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Yasiel Puig and Regression

Yes, he will regress...but what does that mean?

Harry How

Early Friday afternoon, Ray (Guilfoyle) and I had a back and forth on Twitter. If you're not following the both of us, what the hell is wrong with you It started with Ray tweeting that Yasiel Puig had looked rough in a few at-bats against the Padres and used the hashtag #RegressionComing. That's a pretty reasonable thing that Ray did right there. After all, Puig has been on a tear, but there's no way he can sustain this type of performance. But in my infinite wisdom, I took issue with Ray's tweet and it brings me to a larger point that I've run up against a few times, and it's something that I'm guilty of myself.

We all use regression rather freely, because we understand the context of it. I see it used, for the most part, as a way to say that someone will either come back towards league average from an insane high or an insane low. There's a similar thing that's going on with Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP), in that we're using it - and it's relation to league average - as a gauge for how lucky or unlucky someone is. That's all well and good. There's nothing wrong with some shorthand, after all but at the same time I think we lose some things when we just say someone is a sell high because regression. Because it kind of matters how and why that regression will take place and perhaps most importantly how much regression will take place.

When it comes to Puig, I wasn't necessarily for his call up because I thought it was a desperate move by a desperate general manager/coach/team. To be clear, it excited me greatly as a fan, as I had seen Puig in Spring Training and he was breathtaking and not in that questionable Seinfeld way (skip to around 55 seconds). That said, being a follower and lover of prospects, I tend to view things as what is best for the prospect at the time, and it hardly seemed this was part of the consideration for the Dodgers. That's not to say it wasn't and I shouldn't project motives upon them but that's how it appeared, at least to me.

To the Dodgers' credit though, Puig was more than ready for the majors. To say he's been phenomenal thus far would be a disservice to what he's done. The question then, you'd think is "can he keep it up?" But that (generally) has not been the question. There hasn't been much of one. There are two (non-mutually exclusive) groups of people when it comes to Puig. Those who are just kicking back and enjoying what they're seeing, and those who are kicking back and using "regression" every fourth or fifth word. The rambling point I'm trying to make isn't to denigrate those who speak of regression. They're accurate, if only because it's pretty much impossible to hit .452/.477/.790 for a whole season. It's pretty much impossible to have the underlying stats to support a .524 BABIP, the cause célèbre for the regressionists.

What's not impossible though is that while luck , or small sample size variance, or whatever you want to call it is most definitely in play, Puig could have the tools to support an elevated BABIP. After all, higher BABIPs are correlated to high ground ball percentages, and Puig's is 51.1%. They're also correlated to high line drive rates and Puig's is 22.2%. Good speed is also correlated to elevated BABIPs and Puig is a legitimate plus to plus-plus runner. None of this is to say that Puig's current BABIP is reasonable, but it wouldn't shock me if, like current teammate Matt Kemp, he could support a BABIP of .350+ for an extended period of time.

So what is it I'm trying to exactly? I'm not saying to keep Puig at all costs. If you can get Ryan Braun for him you do it. But don't trade him just because regression is likely. Of course regression is likely. He'd be the best player of all time otherwise, but just because it's likely doesn't mean it will be dramatic. Or that he still won't be one of the better fantasy players around. Certainly, he could be a flash in the pan but there a few things that give me hope he'll figure this thing out. First, he had 9% walk rate in the minors. That says that he adjusted enough to lay off the bad pitches and that there's a chance he could do so in the majors. Second, and this might be me reading too much into a situation but... when he signed his seven year $42 million contract he was out of shape. He was still out of shape in his brief minor league stint last season. He showed up to Spring Training looking like a different person. Keith Law said in a recent chat that he dropped weight and added at least a grade to his run tool. That sounds to me like the type of work ethic that doesn't settle for "flash in the pan" status. So while it's obvious that Puig will regress (though I hope he doesn't), I don't know that he regresses to a point where he's still not a fantasy stud.

PS - Dan Schwartz was also a part of the conversation with me and Ray and I invite him to add what he contributed in the comments, because I thought it was quite helpful. Thanks Dan!

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