Yasiel Puig hit .436 in his first month in the majors, the highest batting average of any player in June. He also hit .500 on balls in play, which is certainly unsustainable over a full season. Put it this way: A little luck has to go into hitting .400, even in a calendar month, or we'd have more players routinely hitting that mark. Since 2010, there have been only 19 instances of a player hitting .400 for a calendar month (minimum 100 plate appearances), so it happens, on average, about once a month (19 times in 21 months).
But how lucky was Puig? ESPN Stats and Info keeps track of "well-hit" average, the percentage of at-bats ending with a hard-hit ball, based on video review of every at-bat. Puig's well-hit average in June? A mere .188, which ranked 78th in the majors, below Luis Valbuena's .190. Luis Valbuena hit .190 in June, which is not the same as hitting .436.
Now, well-hit average admittedly contains subjective analysis; and well-hit averages are generally lower than regular batting average -- Miguel Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen, for example, were the only players with a well-hit average above .300 in June.
Mark Simon tells me that only 7-8 percent of groundballs are classified as well-hit, and Puig does hit a lot of groundballs; his groundball percentage of balls in play was 54 percent, 25th-highest in June. With the exception of Mark Trumbo, most players with similar rates wouldn't be classified as power hitters.
So what gives? I had to look at each of Puig's 44 hits to see what was going on. Listed first is the description from our tracking system followed by my commentary after watching each hit.
1. 2-2 -- Fly ball single on a 77 mph changeup -- low
-- Soft dunk into left-center field.
2. 0-1 -- Ground ball single on an 88 mph fastball -- over the plate
-- Two-hopper off the glove of first baseman Kyle Blanks; play should have been made.
3. 1-0 -- Line drive double on a 92 mph fastball -- over the plate
-- Liner into the right-field corner. Nice piece of hitting on an outside pitch.
4. 0-0 -- Fly ball home run (443 ft) on an 85 mph changeup -- over the plate
-- Crushed to left-center. Vin Scully: "Havana, Cuba has arrived." (Listening to Vin describe most of these hits was worth the time just by itself.)
5. 1-0 -- Fly ball home run (379 ft) on a 94 mph fastball -- over the plate
-- Took Tyson Ross to the opposite field.
6. 0-1 -- Ground ball single on an 89 mph sinker -- over the plate
-- Single into left field.
7. 0-0 -- Fly ball home run (401 ft) on an 81 mph slider -- over the plate
-- Grand slam homer off Cory Gearrin to right-center on a pitch left in the middle of the plate.
8. 0-1 -- Fly ball home run (385 ft) on a 72 mph curveball -- over the plate
-- Big, slow curve from Paul Maholm that Puig hit out to left. Love the reaction from Maholm shaking his head, half-smiling. A look, just a few games into Puig’s career, of: How do we get this guy out?
9. 1-1 -- Line-drive single on a 90 mph fastball -- over the plate
-- Low liner to right field.
10. 3-2 -- Ground ball single on a 95 mph fastball –- outside
-- High chopper over the pitcher’s head, Puig beats the throw from second baseman Dan Uggla. A speed hit.
11. 0-0 -- Line-drive single on a 91 mph fastball -- over the plate
-- Flare into left-center. Braves outfielders playing Puig very deep. Balls usually fall in when outfielders are playing that deep.
12. 1-0 -- Line-drive double on a 93 mph fastball -- over the plate
-- Liner into right-center. The Braves had no idea what to throw him at this point.
13. 1-2 -- Line-drive single on a 96 mph fastball -- over the plate
-- With Uggla shifted way over towards second base, a nice stroke to send a low liner into right.
14. 1-0 -- Ground ball single on a 92 mph fastball -- over the plate
-- Hard grounder into right field.
15. 0-0 -- Line-drive single on an 82 mph slider –- inside
-- Medium-soft liner into shallow left. Another first-pitch hit. In his first 19 at-bats, Puig swung at the first pitch 10 times. For the month, 15 of his 44 hits would come on the first pitch. On the season, Robinson Cano has the most first-pitch hits at 29.
16. 0-0 -- Line-drive single on a 91 mph fastball -- over the plate
-- Jammed a little on the pitch, but Puig was strong enough to send a medium-soft liner just over the second baseman’s head. Puig stands well off the plate, which is why we’re seeing a lot of pitches over the middle of the plate driven to right field. It reminds me of what Mike Schmidt once said about his approach to hitting. "I can step into any pitch and not get handcuffed by an inside strike. I can still reach anything on the outside corner and hit it hard to the opposite field. Middle of the plate and in, I can go long ball."
17. 0-0 -- Line-drive single on an 82 mph curveball -- over the plate
-- Ripped into left field.
18. 0-0 -- Bunt grounder single on an 88 mph fastball -- over the plate
-- Bunt single to second base. Beautiful.
19. 0-0 -- Ground ball single on a 93 mph fastball -- over the plate
-- High chopper over third baseman’s head for an infield hit. Pedro Alvarez was playing in, probably due to the bunt earlier in the game. Another first-pitch hit.
20. 1-0 -- Ground ball single on an 81 mph slider -- over the plate
-- Hard grounder between third base and shortstop.
21. 1-2 -- Ground ball single on a 97 mph fastball -- inside
-- Jammed on a Gerrit Cole fastball, but hit enough up the middle to sneak off the shortstop’s glove. (Wouldn’t have thrown him out anyway.)
22. 0-0 -- Ground ball single on a 97 mph fastball -- inside
-- High chopper over Alvarez to the shortstop who can’t get the lead runner at second. Infield hit.
