If it feels like it’s been a while since the baseball-consuming world has been captivated by Yasiel Puig, that’s because it has. As much as the Los Angeles Dodgers star has emerged as a must-watch, can’t-take-your-eyes-off-him talent through his first two seasons in Major League Baseball, Puig has been oddly absent from headlines and highlights of late.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing given his more than occasional lightning-rod status, except that this lack of Puig lately is very much tied to his downright struggles in the second half. Things have taken such a turn since the 23-year-old earned his first All-Star nod for a dynamite first half that it’s almost as if one of baseball’s brightest stars and most polarizing figures has…vanished.

To show just how stark the drop-off has been, here’s a look at Puig‘s numbers both pre– and post-break:

Obviously, Puig has played only about half as many games since the Midsummer Classic, but even taking that into account, he went from MVP-caliber production from March through mid-July to abruptly performing like a useful utility infielder who knows how to get on base but lacks any pop.

Heck, after going homerless in the Home Run Derby, Puig has hit exactly one out in the two months since.

It’s hard to believe a player can have such divergent halves of the same season.

All of this has led to speculation about how the Dodgers should handle Puig down the stretch as they spend the final two weeks of the regular season trying to hold off the San Francisco Giants in the NL West.

Sure, sitting Puig for a physical and mental break isn’t a bad idea. This is still his first full year in the majors, and there aren’t nearly as many games in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, so he’s never played this much in one season. There’s merit to giving some time to Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke, as well as top prospect and September call-up Joc Pederson, as manager Don Mattingly has on occasion.

“The season is long, and it wears you down,” Mattingly said to Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles at the end of August. “It’s part of learning to regulate yourself here, as far as rest or anything else…I think Yasiel‘s really emotional, and it’s hard to be really emotional and play 162.”

Not to mention, Puig has been through plenty of changes, adjustments and transitions in 2014, both on the field and off. He’s been moved around in the batting order as well as in the outfield, and he’s also dealing with the drama and fallout from the ongoing developments surrounding his scary journey to escape Cuba and get to the United States.

Puig‘s struggles have led some, like Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times, to suggest that the Dodgers should give even more time in center field to Ethier:

OK, enough. Enough waiting for the Golden Boy to become an overnight sensation or last year’s overnight sensation to get going again.

The idea is to win right now. In September with a pennant on the line. It’s not time to experiment.

You don’t keep playing Joc Pederson, called up nine days ago, and hope he starts tearing up the majors the way he did Triple-A. You don’t keep sending out Yasiel Puig every night when he’s hit .209 since July 31, which also happens to be the last time he hit a home run.

It’s time to start Andre Ethier in center again.

…The Dodgers just can’t keep waiting and hoping for Puig to get it going. He’s batting .151 (10 for 66) in his last 18 games. This is his first full season in the majors and he’s going through the worst slump of his career.

Maybe he’ll respond to some time off. I know [Dodgers manager Don] Mattingly prefers a set outfield but right now it’s not working. And right now is when it needs to work.

This is obviously a divisive topic—is anything involving Puig not?—and so it’s not surprising that others, like Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com, would argue for sticking with Puig in the hopes that he’ll regain his form:

The problem with Puig right now: His power has simply disappeared, and that’s a dangerous development for [the] Dodgers…It is not, however, a development that ought to prompt Don Mattingly to bench his slumping star, because the truth is that Dodgers still need Puig if they’re going to live up to the World Series expectations that accompany their Major League-leading payroll.

…Whether the Dodgers like it or not, in light of recent results, Puig is still the key to their offense. Even if his power is down, he’s capable of getting on base to create opportunities for Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp. If Puig is hurt, rest him. But if he’s fatigued, test him… Calls to play Andre Ethier over Puig are misguided, because Ethier‘s offensive struggles are of the season-long variety, whereas Puig‘s are a more recent development.

There are indeed other dangerous bats and capable hitters on the team with that record $235 million payroll.

First baseman Adrian Gonzalez, outfielder Matt Kemp and shortstop Hanley Ramirez fall into the former category, and outfielder Carl Crawford and third baseman Juan Uribe fit into the latter. Second baseman Dee Gordon, meanwhile, uses his speed and leadoff role to help set the tone.

But Puig is a huge piece, perhaps more important than any other. If he doesn’t get right, the Dodgers will be a lot less dynamic, a lot less explosive, especially since he’s spent the majority of the time batting in the second spot in L.A.’s lineup.

“It’s time to get him going,” Mattingly told J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles Daily News. “The biggest thing is that we need him. Everything we’ve tried to [do] so far has been trying to get him going, trying to take pressure off him in different spots. When he’s going good, we’re a better team.”

Because of that, and because of how intense and emotional Puig is, the idea of benching him just doesn’t make sense. There’s too much downside, and it’s not as if Puig doesn’t know he’s not playing well.

“I have to get out of this in the 15 or 16 games that remain,” he said to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. “If I don’t get out of it now, I don’t know if I’ll get out of it for the playoffs.”

As incredible as Puig was as a rookie last year, he was exposed a bit in his first October. While he came up big with eight hits in 17 at-bats and five runs scored in the NLDS victory over the Atlanta Braves, Puig lost it against the St. Louis Cardinals‘ staff in the championship series.

He went just 5-for-22 (.227) with 10 strikeouts and only one walk on his way to posting a 14-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 41 playoff plate appearances overall. With another October on tap, Puig will need to be better than that if the Dodgers are going to get back to the Fall Classic for the first time since 1988.

After all, the postseason is when the top pitchers and hardest throwers are ready to shut down even the best bats.

Puig should continue to start as September wraps up to find his rhythm and success once again. But if he doesn’t turn things around—and soon—he very well could be on a short leash in October when every at-bat is crucial, especially for a star player.

Then again, Puig needs to make the most of every at-bat right now, because over the second half, he’s looked and played like anything but a star.


Statistics are accurate as of Sept. 15 and are courtesy of MLB.com, Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.

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