Should Yasiel Puig be in the All-Star Game?: here’s the definitive answer

Let’s play trivia.

Q: Who are George Scott, Mitchell Page, Van Kelly, Rocco Baldelli, Mike White, Hector Rodriguez, Warren Newson, Ron Jones, Ken Harvey, Gail Harris, Yasmani Grandal, Brian Giles, Bobby Darwin, Joe Cunningham, Thad Bosley, Oscar Azocar, Gus Zernial, Dan Walters, Taylor Teagarden, Dick Stuart, Shane Spencer, Dwight Smith, Bob Smith, Ryan Shealy, Kevin Roberson, Will Rhymes, Irv Noren, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Kevin Mench, Martin Maldonado, Al Luplow, Joe Keough, Ricky Jordan, Tracy Jones, Dalton Jones, Sam Jethroe, Akinori Iwamura, Jim Hickman, Elian Herrera, Fran Healy, Paul Goldschmidt, Brent Gates, Joe Foy, Tom Donohue, Terry Crowley, Jose Constanza, Doug Camilli, Larry Burright, Barry Bonnell, Kevin Barker, Gabe Alvarez and Glenn Adams?

Answer in a minute.

In the coming days it seems almost certain that Major League Baseball fans will vote Dodgers rookie sensation Yasiel Puig into the All-Star Game. The whole idea is rather controversial since Puig has been in the show for barely a month. Some pundits love the idea, saying that the game is for the fans and they should get to choose. Others, expressing a position more sensitive to the game’s history and tradition, are vehemently opposed to a player with so little track record being admitted into the greatest all-star competition in US club sports. Some insider estimates say that 80% of current MLB players are against his inclusion.

There’s no question that Puig has been from hell since he was called up from Chattanooga on June 2. As of this writing, his line looks like this:


















2013 Regular Season

















That’s incredible, especially the average, on-base percentage and OPS, which are just ridiculous. There is absolutely nothing bad you can say about Puig to this point in his career.

But back to that opening question: who are those other guys?

The answer is that they’re all current and former Major League Baseball players who, according to the Win Probability Added (WPA) Sabermetrics stat, were as good as or better than Yasiel Puig over the first month of their careers.

Most sabermetric statistics are context neutral — they do not consider the situation of a particular event or how some plays are more crucial to a win than others. While wOBA rates all home runs as equal, we know intuitively that a home run in the third inning of a blowout is less important to that win than a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of a close game. Win Probability Added (WPA) captures this difference by measuring how individual players affect their team’s win expectancy on a per-play basis.

For example, say the Rays have a 45% chance of winning before Ben Zobrist comes to the plate. During his at-bat, Zobrist hits a home run, pushing the Rays’ win expectancy jumps to 75%. That difference in win expectancy (in decimal form, +.30) from the beginning of the play to the end is Ben Zobrist’s WPA for that play. If Zobrist strikes out during his next at bat and lowers his team’s win expectancy by 5%, his overall WPA for the game so far would be +.30 – .05 = +.25, as WPA is a counting statistic and is additive.

Arjun Jaikumar, another of my data-savvy friends, also points this out:

I’ll say this, though; *this* season, in the AL, there is another player who has virtually the same WAR as Puig in more or less the same playing time. He is hitting .403/.455/.517 at the moment, and is a marvelous defender – one of the best at his position even though he’s playing out of position.

Yet no one is promoting Jose Iglesias for the All-Star game (with good reason; I wouldn’t either).

In a perfect world I’d be able to extract from the sport’s massive historical database the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) scores for the first month of the career of everyone that ever played the game, but my data savant guy, Adam Bonin (major props, by the way – this analysis wouldn’t have been possible without him), hasn’t figured out how to do that yet. Still, WPA is a pretty useful stat in that it evaluates how important a player is to his team’s chances of winning.

If you’re looking at that list of names at the top and thinking you never heard of any of them, don’t feel bad. Very few of the fans casting their ballots for Puig this week have, either.

If you’re thinking instead that, hey, it’s unfair to compare an obvious future Hall of Famer like Puig to that pack of pikers because you don’t have enough of a sample size yet, congratulations. That’s. The. Point. A great month doesn’t make you an All-Star.

