There are two distinct instances in which a player is thought to need a change of scenery to change his performance. First, there are players that we look on with disappointment and maybe a little pity: "If only he could get out of that forsaken club and see more reps with a better staff." Then, there are players identified as malcontents (often early on, long before they've earned the reputation): "He's a pest and shipping him off would help him realize that he needs to change if he wants to stick around this league."
Yasiel Puig falls squarely into the second group in most people's minds. His alleged and actual bad behavior has upset a lot of his teammates before and given him as much real estate on ESPN and radio talk shows as his formerly stellar play. He is also the odd man out from the Dodger's outfield this year, as his performance has dipped and the team has decided that it can put up with "antics" and "distractions" when Puig is one of the best outfielders in baseball, but not when he isn't. I get it - winning cures a lot of ills.
Having recently been passed through optional waivers en route to AAA and not being claimed (per Jeff Long, it's something of a gentleman's agreement not to claim players that can be pulled back), Puig is available for trade. He'd cost the Orioles quite a bit in a swap, but is making a relatively low salary for his play and potential. The Orioles would probably prefer to have an actual right fielder instead of the power hitters that they currently hide there. I'm not going to go into why Puig is a good option for the Orioles, and frankly, between his acquisition cost, salary, headaches (real or perceived), I don't know whether he is. But he's young and exciting and good and has shown for extended periods that he can be one of the best outfielders on both offense and defense in all of baseball. I like Yasiel Puig, and I don't care who knows it! #PuigMyFriend
However, I do want to examine whether a simple relocation helps Puig or others like him: Change of Scenery candidates. These are the players who are somehow so befuddling to professional baseball coaches that fans and executives alike are willing to throw their hands up and say, "I dunno, maybe he just needs to stand in the same spot in a different ballpark. Let's give it a shot."
To create an analysis around roughly equivalent players, talent-wise and potential-wise, I pulled the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 prospect lists from 2008-2014. I searched (via Bing, in case you want to recreate this) their names and "change of scenery," and recorded the number of page results. Yasiel Puig was mentioned along with "change of scenery" in 965,000 articles. That's not even half as many as the former-top-prospect that leads the COS pack: David Price, 2,700,000 articles.
Players in the top 175 for "change of scenery" articles were considered high-COS candidates, or ones that people thought of frequently as beneficiaries of switching organizations. The remaining 216 were considered low-COS candidates, or players that fans and reporters thought were doing just fine where they were. I cut the list of high-COS players at 175 because it looks like the above chart of search results dips significantly around there and it seemed like a good cutoff to great two roughly equal groupings.
With the help of a FanGraphs table, I compared Major League performance of high-COS players that actually did switch teams to those that did not. Similarly, low-COS players who changed teams were compared to those that did not.
As shown very generally on the left, high-COS players like Yasiel Puig did worse in the years following their relocation than before it. This is not at all adjusted for playing time or position, so keep in mind that these were players whose regard had slipped anyway and were likely to see reduced playing time with their new team. High-COS who never moved at all have better career performance than those that moved. Again, their performance could have improved and convinced their team that they didn't need a change of scenery at all.
Interestingly, players rarely targeted for switching teams performed better after they were traded, but not as well as those who were never traded. While there are likely many reasons for this, my preferred narrative is that these young players were sought after in trades for established talent, and were going to be good either way. By that extension, the low-COS players who weren't traded are ones that a Major League team valued so highly because of performance and makeup that they would never let them leave.
Would a change of scenery help Yasiel Puig perform better? I have no idea. Probably not! There's no reason to think that wearing orange and black would somehow make him a better hitter than wearing blue and white. But Puig is too good and too cheap (at least salary-wise) not to give him a serious look this fall. If the Dodgers are as done with Puig as many people assume, he could be a lottery ticket for the team that picks him up - why can't the Baltimore Orioles be the lucky ones?