Why Yasiel Puig Was MLB's Most Valuable Rookie of 2013

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterNovember 12, 2013

USA Today

On Monday night, Jose Fernandez was named as the National League’s Rookie of the Year for the 2013 season after receiving 26 of 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

While Fernandez ultimately ran away with the award, it shouldn’t detract from Yasiel Puig’s impact this season both on the Los Angeles Dodgers and Major League Baseball.

Here’s a look back at why the 22-year-old outfielder was actually the sport’s most valuable rookie in 2013.

Unquantifiable Impact on Dodgers' Season

At the time of his promotion from Double-A Chattanooga to the major leagues on June 3, the Dodgers were last in the NL West with a 23-32 record and 7.5 games behind the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks.

With big-name players Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford all missing time with respective injuries, Puig can be credited for the Dodgers’ dramatic turnaround this season.

Following his arrival in early June, the rookie outfielder took baseball by storm, batting .436/.467/.713 with 44 hits and seven home runs in his first month with the Dodgers.

According to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com, Puig was the first player since Joe DiMaggio in 1936 to collect 70-plus hits and 10-plus homers in his first 50 career games.

Although Puig’s production steadily regressed over the subsequent months and his all-out style of play resulted in several minor injuries, the Dodgers still posted a 66-38 record in the 104 games in which he took part.

And it’s not as though Puig was a non-factor in those 38 losses; he batted .313/.367/.430 with 18 runs scored and four home runs.


Puigamania=Good for Baseball

Puig’s arrival in early June sparked a massive demand for his merchandise that ultimately shattered franchise sales records. Per the Los Angeles Times on June 11, the tail end of Puig’s first week in the majors:

The Dodgers sold more Puig-related merchandise from Thursday to Sunday than they had ever sold of any player over a four-day period -- more than even Manny Ramirez, Fernando Valenzuela or Hideo Nomo, according to a team spokesperson.

The team sold approximately 3,000 units of Puig-related merchandise in that four-day window, including 1,600 t-shirts ($28), 400 “Viva Puig” t-shirts ($28) and 600 jerseys ($225 for the authentic version, $110 for the replica ones).

“He’s a real exciting player that drives merchandise,” said Lon Rosen, the Dodgers’ chief marketing officer. “He’s a good-looking guy, great personality. What he does in the batter’s box, what he does on the field, he’s a five-tool player. He energizes the crowd.”

After Mariano Rivera and Matt Harvey, ESPN.com reported that Puig’s No. 66 jersey was the third-most popular on MLB's online shop over the second half of the season.


The Final Argument: 170 innings vs. 104 games played

While I’ve maintained that Fernandez deserved the recognition as the National League's top rookie, it can also be argued that Puig was Major League Baseball’s most valuable rookie in 2013.

Every year, the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards seem to prompt the ageless debate over whether 170 innings from a starting pitcher or nearly a full season from a position player holds greater value.

While the argument tends to favor the position player—though not in this year’s NL ROY voting, obviously—it usually doesn’t take into account the possibility of multiple players having historic rookie seasons.

Among qualified hitters with 400 plate appearances this season, FanGraphs indicates that Puig’s 160 wRC+ was tied with Jayson Werth for the fourth-highest total across both leagues.

Similarly, according to Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index Tool (subscription required), Puig’s 160 OPS+ in 104 games was the 11th-highest total in baseball history, coming in behind ROY first-place finishers Mike Trout (2012), Mark McGwire (1987), Fred Lynn (1975), Carlton Fisk (1972) and Dick Allen (1964).

Per FanGraphs, Fernandez led all rookies with a 4.2 WAR for the 2013 season while pitching 172.2 innings in 28 starts.

Puig, meanwhile, checked in just behind the Marlins right-hander with a 4.0 WAR while logging 838.2 innings in the Dodgers outfield.

While Fernandez’s remarkable rookie campaign will be remembered for his All-Star selection and, now, recognition as the NL's top rookie, Yasiel Puig’s impact on the Dodgers’ season, as well as Major League Baseball as a whole, extends well beyond any personal hardware.


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