Yasiel Puig, the Non-All-Star

I don’t often write these sort of unfocused think-pieces. (Well, I happen to think that I don’t, but many of my commenters undoubtedly disagree.) Anyway, I’m thinking about Yasiel Puig today. After an impressive, intensely hyped first month, the Dodger wunderkind lost to Freddie Freeman in the fans’ vote for the All-Star Game. (Of course, with injury replacements and so on, he still has a chance of making the team.) Yesterday, Jeff Sullivan wrote about what he’s done. I’m more interested in what he represents.

I’m a Braves fan, so the immediate grumbling comparison in much of the Braves blogosphere was Jeff Francoeur. Here’s a comparison of their first 35 games:

  PA R HR RBI BB/K slash BAbip
Francoeur 134 28 10 30 1/27 .362/.381/.700 .398
Puig 152 27 8 19 7/35 .394/.428/.634 .480

So the comparison isn’t crazy, at least as far as the first month is concerned. Of course, Francoeur was 21 and Puig is 22, so that’s one difference. Another is that Francoeur was a first-round pick who signed for a $2.2 million signing bonus, while Puig was an international free agent who signed for $42 million. So it might be reasonable to expect Puig to turn out better than Frenchy — the variability for first round picks who don’t pan out is relatively well known, but the variability on first-round picks should be a lot higher than it is for players who sign large major league contracts.

If it weren’t, then it would be foolish to sign one Yasiel Puig for the price of 20 Jeff Francoeurs, or 2100 Hanley Ramirezes; Hanley signed for $20,000 in the year 2000, according to SoxProspects.com.

I haven’t written about Puig before, but I’m late to the party. Everyone else has, and it’s not hard to see why. Everyone loves “The Natural” stories — that’s why Francoeur was such a hot ticket back in 2005 — and Puig plays in the second-biggest media market in America. He seems to have single-handedly propelled the Dodgers back to relevance, much like Manny Ramirez did in the halcyon Mannywood days of 2009.

Just as a reminder, here’s how Manny did in his first 35 games:

  PA R HR RBI BB/K slash BAbip
Ramirez 152 24 11 34 24/23 .410/.507/.754 .429

So, as Puig has continued his tear, multiple narratives have cropped up in the wall-to-wall coverage, supplanting the initial elation. First, there’s the regression story, which Jeff touched on. Even if Puig goes on to a Hall of Merit career, we can be reasonably confident that his eventual career numbers will be worse than his current 2013 numbers.

(Although there is always a caveat: just because a fact is unlikely does not mean that it cannot occur. After all, it is fairly unusual for a planet to be able to sustain carbon-based life. As they say, that’s why they play the games.)

The second narrative is that he is gaining notoriety outside of Los Angeles. He was prominently involved in the terrible Dodger-Diamondback brawl, and, as Bill Plaschke writes, “The hot young outfielder and hitter is also now officially a villain.”

Atlanta Braves broadcaster Jim Powell lustily joined the fight, firing off a couple of salty tweets:

The regression story is easily stated. Puig does not have much of a track record in the United States, so it’s a bit harder to figure out exactly what baseline he is likely to regress to, but we can analyze the things that he does well and less well and figure out where some degree of regression is most likely to occur. That story has been written.

And the villain story, cheap shot aside, is partly fueled by the predictable backlash against a young phenom who has received more than his share of attention given his skimpy track record. (That’s basically the reason that Cole Hamels plunked Bryce Harper a year ago.) On the other hand, he’s a rah-rah guy, and Buster Olney reports that a scout told him in March that “Other players are going to hate him.” The longer Puig is in the league, the more of a chance he’ll have to proactively choose whether he wants to play a villain on the field.

Puig would not have been the most inexperienced All-Star ever selected. According to Steve Moyer of The Wall Street Journal, that would be Frankie Zak, a Pittsburgh Pirate who made it to the Midsummer Classic in 1944, when many stars were serving in the military. Zak came up in April of that year and played the entire month of May as a pinch runner; he finally played some innings at shortstop in June and had ten hits in his first 19 at-bats. The game was in Pittsburgh, and the 22-year old shortstop was batting .305 at the break. So he was an All-Star. Hey, it’s a popularity contest, remember?

Zak had 143 plate appearances the rest of his career, and obviously there’s really nothing remotely instructive about his example except for this: the voting for the All-Star Game has always, always been deeply silly. So, even though I’m happy as a Braves fan that Freddie Freeman will be an All-Star, in the final accounting, the fact that Freeman beat out Puig means exactly nothing. Just like the All-Star Game itself.

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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.

