Friday, July 05, 2013

Yasiel Puig And The All-Star Debate

Yasiel Puig's meteoric start, and whether that merits All-Star Game consideration, continues to be hotly debated. David Wharton of the LA Times laid out the argument on both sides:

There wasn't much room for debate at Dodger Stadium on a recent summer evening.

Not among the people who came out early to watch Yasiel Puig take batting practice. Not among those who wore T-shirts with the rookie's name and number.

Dodgers fans seemed confident that Puig belongs in the All-Star game.

"Are you kidding me?" said Javier Diaz, sitting along the third base line. "The guy is amazing."

No other player in baseball has generated more buzz this summer. The strong, fleet Cuban — called up from the minors in early June — started the week batting .436 with seven home runs and has shown a rifle arm from the outfield.

But is one spectacular month enough to earn him the sort of accolade that most players work half a season — if not years — to achieve?

While supporters marvel at his raw talent, others want more proof. They point out that Puig will have played only 30 games by the time All-Star rosters are announced Saturday.

"I understand the dilemma," said John Thorn, the official historian for Major League Baseball. "I don't have a simple answer."

The National League and American League will bring 34-man squads to the July 16 game at Citi Field in New York. Fans elect the starters, but Puig came along too late to get his name on the ballot.

The rest of the team is filled out by MLB players, who vote for pitchers and backups, and the manager, who can add a limited number of reserves.

Bruce Bochy of the San Francisco Giants will lead this year's NL team. In choosing Puig, he might have to bypass talented outfielders such as Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Justin Upton of the Atlanta Braves.

There is one more way to make the roster. MLB could list Puig on the "Final Vote" ballot, which allows fans to pick the last spot, choosing from among five candidates. That voting begins Saturday.

But if Puig deserves a spot, then what about his former Cuban teammate Jose Iglesias, who has put together a similarly short, torrid stretch with the Boston Red Sox?

"Generally, guys that go to the All-Star Game are guys that have a great first half, not a great three weeks," Bochy said recently.

Puig's first 22 days qualified as historic, his .442 batting average surpassing the record of .422 set by Terry Pendleton of the 1984 St. Louis Cardinals, according to STATS LLC. His speed and power drew instant comparisons to a young Roberto Clemente.

It didn't hurt that few people knew much about the 22-year-old Cuban defector before then, which added to his mystique.

Thorn cannot recall any major league player enjoying such a fast start before the All-Star break. Minor leaguers, he said, tend to be called up later in the season.

Willie McCovey, for example, joined the Giants for the second half of 1959, batting .354 with 13 home runs in 52 games. Bob "Hurricane" Hazle hit .403 in 41 games with the 1957 Milwaukee Braves but had played some with the Cincinnati Reds a few seasons earlier.

The Angels' Mike Trout made the All-Star team last year after being called up in late April. He was batting .341 with 12 home runs and 41 runs batted in at the break.

So there is little precedent for weighing Puig's credentials, which could work against him in a sport that values its traditions.

Mike Trout is a good analogy for Puig, coming on to the scene like a freight train; Trout's call-up in April definitely gave him more time to establish his credentials. But Puig has done just as much to garner national attention and high excitement levels. And though we feel that boom here in Los Angeles, as Dodger fans, I have no doubt that the rest of the country is also well aware of Puig's hot start.

I hope this goes to the Final Vote ballot, and we can really test whether Puig has national appeal...or whether Puig's local appeal is enough to push him into the All-Star Game.

Oh, and just to rile you up: Deadspin had this story: "Grumpy Hater Jonathan Papelbon Doesn't Think Yasiel Puig Is An All-Star", and concluded with this comment:

OK, sure, Puig hasn't yet played 30 major-league games, and his inclusion on the all-star team may very well rob a deserving veteran of a trip to Citi Field. Having said that, Jonathan Papelbon can piss off. The all-star game—which is routinely boring as shit—is supposed to be fun, and it would be dumb if one of the game's most exciting players was kept out of it. I'd much rather watch Puig get an at-bat or two and patrol right field for a few innings than I would Hunter Pence or Shin-Soo Choo.


ubragg said...

I wrote a post on Google+ yesterday on using WAR to see if there is any objective measure by which he should be included, and it turns out that using just WAR, he has already statistically earned a spot in the Final Vote!