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The lesson to take away from Yasiel Puig’s benching

Aug 29, 2013, 9:45 AM EDT

Chicago Cubs v Los Angeles Dodgers Getty Images

As Ken Rosenthal notes in his excellent column on the matter this morning, Yasiel Puig‘s mid-game benching yesterday was the result of him not breaking up a double play when most players would, making some showy catches and for loafing it out to the field at the end of an inning.  Rosenthal also notes that manager Don Mattingly’s handling of the situation — and Puig’s accepting responsibility for it after the game — was quite good.

Can’t disagree with any of that. I will make an observation in the wake of one of Rosenthal’s comments, however:

A number of statistical analysts howled last week at the notion of benching Puig, noting that his various mistakes paled in importance to his overall contribution.

I can’t speak for anyone besides me, but to the extent I took issue with the bench-Puig stuff last week it wasn’t in terms of how Mattingly was going about his business or even the need to do something to reign in Puig’s alleged excesses.  The Dodgers are Don Mattingly’s team and he knows it best. If a player is in need of some discipline it is the manager’s decision. Both the fine and/or benching which happened in Miami last week and pulling him out of yesterday’s game was A-OK with me.

Where I did (and still do) take issue is with the reaction to all of this by many in the media who are acting as if Puig is some special case or if a player ruffling feathers is something new and scandalous. Players are benched or disciplined multiple times a year for such things. Sometimes it’s even established veterans like Jimmy Rollins who had his own little issue with this sort of thing a year ago tomorrow.

That isn’t to say it isn’t newsworthy. Puig is an exciting and important player so if he does have a run-in with his manager it is certainly news. But what it is not is an occasion to make it a referendum on his very character or to describe it as “Berzerk-O” behavior that puts the Dodgers’ very future at risk like some did last week.

This happens. It’s a story. It’s a bigger story if the manager refuses to handle it or the player refuses to respond. But we’re not seeing that with Puig and, as such, it doesn’t justify the sort of outrage and hyperbole the matter has thus far gotten from some quarters.

  1. dondada10 - Aug 29, 2013 at 10:02 AM

    Personally I was more surprised that Puig wasn’t on his best behavior considering his recent issues with lateness. He had to figure he was on a shorter leash then most.

  2. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 29, 2013 at 10:05 AM

    “…not breaking up a double play when most players would, making some showy catches and for loafing it out to the field at the end of an inning…”

    In other words, acting like Cano? It is all about perspective, it seems.

    • DelawarePhilliesFan - Aug 29, 2013 at 10:11 AM

      Or the manager

      • paperlions - Aug 29, 2013 at 11:23 AM

        Or Molina or Pujols or any number of guys that never or almost never try to break up double plays by sliding into the legs of a defender….which has a far greater likelihood of resulting in injury than it does in resulting in “breaking up” a double play.

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Aug 29, 2013 at 12:06 PM

        No idea what (if anything) the Dodgers were ticked about the the Double Play. But in looking at the video, it seems to me the issue was not failing to break up the Double Play, so much as assuming the throw was not coming in to 2nd. He clearly slowed the last step, and may have been able to make it had he not. And it looked the reason he slowed was that he thought there would be no play.

        Now, he screwed up, happens all the time in Baseball. Is that worth a benching? Not really. But then again, if there had been repeated talks with him about “Knock it off with the Lollygagging”, (and some reports have suggested there was, from players and management) then that is a diff matter.

        IMO, this isn’t a big deal. If they win the World Series, this affair will be like Rollins double benching in 2008 – quickly forgotten. But if he slows down on a play and they lose in the NLDS – all bets are off!

      • paperlions - Aug 29, 2013 at 12:09 PM

        I agree that there may be need for a benching if he refuses to be receptive to instruction….I also think (at it appears that you do as well, in general) that it just isn’t that big of a deal nor is it that uncommon and is not worth all of the attention it is getting.