77 Responses to “Yasiel Puig, the Non-All-Star”

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  1. Pennant says:

    Shades of Bush, Gore, and Ralph Nader, FL 2000. On the MLB electoral map, it seems that the nomination of Hunter Pence may have cost Puig the spot. Northern California went for Pence, SoCal for Puig. The Southeast was a blackout for Freeman, except for southern FL whic wen Puig.

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    • Kogoruhn says:

      Somehow I doubt the Giants fans in Northern California would have voted for a Dodger if Pence wasn’t on the ballot…

      +24 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • David says:

        As a Giants fan in NorCal I can confirm that many of us voted Freedman To make sure Puig didn’t win. I also used the Vote Hunter Pence text app to send 10,000 hunter pence votes. ;)

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    • tynandaly says:

      That’s a bunch of malarkey

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    • cs3 says:

      Pennant are you kidding me? Pence didnt have any impact on the Puig non-selection whatsoever.
      Nobody in northern CA would’ve voted for that Puig guy no matter who else was on the ballot.

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    • ArbeeEye says:

      Adrian Gonzalez is on the ballot and is on the same team as Puig. Surely that would split the votes more than a player on the rival team.

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      • Bip says:

        AGon was asking people to vote for Puig. It’s hard to say then whether he took away dodger fan votes from Puig or gave Puig the advantage of having another final vote candidate campaigning for him.

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  2. hamjenkinsIII says:

    Freedie Fredman

    -7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. FeslenR says:

    I do like Freeman, but Puig being in the All-Star Game would have made people like me watch it.

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    • DIrtbag says:

      Justin Bieber in the All-Star Game would have gotten millions of teenage girls to tune in, but he doesn’t belong either.

      +35 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • BearHunter90 says:

        Yeah but he still would have been more worthy then approximately the 6 or 7th best first baseman in the NL

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      • André says:

        Justin Bieber playing the All-Star game (as opposed to playing in), would also get millions of teenage girls to tune in, and it’s doubtful anyone in the MLB would be opposed to that.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      It was voted on by fans who will watch. So apparently, more people were sick of the national media campaigning and fellating Puig than there were who wanted to see him. Now I do understand the theory of Puig as a draw as a villain too.

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      • Bip says:

        National media campaigning. It seems to me that the reigning narrative around Puig has been trending towards the decidedly negative.

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        • Antonio Bananas says:

          I live in the Midwest, for whatever reason, from Jim Rome to what I was seeing, they were cramming down my throat how good he was and how he’s exciting and how he’d be a perfect fit for what the all star game is all about.

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      • Alan says:

        I was rooting against Puig. I’m sure he’s not a complete flash in the pan, but his performance as of right now is no different than Kevin Maas or Francouer or 9,000 other hot starts to a career.

        And while the AS Game is an exhibition that the players don’t care about (aside from making it) and kinda counts… I do put personal importance in who makes it. Call me silly.

        I got very tired of both being told that I have to want to watch Puig play and that’s he a guaranteed HOF-level talent.

        I’m glad he’ll have to make at least one adjustment at the plate before heading to the ASG.

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    • Baltar says:

      I would like to have seen him in it, and I hate the Dodgers.

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  4. Steve says:

    Puig doesn’t deserve to be an all-star, simple as that

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    • atoms says:

      I like Freeman, but if anything, he deserves it less. Puig has been more valuable than Freeman this season, despite way fewer at-bats. Honestly, based entirely on merit, probably neither of them “deserve” to go.

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    • Tim A says:

      Josh Donaldson, and Evan Longoria do, big time, it’s a joke of a selection process come on.

      +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • cs3 says:

        You would have a point… if you were talking about the right league.

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      • That-said-man says:

        You can’t have 4 third basemen.

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        • Fircoal says:

          Sure you can.

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        • Dylan says:

          No, you can’t. The All-Star game isn’t just a chance to pick the best, players, it’s also a game. Having 4 guys at the same position would not work well, it means each guy’s playing 2 innings instead of 3, while someone at another position has to play more innings than they would otherwise.

          You can get away with 3 by playing Machado at short (in fact, that’s what they should have done), but 4 is too many.

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    • Charlie says:

      Ask yourself this question: “Does Puig’s sample size express sustainable success? Is there valid concern about Puig’s peripherals?”

      There’s not an objective process where certain criteria are met; whether the fans vote or the players are selected without fan influence, there will always be snubs and undeserving players. We really should be arguing about the best player of the bunch. Want to know who is “truly deserving” of the all-start vote? That SS in Washington who gets practically anemic attention.

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  5. atoms says:

    Hinske is the villian for smacking Puig in the face. Also Ian Kennedy for being a scumbag.

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    • JuanPierreDoesSteroids says:

      Obviously not a Dodgers fan.

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      • Cool Lester Smooth says:

        Ian Kennedy is the worst, but Puig’s a dick too.