23. 3-1 -- Line-drive single on a 98 mph fastball -- over the plate
-- Smoked liner into center field.
24. 3-1 -- Ground ball single on a 93 mph fastball -- over the plate
-- Medium-hard grounder over second-base bag, Puig thrown out trying to stretch into a double. I mean, mere mortals don’t even try to stretch that hit, and Puig almost made it.
25. 1-0 -- Ground ball double on a 93 mph fastball -- over the plate
-- Grounder two steps past the shortstop, but Brett Gardner again playing so deep and shaded to right that Puig stretches it into a double. While down four runs, by the way. Probably not a smart play, but it sure is exciting to watch.
26. 0-0 -- Bunt grounder single on a 93 mph fastball -- inside
-- Another bunt hit, this time down the third-base line.
27. 0-0 -- Fly ball home run (348 ft) on an 83 mph slider -- over the plate
-- A hanging slider from Adam Warren that Puig deposited a few rows deep into the Yankee Stadium right-field stands.
28. 0-0 -- Line-drive home run (408 ft) on an 88 mph sinker -- over the plate
-- A high, inside fastball from Jason Marquis. If it was a sinker, it didn’t sink, and Puig just muscled it out to center field.
29. 1-2 -- Ground ball single on a 92 mph fastball -- inside
-- Slow grounder through the hole and into left field.
30. 0-0 -- Ground ball single on an 82 mph slider -- over the plate
-- Chopper to shortstop who doesn’t charge the ball well, and Puig beats the throw.
31. 0-1 -- Ground ball single on a 93 mph fastball -- over the plate
-- Topped to third base, Chase Headley's throw pulls the first baseman off the bag. Puig given a hit, but a good throw gets him.
32. 1-1 -- Line-drive home run (361 ft) on an 87 mph changeup -- over the plate
-- Madison Bumgarner changeup right on the outside corner that Puig lofts down the right-field line. Estimate of 361 feet seems pretty generous considering it wasn’t far from the foul pole and only a few rows deep.
33. 1-2 -- Ground ball single on a 94 mph fastball -- over the plate
-- Another pretty good pitch from Bumgarner, but Puig shoots it past Brandon Belt for a base hit to right.
34. 1-0 -- Ground ball single on an 84 mph slider -- over the plate
-- With the infield pulled in, lines a single past the diving shortstop, but I think the ball is in the hole even if the infield is back.
35. 1-0 -- Ground ball double on an 87 mph changeup -- inside
-- Pulled over the third-base bag.
36. 0-0 -- Ground ball single on an 85 mph changeup -- inside
-- Bounced past Pablo Sandoval into left field, but thrown out at second by about 20 feet trying to stretch the hit into a double.
37. 1-0 -- Fly ball single on a 92 mph fastball -- inside
-- Broken-bat blooper just over the second baseman’s head.
38. 0-2 -- Ground ball single on an 85 mph slider -- outside
-- Puig pulls the outside slider past Jimmy Rollins into left field.
39. 1-0 -- Line-drive single on an 84 mph changeup -- over the plate
-- Lined off the wall in right field, but Puig does NOT try to stretch into a double.
40. 1-1 -- Line-drive single on an 88 mph cutter -- over the plate
-- Bullet into center field.
41. 1-0 -- Ground ball single on an 89 mph sinker -- over the plate
-- Two-hopper off the glove of Michael Young. Play could have been made.
42. 0-0 -- Ground ball single on an 89 mph sinker -- inside
-- Similar play; softly hit chopper pulled down the third-base line that Young can’t handle. Manny Machado makes the play.
43. 1-1 -- Fly ball triple on an 81 mph changeup -- over the plate
-- High flare down the right-field line that Delmon Young can't ... quite ... get ... to.
44. 1-1 -- Line-drive double on a 94 mph sinker -- over the plate
-- Lined just to the right of the first baseman, but Puig easily hustles into second for a double even though the ball doesn’t get to the wall.
* * * *
OK, Puig looks pretty awesome to me. Of course, I just watched 44 consecutive hits. Of the 44 hits, six are classified as infield hits (I would count seven) and two were bunt singles. Two of the infield singles were pure speed hits, two probably should have been ruled errors, the two Young plays were either/or and the last one was a weak bouncer in the right place. He did have a few flares fall in, but not as many as I would have expected. When I did a similar look at Jose Iglesias, you could see a guy hitting with good luck -- weak bloopers, weak grounders hit in the right spot and so on.
The one thing Puig hasn't done is pull the ball with authority, other than his two home runs to left field. He hasn't had one hard-hit double, for example, to left field or left-center. Of his five doubles, two were hustle doubles, one was a grounder over the third-base bag and the other two were lined down the right-field line.
The tricky part about pitching to Puig is that this would suggest you try and pitch him inside; but, as with Schmidt, Puig stands off the plate so it's difficult to tie him up. Plus, considering Puig had the seventh-highest swing percentage in June (and the sixth-highest "chase" percentage on pitches outside the zone), pitchers also want to try and get him to chase those offspeed pitches off the plate.
For now, that still seems like the right approach, even if it hasn't worked so far. Puig is 20-for-41 when he hits a groundball. Compare that nearly .500 average to Miguel Cabrera -- who, while lacking Puig's speed, is known to hit the ball hard and is hitting .314 on groundballs. (The MLB average is .237 on grounders.)
Still, this is just one month. The pitchers will adjust; Puig is still learning and he'll adjust.
I can't wait to see what happens in July.