Sunday, August 11, 2013
Big debate: Yasiel Puig or Wil Myers?
By David Schoenfield
Both Yasiel Puig and Wil Myers will be on display on ESPN on Sunday night.
Yasiel Puig got two hits in his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 3, then hit two homers the next game and has been a lightning rod ever since for his play on the field and for his on-field antics that have upset opponents -- a brawl, a bat flip, a confident attitude, a spikes-high slide that Dusty Baker complained about. He plays the game with the flair of someone who escaped Cuba and enjoys displaying his talent for the entire world.
Wil Myers debuted with the Tampa Bay Rays on June 18, going 1-for-7 in a doubleheader. It took him a month to get going, but since July 10, he leads the major leagues with a .420 batting average, and Joe Maddon has shown enough confidence in the rookie to move him into the cleanup spot.
Both are right fielders, 22-year-old right-handed batters who stand 6-foot-3 with big, raw power, more speed than guys their size should possess (Puig is a little faster) and strong throwing arms (Puig's is probably a little stronger). Myers plays the more emotionally restrained and less theatrical American style of baseball. Both are going to be very good for a long time.
So who do you like?
Puig or Myers? I mean ... that's tough. Mantle or Mays? Lennon or McCartney? Macpherson or Porizkova?
Their basic stats entering Sunday night's game between the Rays and Dodgers at Dodger Stadium:
OK, let's break them down into various categories.
The numbers: Puig leads in Baseball-Reference WAR, 3.9 to 1.9, but of course he's been up a little longer. Their numbers extrapolated over 155 games: Puig, 10.2 WAR; Myers, 6.8 WAR. Over a full season, that's Puig performing on a historic Mike Trout-like level of excellence for a young player and Myers playing at an MVP-caliber level.
Both are riding very high batting averages on balls in play during their strong starts -- Puig, in particular, is off the charts here. Only four players have hit .400 on balls in play over a full season, so at some point that .471 BABIP will come down, although after hitting a lull in mid-July, he's scorching hot again. In his past 17 games, he's hitting .410 ... with a .524 BABIP. The question, if Puig continues this level of play over the Dodgers' final 46 games: Could he enter the MVP discussion? I think it's possible. Manny Ramirez finished fourth in the 2008 NL MVP vote while playing just two months with the Dodgers.
Approach at the plate: Puig stands very far off the plate, which would seem to leave him vulnerable to outside pitches, but he has such good plate coverage he can attack those pitches and drive them to the opposite field. Myers' upright stance is almost a mirror image of teammate Evan Longoria's. Myers looks like he'll be more of a pull hitter. Their hit charts:
Yasiel Puig sprays the ball around a little more than Wil Myers.
The impressive thing about Puig is that in his first month or so, he hadn't been pulling the ball with extra-base power. I wondered if pitchers would start trying to go inside more with hard stuff. His last three home runs have all gone to left field, so maybe that strategy isn't working, either. Pitchers will try to get Myers inside, but the bat speed is there to turn on those pitches -- he's hitting .267 but slugging .511 on inside pitches.
You'll notice both have similar walk and strikeout rates, although Puig's walk total includes five intentional walks versus two for Myers. Myers has the more disciplined approach with a chase percentage on pitches outside the strike zone almost 10 percent less than Puig's. While that appeared to be the big weakness of Puig, it's possible he's already improving in that area: During his current 17-game hot stretch, his chase percentage is down to 28.4 percent.
Defense: Early edge to Puig. Defensive runs saved has him at plus-7 runs with Myers at plus-2. Both have enough range to play center if needed (Puig has started four games there, Myers three). Both project to remain above-average fielders -- especially considering Myers was drafted as a catcher and didn't convert to the outfield until 2011 (and even then dabbled at third base a little). I'd suggest that Puig has Gold Glove potential out there with his range and arm.
Excitement level: Obviously, Puig has received more national attention. Some of that is a Dodgers-Rays thing but also a reflection of how Puig burst onto the scene in June. It's easier to get excited about a guy we didn't have high expectations on, whereas Myers has been a highly rated prospect we expect to be good.
That's not fair to Myers and we should be just as amazed with his start as we are with Puig's. Now, as far as on-the-field excitement, Puig is on a level all his own, from his defense to baserunning to that "wow" factor. Not all of that results in positive things on the field -- he's as likely to get thrown out by 15 feet trying to stretch a single into a double as he is to get the extra base. He'll likely learn to rein in that enthusiasm and play smarter baseball in the future.
Durability: This is sort of the great unknown. Puig left two games with a sore hip and missed a game with a thumb contusion. That all-out effort is fun to watch but can be a bit dangerous. Myers has that prototypical strong and lean build; facially and physically, he sort of resembles Dale Murphy, who once played all 162 games four straight seasons. The Rays can only hope that's the kind of durability Myers will have.
Anyway, I realize I didn't answer the question. If forced, I guess Puig has a little more upside, especially if these early improvements he's making in his strike zone judgment are legit. But I say that knowing Myers may very well develop into the better player, a .300 hitter with 35-homer power and above-average defense. It's possible Puig loses that extra step in a couple of years and his defense and speed advantage even out to Myers. Plus, Myers may be that sneaky fast guy who knows how to steal bases -- he's 5-for-6, while Puig is 7-for-12. Myers is in a great organization with a great manager who will help him, and I don't say that with the same trust in the Dodgers. Remember, too, their results are still small sample size stuff -- are they really this good?