  3. DelawarePhilliesFan - Aug 29, 2013 at 10:09 AM

    Puig did not go to a mic and say anything other then “Thank you sir may I have another”. That said, you have no clue how he responded in that 30 minute meeting, and seeing how he has been benched twice in a very short span, he is beginning to strike me as a tad stubborn.

    Jimmy was benched twice in 2008. He was the reigning MVP on a team that had lost a vocal leader (Aaron Rowand). It was shown as evidence of a ship astray. The Phillies won the W.S. in 2008 and all was forgotten. Same could hold true for the Dodgers. That said, I think Puig should try to avoid benchings for a while

    • missthedayswhenwedidnthavetologin - Aug 29, 2013 at 10:52 AM

      No he did not, but Tommy Dreamer did!

    • paperlions - Aug 29, 2013 at 11:25 AM

      Is there any evidence that Miami was a “benching”? Seems like it was actually a scheduled day off so you could enjoy some Cuban culture in Miami.

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Aug 29, 2013 at 11:40 AM

        I was on vacation last week, only caught dribs and drabs – but my understanding was he showed up late for the game, was on the bench, then after the game Mattingly insisted it was a planned day off.

        He was fined for being late though – so even if the benching was unrelated, there was discipline involved for being late.

      • paperlions - Aug 29, 2013 at 11:46 AM

        The media were already saying he was benched before he was late, allegedly he was stuck in traffic with his driver (a Dodgers employee), as he wasn’t in the scheduled lineup for the day, which was available before he was late. The fine was for being late: the lesson being, just because you aren’t in the lineup doesn’t mean you can be late.

        The same media members were all up in arms about him being out on the town partying the night before…..just typical backlash for a brash young player….same hyperbolic bullshit they pulled on Harper, ignoring context to write their cranky old man narratives.

  4. yahmule - Aug 29, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    Mattingly has annoyed me, particularly with the way he handles his bullpen, but he’s doing a good job with Puig. This is certainly an improvement over Joe Torre, who used to look for excuses to bat Matt Kemp eighth.

  5. bravojawja - Aug 29, 2013 at 10:26 AM

    “Rein in” as in horse’s reins used to control the horse (to rein in would be to stop or hold back), not “reign in” as in ruling like a king. Not sure why I’ve been seeing this a lot lately. And feel free to fling the thumbs down at me, I can take it.

    And while I’m at it, “$20 million dollars” is redundant again. That’s suddenly everywhere, too.

    • philsieg - Aug 29, 2013 at 10:41 AM

      Add to that the ubiquitous “then” when “than” is the appropriate choice.

    • unclemosesgreen - Aug 29, 2013 at 2:09 PM

      None of this has any affect on the larger point, and I am unphased by your irritation.

      • bravojawja - Aug 29, 2013 at 3:58 PM

        I see what you did their.

  6. jlinatl - Aug 29, 2013 at 10:45 AM

    I doubt Mattingly is losing sleep over it. He’s been around the game way too long. I just view it as a low level variation of the broken window theory.

  7. papichulo55 - Aug 29, 2013 at 10:54 AM

    OK, so I’m wrong for wanting to see Mattingly-vs-Puig, like Martin-vs-Jackson. That was some Must-See TV that is still being aired 36 years later.

  8. CyclePower - Aug 29, 2013 at 11:19 AM

    Sportswriters are hyperbolic by nature. That’s what they do. I think by going after Plaschke and others last week misses their point. That is, by not addressing the early warning signs of bad behavior and bad attitude in a young player who is still immature, you risk allowing that attitude to form into permanent character and sense of entitlement, to the detriment of both Puig’s long-term career and the team’s interests. I’m not a fan of Plaschke, and though the tone was maybe hysterical from him and others, their points were nevertheless valid. It seems as if Mattingly and the Dodgers agree, and your response sounds a little like a defensive backpedal.

