost nothing in the prime home run bin (black) and he’s hitting a lot more ground balls. Before we get to the worm-burners, it’s worth looking at a stark change with Yasmani Grandal to begin the year.
I won’t waste any more of your time: Grandal is pulling the ball. He’s pulling it in the air 60% of the time. This is good news because Yasmani Grandal has excellent power to the pull-field as well as centerfield. While he’s averaged a 32%/40%/28% fly ball distribution since 2015, it’s skewed to 60%/10%/30% in 2018. It could be small sample size, but it might also be a real change.
But there seems to be more evidence of this being a real change when we take a look at his ground balls. On the ground, he pulls the ball 69% of the time, up from his ~60% career average. Grandal, unlike Puig, can’t make a living trying to leg out medium-ish hard hit groundballs. His ~.230 BABIP on these various grounders pales in comparison to the .310 BABIP Puig runs on the same type of launch angles.
Take It Or Leave It
So what should we do with all this data and information? Burn it because we’ve only got 78 plate appearances for Grandal and 86 for Puig? Hardly. If you have any owners that are getting scared that Puig’s power outbreak last year might have been fluky, you could find yourself in a nice buy-low situation, especially if he doesn’t homer until May and you can start the narrative of “Puig hasn’t homered this month!” No reason to panic. Puig will start squaring up some air balls and the homers will come. While I’ve given up the dream that Puig will ever change his swing to get a little more loft into that groundball-making downward death chop that he puts on most of his balls, I’m confident the 25-30 HR power is real. You can see from perusing his little black boxes that he routinely runs an HR/BBE (batted ball event, you could say FB if you want) in the 40% range, so I’d still expect him to homer on four out of every 10 balls he hits at those launch angles. Similarly, he tends to homer on 15-20% of the balls hit between 16-24 degrees.
With Grandal, I think it’s worth monitoring this pull-field phenomenon he’s currently flashing. It’s certainly worked for Didi Gregorious, right? Didi, he who did not even crush balls with any real velocity or consistency before this April (bonus chart!). Grandal will be fun to revisit in a couple weeks to see whether his trends continue and if he can elevate any well-struck baseballs. For now, it feels like the pull-happy approach is causing him to roll over on more ground balls to his pull side(s). If you want to check back for yourself, feel free to use this tool as I make it available on my Tableau Public profile.