I know what you’re thinking, “No, not another story about Yasiel Puig.” While yes, he is currently all the rage in Major League Baseball, this is not another story about Yasiel Puig, but about what he and a couple of other young players represent: a new wave of super-athletes in baseball.
A look at current and historic stats would argue that Puig is only the most recent of budding bombers to follow the trend of a new breed of elite baseball player that has an unprecedented combination of speed and power.
Last season we witnessed the rise of young phenoms Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, who successfully hit the ball out of the park and stole enough bases to warrant a police arrest, awarding them Rookie of the Year honors in their respective leagues. Should Puig continue his astronomically prolific start, he could be receiving the same award, making him part of a trend with no end in sight.
In 2001, the ROY’s were Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki, two very different types of players with different stats. Pujols, a big, strong power guy, hit 37 homers and stole only one base, while Ichiro, a tiny speedster, stole 56 and hit only eight home runs. In 2007, ROY’s Dustin Pedroia and Ryan Braun, player types inching closer to today’s five toolers, saw slightly less disparity in those two categories, with Pedroia hitting eight long balls and stealing seven, and Braun going yard 34 times while stealing 15 bases. All four players managed to hit over .300 in their rookie years, putting them in the elite category.
Jump to 2012, and we see a significant increase in Trout and Harper’s numbers as well as a closing-of-the-gap between home runs and steals. Trout hit 30 homers and stole 49 bases while Harper hit 22 and stole 18. Trout hit .326 and Harper hit .270. The numbers summed up: The duo of Trout and Harper possess the most balanced combination of speed and power in addition to an overall increase in numbers.
So where does that leave Puig? In twenty-six games in the majors he has hit seven home runs and stolen four bases. While his steals are low, he has seen a significantly smaller amount of at-bats than Trout and Harper, and also has a slugging percentage of .713, which would be second highest in the MLB behind Chris Davis if he had the number of at-bats to qualify. He simply has not yet had enough opportunities to steal bases, in the best way possible.
Puig is currently on pace to hit 43 home runs in a full season, and to steal roughly 25 bases, which puts him right up there with Trout and Harper. Putting him in this conversation is his .436 batting average, which will be sure to drop as the year goes on, but can be expected to stay above .300.
It’s too early to tell whether Puig will surpass Trout and Harper in this rising trend, but if his first twenty-six games are any indication of what’s to come, stat nerds and baseball fans alike are in for an exciting treat.