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      • Bonertron5000 says:

        It’s been reported, but unfortunately lost in the shuffle because it doesn’t fit the narrative of Puig being a dark skinned hothead. Hinske got suspended and Puig didn’t for a reason: Hinske was the aggressor.

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  6. Josh M says:

    I dont know in what world Freddie Freeman deserves to be an All-Star this season.

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  7. guess the ESPN smear campaign worked

    racist sycophants

    -20 Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Vin Scully says:

    Hello everyone and a pleasant good evening to you! It’s time for Dodger baseball!

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    • hamjenkinsIII says:

      Scin Vully

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    • y54y45y says:

      does vince scully have alzheimers?

      -13 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Baltar says:

        No, he always made a lot of mistakes and never understood baseball and always told long, long pointless stories.
        I never understood his popularity, but then I remember it’s the American public.

        -15 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • atoms says:

          1. He hasn’t always made a lot of mistakes. I’ve been listening to him for 25 years, and it’s definitely something he’s done more as he’s gotten older. If you’re paying attention to the game, it doesn’t matter.

          2. His stories are awesome.

          3. Clearly you hate America and freedom and everything good in this world.

          +18 Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. BurleighGrimes says:

    Shin-Soo Choo deserved it more than either of them. He wasn’t selected by any method. Ian Desmond, who was on this final vote, has been (by fWAR) more than two times as valuable as Freeman. Oh well, the All-Star game wouldn’t be complete without the All-Star game snub.

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    • Freeman is worth 1.5 fWAR and 2.7 rWAR, so Freeman’s been almost twice as valuable to baseball-reference as he has been to Fangraphs. Spreads like that are usually largely dependent on defense.

      This year, b-ref puts Freeman at +5 Fielding Runs, while Fangraphs has him at -2.7 UZR. I don’t totally understand why UZR hates Freeman’s defense as much as it does. Watching Freeman, to my eyes, he doesn’t have great range but he is truly superb at saving bad throws. (This is borne out in the data to some extent; he’s tied for second in Scoops this year, he was second in the majors last year, and he was second in the majors the year before that.)

      So, according to MGL in a piece written three years ago, UZR does not account for scoops, but scoops are only about 25% of a player’s defensive value. http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/first-basemen-scoops/

      So that may be part of the story. I’m not sure that it’s the whole story. I still don’t understand why the two sites see him so differently.

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      • Baltar says:

        UZR doesn’t hate anybody, not even you.

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      • Ehhhh... says:

        I don’t know if I buy scoops as a good measure. That could just be a result of a crappy-throwing 3B giving many more

        Either way, I don’t think there is much of an argument that Choo has been better than Freeman this year.

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  10. Billy says:

    *sigh* These comments just make me sad. :'(

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  11. BIP says:

    What I find amusing is that Puig pretty much plays like Griffey did–even looks somewhat like him, too. Griffey showboated every time he hit a home run, with that iconic walk up the first base line, and not once did I ever hear anyone accuse him of arrogance or anything else. Nowadays, the media are all too happy to fuel any sort of controversy, and the Internet has given a voice to worthless people who are all too happy to tear someone down, simply because he plays for a different team than the one they support. We should be celebrating the Puigs and Ronaldos and Lebrons (I’m not saying they have comparable talent) for understanding that they are entertainers above all else, and actually playing with some flair and personality.

    +9 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • pmacho says:

      CHeap shotting a player tells me a lot about his personality. It helps me build a hatred for certain players which I guess helps me enjoy the game. When they struggle I get happy!

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    • KJ says:

      Puig reminds me more of Milton Bradley than Griffey. My guess is that Dodger fans will tire of his act soon enough.

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    • Bryan says:

      There is a massive difference between Griffey and Puig. Most importantly, he is a Dodger, and all Dodger’s should be booed.

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    • That Guy says:

      Thanks for one of the more interesting and generous comments in this thread. I hadn’t thought of it before but I totally see the comparison. Griffey was a hot dog, but then he was 19 and we might be allowed to give him a little more credit for any perceived immaturity. I’ve recently become aware that I consume too much and don’t enjoy things like baseball as much as I should. Really, it shouldn’t be so hard to enjoy watching a guy like Puig flip his bat and gun down runners, right?

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  12. Bab says:

    You have to take the vote away from the fans. Democracy is not ideal for all processes.

    Hunter Pence an All-Star? Marco Scutaro? Madison Bumgarner? The only guy on that squad who deserves NL All-Star playing time is Buster Posey.

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    • Hank says:

      Uhhh… the current system has votes, sure, but I don’t know that I would call it democracy. Everyone gets to vote as many times as they want, so the people with the most time or tech know-how are the ones who matter? It’s hard to believe my three or four votes for Koji Uehara made any difference, and while that’s certainly present in democracy, it’s hard to believe that someone else using their iPhone to vote 20,000 times didn’t matter way more than my votes, and that’s not democracy. You can decide whether democracy is the right system or not, but don’t sully it’s name by associating it with the all-star process.

