Perhaps Yasiel Puig losing out in his chase for the National League's final All-Star spot was serendipitous after all.
The Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder, who has been the talk of Major League Baseball since being called up in June, lost out in the final fan vote to Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman this week—a result that shocked just about everyone.
Freeman is a well-respected young player with some Sean Casey-like potential, but his numbers aren't overwhelmingly impressive enough to garner a mainstream pull. He's batting .312 with nine home runs and 61 RBI, but he is a minus overall defensively, has a BABIP of .375 and doesn't exude the type of charisma you'd expect from a fan favorite.
Puig is the most intriguing rookie since...well, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout last year. But his first month in the bigs was still pretty damn good. The Dodgers outfielder hit .436 with seven home runs and 16 RBI, good enough for him to be named the National League Rookie of the Month and Player of the Month—a first for a youngster going through his first 30 days in MLB.
Extending that even further, Puig's 55 hits in his first 34 games were the third-most in baseball history since 1920, trailing some guy named Joe DiMaggio and Roy Weatherly, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Yasiel Puig has 55 hits in 1st 34 career games, 3rd-most since 1920. Only Joe DiMaggio (59) & Roy Weatherly (59) had more in 1st 34 games.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 10, 2013
Puigmania has reached such an apex that MLB's YouTube feed has two player-related threads on its channel. One is for Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of all time who's retiring at the end of this season. The other? That goes to Puig.
Not Miguel Cabrera. Not Mike Trout. Not Chris Davis.
And just want to throw this in for fun, Jay-Z has made Puig and Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes the next two targets for his Roc Nation Sports outfit, per Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan. That's not bad for a man's first month on the job. Not bad at all.
Considering Puig's prodigious hype, the overarching reaction was one of surprise fans chose Freeman over Puig for the 2013 MLB All-Star Game. It's always possible that these results were nefariously brought forth by some enterprising Atlanta fans—this is the Internet after all, where people tend to go out of their way to ruin things—but we can't do anything but take it at face value.
As a fan of the game, it was easy to think MLB had missed yet another opportunity to reach young fans.
Now? That loss might be critical to Puig keeping his magical run humming along.
The 22-year-old has had to leave each of the Dodgers' last two games early, citing pain in his recently injured left hip, per ESPN. Puig is listed as day-to-day, but he has been noticeably hampered by the ailment since crashing into the wall against the Rockies last week. Manager Don Mattingly has said Puig will be reevaluated before Sunday's contest.
"He just thought he could go and we talked with our medical people before the game," Mattingly said, via ESPN. "Obviously, it just wasn't good enough for the game."
While folks are obviously concerned about his short-term and long-term health, the hip injury has proven one thing above all else: Yasiel Puig is a human being, after all.
Since running into the wall on July 3, Puig has gone from DiMaggio to about replacement-level. He hasn't hit a home run, has knocked in just one run and is batting just .256. And that's even less telling than what it should be, considering Puig's BABIP for that time frame is .385.
Most have used that crashing into the wall to develop a cause-effect hypothesis about Puig's dipping numbers. Narratives being what they are, the theory goes that Puig's downtick in production must be as a result of his hip injury.
Of course, we all should have seen this coming to begin with, hip injury or not.
Puig doesn't walk. He swings at some questionable pitches and has a still-developing maturity at the dish. The reason his numbers have dipped is the same reason many thought they would in the first place: they're unsustainable. Puig still has a BABIP of .476, which is just as ridiculously off-the-charts as it sounds. All of this is what the logical side of the brain tells me.
The reality is that it's probably a mixture of the injury and natural regression.
Puig was due for a downfall. You can't just hit over .400 with Mark McGwire circa 1998 power forever in your first big-league season. And the hip injury had to expedite that process as well.
You can see the injury affecting his rotation with his swing, which has played a major factor in his power numbers going down. The saying goes that power is generated from your legs first, but it's really how well a player can compact the relationship between his hips and arms.
But, again, it's laughable the level to which folks are overreacting to these struggles. The coverage makes you think he did the baseball equivalent of butt fumbling or something. The reality is that Puig has had nine games where he's had below-average performances. He's still hitting for a passable average in today's National League, just not quite the power numbers you would expect from someone built like a baseball Terry Crews.
And that's fine. These things happen. A nine-game sample size of disappointing play is bound to happen to every slugger, even if his first month made the Marilyn Monroes of 2013 swoon.
Sitting out the 2013 All-Star Game will allow Puig some critical time to heal, and I posit he should probably sit out the team's last two pre-break games as a precaution. If, and this is a big if, this injury is as minor as reported, then Puig will be able to come back no problem next Friday bordering on 100 percent.
Are Yasiel Puig's recent struggles injury-related or a sign of things to come?
A healthy Puig will (obviously) mean a ton for Los Angeles, a team trying to parlay a Yankees-like payroll past the .500 barrier at this point. The NL West's general mediocrity has allowed the Dodgers to not fall out of contention, but they've been roughly a 4,214 times better baseball team since Puig was called up in June. Risking him over two piddly games against Colorado would be an exercise in inanity.
Puig missing the 2013 All-Star Game is a disappointment; few can dispute that. He's one of the game's more entertaining stars just a month into his career, a guy who's unafraid to appeal to younger demographics and would have been an intriguing addition to the Home Run Derby team had David Wright chosen to go that direction.
MLB is worse off for him missing the festivities. But the Dodgers should be sending thank you cards to everyone who voted Freeman.
All Sabermetrics in this article are provided by Fangraphs unless otherwise noted.
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