Why Puig shouldn’t be the Rookie of the Year

Reckless driving charges were dropped last week against the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig, who was accused by police in Chattanooga, Tenn., in the spring of driving 97 mph in a 55-mph zone.

Perhaps the judge who dismissed the case has seen Puig play baseball, since Puig runs the bases like he apparently drives: swerving at high speeds. Puig goes from first base to third base as quickly as he does from first gear to fifth, without much care for the equipment or the route.

And on occasion Puig gets interrupted, either by law enforcement or by an opponent’s throw.

Puig might have been erratic, on and off the field, but he was also effective, batting .319, slugging .534, throwing out eight opposing base runners from the outfield. In most years, that would earn him the Rookie of the Year award to be announced Monday night. Just not this one.

The Marlins’ Jose Fernandez should be Rookie of the Year, and we can argue before Wednesday’s Cy Young Award announcements how much consideration Fernandez would have received but for a reduced workload. Fernandez won 12 games — almost 20% of the 62 the Marlins won — had a 2.19 ERA and a .522 OPS against. Opponents batted just .182 against Fernandez — he allowed only 111 hits in 172.2 innings. Those are numbers normally compiled in three years of relieving — and only by the best at that — not one year of starting.

He also homered against the Braves and offended them by admiring it — that should count in his favor, too.

Fernandez had a 6.3 WAR, according to baseball-reference.com; no NL Rookie of the Year has had one as high since Albert Pujols in 2001 (6.6). Puig’s was 5.0, a tad less than 2012 winner Bryce Harper’s 5.2, a tad more than 2009 winner Chris Coghlan’s 1.1. In some ways, Fernandez’s 2013 compares favorably to Fernando Valenzuela’s Rookie- and Cy Young-winning 1981: Fernandez had a better OPS against (.522 to .549), better batting average against (.182 to .205), better WAR (6.3 to 4.8) and much better ERA plus (176 to 135). Valenzuela batted .250 but didn’t homer, Fernandez batted .222 and did.

In others, not so much: Valenzuela led the NL in completes games (11), shutouts (eight), strikeouts (180) and innings pitched (192.1) in a strike-shortened 1981. Thirty-two years later, rookies are a protected species. Fernandez had no shutouts and no complete games (he did have more strikeouts, 187, in less innings), and in 28 starts, he topped 100 pitches only eight times. Pitch counts weren’t kept in Valenzuela’s rookie year; in some of his starts, they might still be counting.

The third NL finalist, pitcher Shelby Miller, was forgotten by the Cardinals in the postseason; he should be forgotten by voters, too.

The AL Rookie of the Year will be a Ray — two of the three finalists are from Tampa Bay. Both came by trade, outfielder Wil Myers from Kansas City and pitcher Chris Archer from the Cubs, who acquired him from Cleveland.

It’s indicative of how the Rays run their team: Branch Rickey, who once said it’s better to trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late, would be proud.

The Rays go Rickey one better: they trade a player two years too early. James Shields had two years left on his contract when he was dealt for Myers and Matt Garza was three years before free agency when he was dealt for Archer, and others.

Myers will probably win this year. And three years from now, the winner will probably be someone the Rays acquire this winter in a trade for David Price.

The third finalist, Jose Iglesias, deserves mention, if not votes. He helped the Red Sox by batting .330 for them in 63 games before being traded to the Tigers, then helped the Sox again in Game 6 of the ALCS when his huge error preceded Shane Victorino’s grand slam. For the Tigers, he wasn’t as helpful: he batted .259 in regular season games and .231 without an extra-base hit in 26 postseason at-bats.

The Tigers, mostly devoid of young talent, dealt for a 2013 version of Rey Ordonez.

  • The Braves announced Monday they’ll be moving out of downtown Atlanta north to Cobb County when their Turner Field lease expires. If the Braves really want to attract more fans, maybe they should aim farther north. Like Milwaukee. Or maybe Boston.
  • The Twins say they’re going to move Joe Mauer to first base to preserve his health, if not the team’s. Mauer missed 39 games from a concussion in 2013, but the Twins should know better than anyone he won’t be immune to injuries — concussion or otherwise — at first base: the Twins’ previous first baseman, Justin Morneau, lost an MVP season to concussion in 2010 and his career has never recovered.
    Mauer is 30 and has five years left on his contract at $23 million per. For that, the Twins will be getting Keith Hernandez: a .300 hitting, .400 on-basing, .450 slugging first baseman; the Gold Glove fielding would be extra.
    It might not be as bad a contract as Ryan Howard’s or Prince Fielder’s, but for a team with a $75 million payroll, it doesn’t leave much margin for error.
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