There is no debate that Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig has been one of the best stories during Major League Baseball‘s first half. The 22-year-old outfielder and Cuban defector is batting .407 with an OPS of 1.114 and has hit 8 home runs in just 32 games. His blazing start—along with the reemergence of shortstop Hanley Ramirez—is a big reason why the Dodgers have climbed up the National League West standings and sit just 4.5 games behind the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks. None of this is in dispute. And yet, some players, managers and writers throughout baseball are angry that Puig might earn the final spot on the NL All-Star roster.
The common refrain from the detractors is that Puig hasn’t “earned it” yet. After all, he’s played in just 32 of the Dodgers’ 87 games and didn’t even join the team until June 3rd. Philadelphia Phillies reliever Jonathan Papelbon kicked off the Puig-bashing on July 3 when discussing the rightfielder’s All-Star Game propects. “To me, it’s an absolute joke,” he said. “It’s kind of stupid if you ask me.” (For what it’s worth, as Grantland’s Michael Baumman points out, Papelbon has faced 133 batters this season while Puig has batted 135 times—and that gap is likely to grow as the All-Star game grows nearer.) In the wake of Papelbon’s outburst, numerous other baseball minds chimed in—albeit with more tact—to proclaim their objections to Puig’s candidacy.
Their argument, in short, is absurd. Yes, Puig’s sample size is a small one. But during his five weeks in the majors, he’s racked up some rather remarkable numbers, including a 2.4 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) that puts him just a hair behind Washington Natoinals shortstop Ian Desmond (2.5 WAR) and ahead of the other NL Final Vote candidates—Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (2.3), San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence (2.0) and Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (1.8). And keep in mind that unlike many other sabermetrics, WAR actually penalizes those with a smaller sample size. That hasn’t stopped detractors from complaining that Puig hasn’t been with the Dodgers for a full season, carrying the team day in and day out. But so what if Puig hasn’t been with the Dodgers for three months? In the brief time he has been with the team, he has made as much of an impact as the other candidates have over the course of the entire first half, even winning the National League’s Player of the Month award in June.
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Then there’s the part of the story that numbers can’t cover. Puig has simply been one of the most riveting stories in baseball over the last three months. He’s managed to change the Dodgers’ narrative from one of a bloated, floundering franchise to one of the NL West’s most compelling team. His mammoth home runs and laser-like assists from the outfield regularly top nightly highlights, and his inclusion on the NL roster would inevitably be a ratings boon for FOX, which is broadcasting this year’s game. As much as pundits and players alike lament that the All-Star Game shouldn’t be a popularity contest (and justifiably so), that’s exactly what it is.
For as long as fans have been deciding the starters of the Midsummer Classic, teams with larger fan bases have had their players participate in the game in disproportionate numbers. Aging stars are regularly chosen over more qualified colleagues—both by the fans and by the players, managers and Commissioners Office, who are responsible for selecting the reserves. The outcry in those situations is muted at best, and often non-existent. The inequity is simply accepted as a fact of life, an inherent but unavoidable flaw in the All-Star Game—all of which makes the criticism of Puig’s candidacy curious and, quite frankly, unfair.
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All of this is not to say that Puig must be chosen as the final member of the NL All-Star roster—the numbers clearly indicate that Desmond and Freeman would be equally worthy candidates—but that his brief time in the majors should not disqualify him from consideration. Far less deserving players have been securing spots on All-Star rosters for decades, and will continue doing so this year and for many years to come. If the fans want Puig at Citi Field on July 16, he deserves to be there as much as anyone else with comprable numbers. It’s time that everyone in the baseball world accepts the fact that youth and inexperience are obstacles that rising stars must overcome, not qualities that make them inherently inferior to their peers. Puig has enjoyed a truly historic first month in Los Angeles. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be rewarded for his efforts.