Last season Yasiel Puig was very good. After getting called up, the Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder had a torrid June in which he hit .436/.467/.713 for a 236 wRC+. He cooled off a bit in July, striking out in almost 30 percent of his plate appearances as pitchers gave him fewer pitches to hit. By the year's end, Puig had a very strong .319/.391/.534 batting line for a 160 wRC+. Nevertheless, it was easy to point to his major league high 16.9 percent swinging strike rate and 37 percent O-Zone swing rate and see some regression coming.
However, Puig has been excellent thus far in 2014. He's sporting a .309/.397/.500 batting line for a 155 wRC+. In addition, Puig has improved his walk and strikeout rates from 8.3 percent and 22.5 percent, respectively, to 10.2 percent and 20.3 percent. Puig's plate discipline numbers are showing improvement across the board.
Here's a look at how Puig's swing rates from 2014 compare to those from last year. I would be remiss if I didn't include a caveat about small sample sizes. Puig is only 128 plate appearances into the 2014 season. But, swing rates and plate discipline numbers stabilize around 70 plate appearances, so these numbers likely signify meaningful change.
In fact, Puig's chase rate has improved each month that he's been in the big leagues.
Since August of last year, Puig has a walk rate above ten percent. Pitchers are starting to throw more pitches in the zone to Puig as he's become more patient. His zone swing rate is a good deal higher than the major league average, and he still swings and misses at a high rate, but his chase rate is slightly lower than average.
Plate discipline habits aren't easy to break. Steve Staude's hitting tool shows that O-Swing% has a base correlation of .850 from year 0 to year 1. Hitters tend to swing at fewer pitches outside of the zone as they mature, but these changes usually occur on a smaller scale. In general, hitters with high chase rates age quite poorly, and as you might expect, they don't get on-base very often.
For the most part, pitchers adjust to overaggressive hitters by throwing them fewer strikes. Jeff Francoeur, which many people compared Puig to given the extremely hot starts to their major league career, could never learn to lay off pitches out of the zone. It's pretty clear that Puig isn't a rich man's Francoeur as many have called him.
Puig's swing is scary, and now that he's using it with more discernment, he's an even scarier hitter. Even if his in-play batting average takes a steep drop from its lofty .375 state, he projects as one of the best 20 bats in baseball. The updated ZiPS projections have him finishing with a batting line of .292/.368/.489, and Steamer is substantially similar. If you haven't already, it's time to start accepting him as more than a free-swinging blip on the radar but rather one of the best players in baseball.
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Chris Moran is a former college baseball player and current law student at Washington University in St. Louis. He's also an assistant baseball coach at Wash U. In addition to Beyond The Box Score, he contributes at Prospect Insider and Gammons Daily. He went to his first baseball game at age two. Follow him on Twitter @hangingslurves