Yasiel Puig, Physicist?

Yasiel Puig surely would make physics a lot more interesting than it already is. (via Arturo Pardavila III)

Yasiel Puig is now in Cincinnati. If the early results are any indication, it seems likely that Reds fans will enjoy his brand of “must see TV.” The merits of the trade were analyzed at many sites, including at FanGraphs. The conventional wisdom appears to be that the Reds got better in a very tough division, while the Dodgers – yet again – dumped salary.

There is plenty of debate about the wisdom of the Dodgers giving up Puig, whose offensive production has been consistently above average (a down 2015 resulted in 101 wRC+), but whose defense has drawn mixed reviews from the publicly available defensive metrics. The Dodgers’ apparent desire to trim payroll, and their subsequent signing of A.J. Pollock offer one explanation for the trade. I wish to suggest a better explanation for the trade.

Suppose, for a moment, that the Dodgers discovered that Puig is more interested in the physics of baseball than baseball itself. I know that, on the face of it, it sounds absurd to suggest, but hear me out. I fully realize this is a bold claim, and as astronomer Carl Sagan once put it, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” which I intend to provide.

Puig is the only physicist who has studied the breadth of the underlying physics of the game, during the actual game. Let’s look in detail at just a few of the experimental investigations he has completed. We’ll start at the plate.

Below, Yasiel studies the vibration of the baseball bat during the collision with the ball. These vibrations such up the much of the energy that could otherwise be used to propel the ball. Puig appears to be unprepared to handle the strong forces the vibrations exert on the hands – often described as a “hand full of bumble bees.”

Puig has done repeated tests of the breaking strength of bats. Others have described this interaction, but they haven’t experienced it. Here is just one of many examples of Puig’s little-appreciated knack. At some point Puig – or some other scientist – should address the resulting effect on the batter’s legs. That just has to leave a mark.

Bat flips are an elegant bit of physics, described by breaking up the motion into the trajectory of the center-of-mass of the bat plus the rotation about the center-of-mass. Puig is one of the masters of this art form. Here is an example of one of his data collecting sessions.

Still not convinced he’s a physicist at heart? How about his speed tests on the bases? Below is an example where he apparently records his fastest triple in many years despite seemingly not running with full effort throughout. At the end, Puig also seems to be conducting some experiment involving a unique type of oscillatory motion.

Whenever a player slides, he is slowed by the frictional force exerted on him by the surface. Yasiel has conducted numerous studies into the frictional forces on the several different surfaces the diamond provides. Here, he measures the frictional force created by the outfield turf.

And he has done comparison studies between the friction created by the outfield grass and the warning track. Here, he strangely underestimated the frictional force, and required some additional force provided by a wall to be brought to rest.

Puig has also compared the frictional force that is generated by the outfield grass and the warning track with that created by the infield dirt. Below he seems to be trying to explain his results and data with the umpire, who seems to have little interest in physics.

The Man Behind Canadian Baseball
The head of Baseball Canada has left an indelible impression on the sport that extends beyond Canada's borders.

Still not a believer in Puig’s scientific bona fides? Will examining his experiments on baseball trajectories help? The trajectory of a baseball is very complicated to calculate. It requires knowledge of not only the launch angle and launch speed, but also the intricate behavior of air interacting with the ball. Clearly, Yasiel has developed flight models of the highest accuracy.

If all of these examples of Puig’s physics prowess have yet to convince you, perhaps the fact that he possesses one of the most noteworthy character traits of a physicist – or at least, the proverbial, absent minded professor — will help make close case. Here is an example of a bit of his distracted behavior, this time on the bases.

There are more examples similar to this episode.

That’s the thing about academic absentmindedness – it crops up in all aspects of one’s life. Below are a few such moments in the field.

Of course, the most unfortunate time to lose concentration is at the plate. After this at bat, Puig tries to explain what he was thinking, but the ump doesn’t seem to care. Oh well – such is the “life of the mind.”

Thus we are left to conclude that Yasiel Puig exhibits so many traits of a physicist that he must be one – at least in spirit. Dodgers fans certainly loved his scientific technique. Perhaps the Reds are an organization that more deeply appreciates scientific expertise. In time, their fans will likely come to enjoy Puig’s experimental approach just as much as did the denizens of Chavez Ravine.

David Kagan is a physics professor at CSU Chico, and the self-proclaimed "Einstein of the National Pastime." Visit his website, Major League Physics, and follow him on Twitter @DrBaseballPhD.

Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
2 Comment threads
2 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
4 Comment authors
Alex TrebekMRDXoltramps like usnenright Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted

That throw to get Story is legitimately one of the best throws I’ve ever seen. Thanks for this article. As a Dodgers fan I’m going to miss Puig a lot

tramps like us
tramps like us

Great article. And a +1 for you, nenright. And the videos were fantastic, both showing his prowess and, uh, otherwise. Yes that throw was amazing! That’s the non-arguable part about Puig…he has some of the most incredible tool sets I’ve seen in my 50+ years of watching baseball. And as a Giants fan, I’m going to miss him with the Dodgers a lot, too., LOL. Hating him as a Red will be like hating the Raiders without Al Davis….just not as fun. Have to go with the Cowboys and Jerry Jones now, I guess.


that play– missing the fly ball, then grabbing the ball and heaving to third, without time to set up, absolutely perfectly for the out– is the epitome of right field defense.

Alex Trebek
Alex Trebek

I came to this article hoping to learn that licking ones bat, and the subsequent saliva left behind, actually adds loft/reduces wind shear/etc. I leave only mildly disappointed.