(This is an updated version of a post I wrote over at our sister site, Call to the Pen. I updated a stat or two and eliminated some clumsy wording to better make my point. . .I Hope. Fred)
Is Yasiel Puig the reincarnation of a love child between Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig or perhaps a player whose DNA was altered by Fidel Castro in the secret labs of Cuba? Maybe he’s just a baseball player having a good month. In any case he absolutely positively MUST be a part of the All Star game. Or at least that’s what ESPN and several pundits want you to believe. He is after all the next <fill in your favorite legend’s name here> and has done the absolutely impossible flawlessly . . .well not flawlessly but superbly … okay he’s screwed up like an A-ball player but man he can hit and run and hit and run and throw and.. and . . . and man he’s cool etc. etc. etc. Whatever you think about who he is and what he’s done and whatever the fan vote totals actually are, I’m fairly certain Puig will be an All Star. How do I know that? I watch TV and I can read.
There’s no doubt the arrival of Yasiel Puig re-energized a Dodger team that was floundering and possibly saved Don Mattingly from an ill deserved dismissal. In Puig’s first 32 games – 135 plate appearances - his slash of .409/.437/.677/1.114 with 52 hits and eight home runs was a rookie record but similar numbers in terms of OPS and WAR have been seen before by rookies and players not techincaly rookies but still getting their first extended run in the bigs.
A History Lesson
In 2005 this player arrived in the majors for the first time and set the town on fire. His slash for the first 32 games was .380/.385/.739 (that’s a 1.125 OPS for the hard of adding) with 10 home runs including a three run shot in his first at bat. He finished the year with a 3.0 rWAR (I don’t have any idea how to calculate that for 32 games) because he displayed a rifle arm that earned him 13 outfield assists for the season. Everyone said he was the next superstar right fielder but no one begged for his inclusion in the ASG and he finished just ninth in rookie of the year voting. He didn’t become Roberto Clemente or even Dale Murphy; Jeff Francoeur just signed a minor league contract with the Giants and hopes to be called up to be their fourth outfielder. There’s another current player also a Cuban as it happens, putting up similar numbers to Puig.
Red Sox’ shortstop/third baseman Jose Iglesias line through his first 32 games –117 PA – was .438/.487/.581/ 1.068, just .044 (44/1000) short of Puig. While Iglesias hasn’t hit for as much power as the LA golden boy and hasn’t become the darling of the press, his OPS after 32 games is certainly close enough to Puig to be noteworthy but perhaps his call up during the Sox horrible September last year taints his performance in the eyes of punditry. Or perhaps it’s because Iglesias is a far more versatile, polished player who plays a premium position (primarily a SS where he hasn’t made an error this year ) along with two other infield positions second ( no errors) and third (two errors) without making mistakes usually reserved for little league play. Puig has twice as many errors as Iglesias, plays one position- right field – valued and important position but not nearly the premium slot of a middle infielder – and he plays like the raw undisciplined rookie he is making bad throws and taking bad routes that only his speed allow him to overcome – most of the time. Everyone should just calm down a bit and understand that the young player they are putting on a pedestal is more likely to fall off than remain there. Of course that isn’t the style of ESPN and unfortunately some MLB Network pundits.
Come Listen While We tell You How To Vote
ESPN – today’s Worldwide Leader in Poker, Lacrosse and LeBron James highlights – has little influence over well informed baseball fans. They’re primarily an NBA/NFL centric network whose baseball act is tired and their delivery dated. Many of their best baseball minds left for the MLB Network but that doesn’t stop them and their minions from assuming they know best. As Allan noted the ESPN Web Site originally started out as campaign manager and head cheerleader for Puig; “Vote Puig.” Then someone told them they were supposed to be a news organization so they changed the wording to ” he deserves to be there.” A less directive but no less obvious statement that those voters who don’t vote for him just don’t get it.
On Sunday night’s ESPN bore cast ( I was trapped on a bus coming back from a Rangers game so I had no choice but to watch) Dan Schulman postulated that “fans everywhere want to see Puig.” Sorry to disillusion Dan and ESPN, they do not. As the current MLB fan voting map (you may have to chose NL because it defaults to the AL vote first) shows, Dodger and southern California fans want to see him and some in the ESPN Mecca do as well – is ESPN stuffing the ballot box with their employees votes – but Giants’ fans would rather see Hunter Pence who was a key factor in their world championship last season and remains one of the best in their lineup this year while Braves fans want to see Freddie Freeman (shameless #VoteFreddie plug) who’s been their best hitter since day one and whose RBI with two out have made him the man pitchers want to avoid.
