I’ve been in Irvine (Orange County, about an hour or so south of Los Angeles) since 2011, so I’ve naturally been surrounded by fans of the Angels and Dodgers. Of course everyone wants Mike Trout on their team, but there have been several other players between both teams that I’ve envied in the past eight years. One of the most divisive was Yasiel Puig. Puig fought to get to America and found himself with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s had ups and downs over the years, but he took the league by storm in 2013 and 2014 with his explosive bat, his cannon arm, and his bombastic personality.
I wished Puig could be on my team, and at the end of 2018 it looked possible as he was leaving the Dodgers. Unfortunately, he went to the wrong part of Ohio and found himself in Cincinnati with the Reds. He played in 100 games and slashed .252/.302/.475 (wRC+ 95) before moving north to Cleveland in a blockbuster trade that saw Trevor Bauer sent to the Reds. Many noted that the real headliner of the trade was Franmil Reyes because of what he represented for the future of the Indians. But Yasiel Puig represented the present as the Tribe fought to snatch a playoff berth from the Twins.
Unfortunately, like his time in Cincinnati, Cleveland fans wound up ultimately a bit disappointed and wondering for what might have been.
The slugging disappeared
Puig’s worst slugging percentage in his career came in 2016 when it was .416, which was a far cry from the .534 and .480 that he posted in his first two years in the league. But even with the higher slugging percentages, he didn’t hit a lot of home runs (35 between both seasons). Puig was a gap man, hitting 58 doubles and 11 triples in those first two seasons. In the next two years, the home runs, doubles, and triples all dipped, which led many to believe that Puig wouldn’t live up to the hype in those first two seasons. He answered in 2017 and 2018 by finally hitting 20+ home runs each year. Hope was kindled, especially mine when the 2018 season came to a close and the thought of Puig patrolling right field in Cleveland kept popping up in my mind. And in Cincinnati, his slugging was up at .475 and included 22 home runs. Perfect acquisition at the deadline. But once he got to Cleveland, his power evaporated once again. The doubles were there (he hit the same amount in Cleveland as he did in Cincinnati in about half the plate appearances), but the home runs weren’t. Puig went yard just twice while wearing a Cleveland Indians’ uniform. The first of which was this beauty:
His second and final home run for the Tribe came about a week later in New York when he hit a 101.2 mph frozen rope over the wall in right. Who knows how many he would have hit given a full season with the Tribe? I’d sure like to find out.
Puig reminded us all that baseball is a lot of fun
Puig was only with the Indians for a couple of months, but his personality came out in the best ways possible even if he wasn’t hitting dingers every other day. The day before his first home run with the Indians, Puig went 3-for-5 against the Twins and helped to pull the Tribe even with Minnesota at 70-46 for the season. We all know how the rest of the year ended up, but dammit if Puig didn’t make us all love him:
Puig embodies the type of player that you love to have on your team but probably loathe if you are facing him. And a lot of Tribe fans will focus on the lack of power from Puig, but he actually wasn’t bad during his time in Cleveland. Across 207 plate appearances in 49 games, Puig slashed .297/.377/.423 (wRC+ 112). For a team that was lifeless at the plate for the first few months of the season, adding Puig into the mix suddenly turned the lineup into one that had very few holes (that will happen when your Opening Day lineup consists of Leonys Martin, Hanley Ramirez, Eric Stamets, and Brad Miller).
Puig has been one of my favorite players for several years, and the pipe dream of him playing in Cleveland came true, if only for a little bit. There’s not a guarantee that he won’t be back in 2020, but the general consensus is that some team will pay him more than the Indians will be willing to. I hope I’m wrong.