  9. byjiminy - Aug 29, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    I agree with everybody — Puig needs to adopt some new habits, but it’s nothing unique. Mattingly probably did what’s needed, and Puig is getting good advice not to pout about it.

    Really, the only noteworthy thing about the whole incident is Rosenthal saying that some stat-heads objected, arguing Puig’s contributions outweigh his negatives.

    First of all, most stat-heads would not say this, obviously. Most criticisms of statistical analysis I’ve seen are based on straw-man arguments that assume looking at stats means you never look at the people actually playing. Obviously it’s a false dichotomy. But if any stat-heads really did object to benching Puig because you lose his production while he’s on the bench, this is one of the few times those silly criticisms would be true.

    Yes, statistically the chance of him hitting a home run outweigh the chances of him costing the team a run on the base paths. Yes, your team will be weakened while he’s on the bench. Duh. It’s clearly an investment in the future: you sacrifice a few innings now in the hope that his over-all play will be improved for the rest of his career. And even if it didn’t gain runs in the long term, statistically, there are certain standards that should be upheld to keep a team functioning, working hard, disciplined, etc. Letting one guy ignore the standards everyone else is held to has consequences. It’s a human relationships thing.

    Defining the issue as a statistical cost-benefit analysis of whether the team will improve while he’s on the bench would obviously be missing the forest for the trees. So if anyone really “howled” in protest, I would totally agree with calling them out.

    With the caveat of course, that they do not represent the concept of statistical analyis as a whole, and should not be used to demonize stat heads in general, otherwise you’ve just created one more straw-man to critique.

  10. cjvirnig - Aug 29, 2013 at 11:27 AM

    I was at the Dodgers game on Wednesday afternoon and while Puig’s baserunning nonchalance in the first inning was pretty egregious, I didn’t really have a problem with any of the other ticky-tack criticisms of his performance. Keep in mind that it was 95+ degrees on the field, so it’s not like Ethier and Crawford were sprinting out to their positions, either. Mattingly’s accusation that Puig was “loafing” out to the field was probably more of a product of his lingering annoyance at the baserunning mistake more than it was anything else. As for his “showboating” catches…if you’ve seen Yaseil Puig play, that’s how he rolls. I understand that the Dodgers coaches want to correct that problem because it’s far from being fundamentally sound. But his catches on Wednesday weren’t a greater display of showboating than in any of his other performances.

    I get the benching, but I do think people are piling on a little too harshly here. The baserunning error was bad, but the other things were pretty small by comparison.

    • ezthinking - Aug 29, 2013 at 11:41 AM

      I’m with you to a degree. It was clearly a nip-it-in-the-bud deal. You have a special team, new import not familiar with the culture in country, and distractions are better handled in August than October.

      It’s not “playing the right way” bullshit, it’s growing up alittle.

      Hanley can probably tell him alittle about mailing it in on occasions. Hanley has seen his star dim when he loafed, Puig can avoid that with help. Mattingly and the team seem to be ready to help.

      No one needs a Manny-being-Manny deal.

      Give him some help and some time. He comes from a place that has never seen Trout, Harper, Strasburg or the like play live or even in the highlights the same night.

  11. paperlions - Aug 29, 2013 at 11:30 AM

    The main problem with the moralizing and hyperbole is that no one actually knows what steps have been taken to modify Puig’s behavior or how he’s responded to it….yet, everyone acts like nothing has been done or if it has, Puig has responded poorly. His teammates seem to love him, which is more an indication of his willingness to accept responsibility and act in the best interest of the team than of him being a stubborn selfish jerk the moralizing-back-in-my-day media seems to want to paint him as.

  12. spudchukar - Aug 29, 2013 at 11:42 AM

    Puig puts himself in the limelight, drawing attention to himself. So it kinda goes with the territory. He is a superb talent, but raw and needs some polishing, and yes a little discipline to become the best player he can be.

