Why Yasiel Puig Should Have Won Rookie of the YearTwo months into the 2013 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers were sitting in last place in the National League West.
That's when management decided to call up prized prospect Yasiel Puig, who proceeded to ignite the listless team, spearhead a historic 42-8 stretch and help Los Angeles get within two wins of its first World Series appearance in 25 years. Sounds like the Rookie of the Year. Nope.
The honor went to pitcher Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins, the second-worst team in the league. Fernandez (12-6, 2.19 ERA, 187 strikeouts) undoubtedly had a terrific year and was the lone bright spot in South Beach, but the award should have gone to Puig for three main reasons:
First of all, Fernandez stepped foot on the mound once every five days as a starting pitcher. In essence, he was only able to help his team once or twice per week. Puig, on the other hand, immediately became an everyday player and never looked back. Opposing pitchers had to deal with him every night whereas batters only had to worry about Fernandez's filthy arsenal once every fifth game. The more time a player logs on the field, the more valuable he becomes.
Puig's detractors — and there are many of them out there — may use the argument that he was only around for a little more than half the season while Fernandez was on the opening-day roster. Well, considering Puig finished with a .319 batting average, 19 home runs and 42 runs batted in, imagine the numbers he could have produced with those two extra months.
Second, the fact that he arrived midseason only enhances his candidacy for Rookie of the Year. His youthful exuberance woke up a Dodgers team that was going nowhere fast. The way he hustled on the basepaths and in the outfield represented an unrestrained style of play that was refreshing to a team shackled under the weight of lofty expectations based on its record payroll.
Of course, there were some growing pains along the way. His confidence and swagger were unusual traits for a rookie to exhibit and thus he rubbed some opposing players the wrong way. Pundits ridiculed him for these antics, yet watched as Fernandez displayed similar bat-flipping shenanigans.
The most important reason for why Puig should have been Rookie of the Year has to do with what postseason awards are all about. Statistically, Fernandez's pitching numbers were better than Puig's batting numbers. But last season proved that statistics are not the sole basis for these type of awards. The 2012 Cy Young Award winner, R.A. Dickey, did not have better numbers than runner-up Clayton Kershaw. Dickey was simply the better story, with his unique knuckleball and road to prominence. If the voters were looking for good storylines, both Puig and Fernandez defected from communist Cuba. However, it took the outfielder much longer to make the journey.
And what about their respective teams? The Marlins and Dodgers were both in last place in early June but finished in very different fashions. Miami ended up staying in the basement of the NL East and lost 100 games. The Dodgers won their division and advanced deep into the National League Championship Series. It's true that Puig had more help around him, but the 2011 Most Valuable Player race shows how team success played a major factor in the Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun beating out the Dodgers' Matt Kemp.
If you're keeping score at home, that's three Dodgers players snubbed from postseason awards in each of the last three seasons. At least Kershaw will finally get the credit he deserves when this year's Cy Young winner is announced.
No other player garnered more attention — both positive and negative — than Puig did over the course of the summer. He was a lightning rod, and a highly productive one at that. His style of play no doubt alienated him from many of the writers who voted on the award, specifically the San Diego Union Tribune's John Maffei, who was curiously the only journalist to leave Puig off his ballot — in favor of San Diego Padre Jedd Gyorko.
While Jose Fernandez was a very worthy pick for the award, he was the wrong pick. The 2013 Rookie of the Year should have been Yasiel Puig.