Since ESPN caters more to casual baseball fans who won’t vote nonstop for any player – they simply don’t care enough – I’m not sure how effective they will be in their quest to grant sainthood to Puig. Committed fans will vote whenever they get time and continuously for their man. So will Puig win? Probably not but it may not make a difference.
The Rules Are The Rules Until They Aren’t
We’ve already seen that MLB is willing to change rules to fit desires. Originally players on the ballot for final man were those who just missed being picked in fan voting. This year however Puig mania resulted in his addition. It’s fairly obvious the final man ballot was driven purely by a media frenzy, so anything is possible or in this case almost a certainty. That’s right folks I think they’ve decided already, I think Puig will be there even if he doesn’t get the most votes.
All Star Game ratings are as important to MLB as they are to FOX Sports; ratings translate to money. ESPN has the horribly dated and increasingly absurd home run derby with way too much time to fill and need something to talk about – let it be noted than any talk is preferable to the buffoonery of bumbling Boomer’s baseball blathering; even Puig talk. So everyone has a reason for Puig to be there that involves money. Thos folks really don’t care about anything as long as they can pump up ratings with talk of Puig. Make no mistake Puig will be there, some how, some way – on Skype perhaps - he’ll be there.
That’s A Wrap
Let me make this clear, I do not hate Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers or those fans who truly want to see him at the game. Nor do I wish them bad luck – well except when they play the Braves. Puig isn’t the point here, he’s a pawn in this game of MLB ratings dollars and punditry. I do however, dislike the capricious nature with which some pundits and ESPN throw around superlatives and selective stats to support their opinion and the way they assert that they know everyone wants to see Puig when objectively that’s simply not true.
The ASG is supposed to be a showcase for the best in baseball, professionals playing the game like professionals. They should of course be high energy, enthusiastic and exuberant professionals but they should also play like the highly trained professionals they are without making unrpofessional mistakes. All of this Puig chatter would be less of a problem if we didn’t have the ridiculous “This One Counts” rule in place; but we do. Home team advantage is important in a short series and more so in the World Series. That’s another reason he shouldn’t be there.
Because it counts the players who expect to be in the post season must be able to depend on each other to make good baseball decisions. If they lose they want to lose because they were out played, not because of a talented but raw rookie made a mistake. Losing home field advantage for the World Series because a man Harold Reynolds calls “Little League Puig” makes a mistake is simply unacceptable. Worst of all being chose could be a bad thing for Puig. Remember when Dan Uggla was the All Star second baseman and made are still talked about today? Uggla can shake most of that off but a rookie like Puig may never be able to. Besides he’s not even been the best player on the Dodgers.
If we’re wanted to choose a player best start to the season there’s a better candidate than Puig; Hanley Ramiez. In his 29 games since coming back from the DL Ramirez has put up a line of .415/.451/.723/1.174. Unlike Puig there’s been no base running mistakes or rookie plays that cost his team a run or more. So if I have to take a short term success who’s likely to help the NL win the ASG, I’ll take Ramirez.
Before Tuesday’s game Puig had started to come back to earth as pitchers around the league have figured him out. His slash over the last seven days was just .269/.286/.346/.632 and the Giants handed him a golden sombrero this week. That is a small sample size and not predictive I know. I point them out not to say that Puig is a flash in the pan, it’s too early to say that. Nor am I directly comparing him to Iglesias, Francoeur,or Ellis Burks who had a similar 30 game start to 1994; they aren’t the same player. The point – if I haven’t beaten it to death by now – is this. One record breaking month doesn’t make really good proven players with a history of performance and really great numbers over a short period an all star and it doesn’t make a raw, mistake prone rookie an all star either.
Whatever happens in the future, whether Puig goes on to be the greatest thing in right field since Roberto Clemente, an ordinary player with an average career or turns into a useful journeyman like Jeff Francoeur and no matter how many tears ESPN and various besotted pundit cry, Puig shouldn’t be at Citi Field as a participant this year He can watch it on TV like the rest of us and make it his goal to perform well enough to be selected next year. To that end do not forget to vote by clicking here or by texting N2 for Freddie Freeman to 89269 and on Thursday between 10 am and 4 pm eastern including the hashtag #VoteFreddie in your tweets.