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    • Baltar says:

      Au contraire, mon frere. You have to take any part of the selection process away from the commissioner and last year’s pennant winner manager.
      Let the fans select all of them–it’s their game. If they elect Freddie Freedman or George W. Bush, so be it.

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    • Bryan says:

      Scutaro, Bumgarner and Posey were not voted in the by the fans. So, there’s that.

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  13. Jason says:

    the salary argument isnt really relevant. If Francoeur had been a free agent like Puig rather than part of the draft we can be reasonably assured he would have made a lot closer to what Puig got. (in $ adjusted for inflation)

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    • Sure it’s relevant. Teams decide where they want to spend their money, even with all the new caps in place. Even with the new CBA, teams can decide if they want to spend a bit more at the top of the draft (i.e., a Mark Appel) or to focus on the mid-rounds and pay a bit less for the first rounder. When teams look at 16-year old free agents in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere, there are a few every year who sign for a bonus in the millions, and there are a lot more below-the-radar signings under $100,000, like Hanley Ramirez. Of course, scouting those players requires a serious investment in personnel. So teams have to pick their priorities.

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      • chuckb says:

        Puig was a free agent but Francouer was not. It’s hard to compare what the Dodgers thought of a free agent to what he Braves thought of one who wasn’t based on salaries alone. Teams do get to pick their priorities but so do players in a system in which free agency exists. Francouer, unlike Puig, didn’t get a chance to choose from 30 different teams so you’re comparing apples to tomatoes.

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  14. Bob M says:

    As far as an all-star selection, Puig is currently 24th in the NL in WAR (filtered for 150 AB minimum). Restrict that to OF only, and he’s 9th. He’s an exciting player to watch. You can certainly make a case for him to be added to the bottom of the roster. You can also make a case that there are other, more deserving players. He’s a borderline All-Star, which is a pretty good thing for a rookie to be. But it isn’t a travesty if he isn’t on the team.

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  15. KJOK says:

    Regarding Zak being the youngest all-star selected – there were unusual circumstances I believe. There was I think an injury for one of the NL All-star shortstops, so they needed at last-minute all-star sub, and with the World War II travel restictions and the short-time to get someone by train to the game, about the only choice available was Zak who was of course already in Pittsburgh since he played for the Pirates.

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    • Thanks, KJOK, I didn’t know that!

      Zak wasn’t the youngest All-Star selected, of course. Just the All-Star with the least major league experience before his selection. I kind of figured it had something to do with it being in Pittsburgh.

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  16. KCDaveInLA says:

    This year was just ridiculous…five relievers for the AL final vote, the Yasiel Puig thing…I’m ready to start calling this The Pro Bowl.

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  17. Jim says:

    I have watched Puig a lot here on the west coast. He has an intense personality and he seems as hard on himself as he is cocky. It was funny watching him a couple nights ago and hearing the D Backs announcers just ripping on him. Shut up and go build your border fence!

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  18. sam says:

    Who the heck cares if he’s an a-hole? Let him be a dick. I’m sure there’s nothing in his contract that says he has to be all smiles. So what if he doesn’t want to talk to the press.
    And about hitting a guy, Puig is 22 and took part in his first major league brawl. I probably woulda hit a dude when I was 22 as well.
    And who cares about the All-Star snub? The game itself is silly, much like this conversation, and shouldn’t even count for home field advantage. Not if the fans vote in players.

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  19. ChadT says:

    Jim Powell? Kind of a douche.

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  20. redcyclone says:

    I have my issues with the sporting press and announcers, with their race-specific descriptors (http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/08/how-baseball-announcers-subtly-favor-american-players-over-foreign-ones/261265/) and general bias. Baseball is as international as any sport at this point, and yet if you look at it, there is always favoritism towards white American players, and bias against POCs and hispanic players. Puig is both of the latter, so naturally his behavior is given a specific slant. I want people to be enraged at Ian Kennedy nearly killing the kid, not at Puig fighting someone in a brawl, or for disrespecting some old legend who was part of a team he’s probably quickly learned to hate.

    He has attitude issues, but pay close attention to other players with similar issues, their background, and the press’ reactions. You’ll see that players like Puig will receive much stronger language than say, a Bryce Harper type player breaking his bat against the clubhouse wall after striking out.

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  21. Ben says:

    This jim powell guy is a major asshole

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  22. Ruki Motomiya says:

    I voted for Pence and Uehara myself. I can understand Puig as an All-Star. Freeman to me is much more confusing from a statistical standpoint, but from a voting standpoint, not so much…

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