    Here is a play that occurred against St. Louis. Puig made a fine running backhanded grab on a liner in the gap for a third out. As the oncoming outfielder approached him Puig backhanded the just caught ball to him in a showy style. No problem right. Well on his way into the infield, 2nd base umpire, called him over and explained to him that if he had mis-flipped the ball or it was dropped by the other outfielder the ump would have to call the play an error and the runner could still be running. It is a rule, the ball has to be extracted from the glove, with the bare hand. Quibble with the rule if you care, but the point is, there are some things Puig still has to learn. And he probably will, but how he goes about gaining the knowledge will say a lot about his make-up.

  13. bucs24 - Aug 29, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    Trade him

    • jimeejohnson - Aug 29, 2013 at 3:34 PM

      To my team.

  14. gettingpwned - Aug 29, 2013 at 1:15 PM

    Everybody needs to be butthurt about something.

  15. ajacobs1979 - Aug 29, 2013 at 2:06 PM

    I’d like to call upon the iconic (and always unbiased) Vin Scully for what I feel is the right perspective here. He nicknamed Puig “the Wild Horse,” and per usual Vinny was right on the money. Puig is a VERY raw talent, but what a talent! He is a superior physical specimen and athlete, but without any polish or much tangible experience. Like a young, wild horse (or a child), he will do things from time to time that are frustrating and maybe even inexcusable. He will be arrogant because young people with talent typically are. It’s part of what gets them to this high a level in sports, or any career for that matter. Puig is only 22 and has played professional-level baseball for a scant few years.

    Although he – like other Cuban defectors – doesn’t speak about his journey here, odds are it was more than any of us have endured. And that’s on top of his youth in a deeply impoverished and oppressive Cuba. Sudden fame and wealth at Puig’s age are overwhelming without a proper life foundation. He didn’t come up through the Little League, High School, and College ranks with constant teaching/coaching along the way.

    The Dodgers were extremely reluctant to call Puig up, as they knew he needed seasoning. And really he needed to learn Major League Baseball, not Cuban professional baseball. There’s a huge difference. The Dodgers considered top prospect Joc Pedersen the better, or at least safer, option at the time. Puig was called up out of necessity, and because the team needed a jolt. His energy, charisma, and youth were in hindsight exactly what was lacking in that clubhouse. But now that things have settled down his baseball-related and age-related youth are showing. This is not his fault; he should still be in the minors! When you get to “The Show” it’s assumed you don’t need this level of coaching anymore. Mattingly’s doing a great job having to be a AA-Ball coach while simultaneously running a team full of seasoned vets. I’m sure Puig’s teammates, who I can tell he respects and likes, are doing what they can to help. They’ve done and said the right things, both to him and to the media.

    My point to all this…let’s give the poor guy a break. Yes, Puig needs to be held accountable for his actions, as he’s 22 and not 5. At the same time, consider the entire story surrounding Puig and much of what’s happening is understandable, or even expected. Time will tell if he learns what’s being impressed upon him. Eventually he does need to be an exemplary citizen of the baseball world. If he doesn’t turn that proverbial corner the patience of his teammates and organization will certainly run out. But for now let’s enjoy Puig for all he is and not seize every misstep as an opportunity/excuse to tear him down.

    • clemente2 - Aug 29, 2013 at 3:06 PM

      ajacob–this was reasonable and well-expressed from beginning to end. It threw me off.

    • jimeejohnson - Aug 29, 2013 at 3:37 PM

      22 isn’t exactly old. He’s a young stud, a little punkish, but an incredible talent. He’ll learn that in America, if you’re a public figure you better hide your vices, cause it will cost you money if you don’t. Ask Roger Clemens.

      • stlouis1baseball - Aug 29, 2013 at 5:44 PM

        Good post Jimee. He will learn. Assuming the veterans (and Mattingly) continue teaching him of course. Which I fully expect them to do.

  16. oliveblakok - Aug 30, 2013 at 12:22 AM

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