I admit that Puig looks like the real deal. And he may be a future HoFer. Seems like a great kid and here’s hoping he turns out to be everything his overenthusiastic fans think he is and more.

But we have this tendency in the US, fueled by a barking gongbat 24/7 sports punditry cycle, to begin cranking out the hyperbole as soon as we hear a guy’s name. If Stephen A Smith says something stupid – and he will if there’s a microphone in the room – the only thing you can know for sure is that Skip Bayless is a’fixin’ to say something even stupiderer.

You know what? It’s okay to wait and see. Getting it right is better than getting it first. You’re not cheating anyone if you wait a year to see if it’s sustainable or if it’s just a hot streak. It’s okay to make a guy work his way around the league a second and third time to see if opposing pitchers figure him out. It’s not an insult to say damn, kid, you’re on fire. Keep it up and you’ll be an All-Star next year.

But hey, this is America, and we have to let the fans vote on everything, no matter how dumb they are.

Is it too late to get Tim Tebow on the ballot?

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8 replies »

  1. a well-reasoned argument against Puig’s inclusion (one of the only i’ve read). but i think it misses the real problem that there is no rational formula for entrance to an all-star game. if we’re going straight statistical on things, an aging superstar experiencing a sub-par season should be as equally disqualified, e.g. the jeters and ripkens of recent memory. the fan vote is a farce as it is. any team with enough socially-uninvolved fans that have the downtime to create multiple email accounts can easily octuple their voting power.

    i stick by the notion that the game boils down to the presence of exciting, skilled players the fans want to see. and since the game stupidly “matters” now, even better for the NL with Puig in the lineup. keep in mind he’s come up clutch to end a couple games already both offensively and defensively.

    until a concrete formula exists for voting in players, and i hope there’s never one, there will be a sense of unfairness looming over everything. but that’s life.

    so maybe let’s treat baseball as a microcosm of the inherent cruelty of existence…or we just pick the most exciting player we can to show up on Tuesday night.

    • Chris: couldn’t agree more. I don’t think there’s ever going to be universal acceptance of a formula, but I prefer an educated argument to what we have now. I’ve always hated the fan vote, and your point about the aging superstars is dead-on. The fans even vote in injured players who haven’t been on the field at all.

      If they’d hand the process over to either sportswriters or a combo of writers, players and coaches I’d be a lot happier. As I say, there would still be controversies and arguments, but at least they’d be informed ones.

  2. Can we fix the stupidity of WS home field advantage based on the All Star game first?

    I admit to not being a huge Sabermetrics baseball fan, which isn’t the same as believing it should be ignored. It runs into the same problems as any other means of evaluating players. Remember last season when the WAR-heads could prove that Trout was not only the MVP but a better baseball player than Cabrrera? I got into a few arguments following your argument. Look at the first half numbers this year. I expect Puig will be a fine ball player just as Trout is, but baseball doesn’t lend itself to hyping the hottest new thing as the greatest, because ya know, the greatest of all time failed more than they succeeded.

    I agree with you on the stupidity of fan voting, but it’s the marketing hook. I’m always more interested in player voting and would like to see that be the main component.

  3. As a baseball guy, I agree with your conclusions – let Puig play through the league a couple times before anointing him superstar. Yeah, he looks like the real deal – but it can’t hurt to let him prove it. As a Braves fan, he’s likely to go in at the expense of Freddie Freeman who’s developed into a worthy selection over the last 3 years – and that simply irks me….

  4. “they’re all current and former Major League Baseball players who, according to the Win Probability Added (WPA) Sabermetrics stat, were as good as or better than Yasiel Puig over the first month of their careers.” Outstanding!

    Terrific argument. Not sure of the solution, perhaps sports writers or players deciding. On the other hand, all-star games are kind of silly concept anyway. Seems like a good idea over a couple cocktails but they are kind of anti-climactic at their core.

    • Most all-star games are jokes. The NBA can be fun to watch if you like playground pickup with very little defense. The NHL is fun if you like no defense at all. And so on. Baseball works best because it isn’t a contact sport and playing defense for the most part doesn’t require that you risk injury, so it plays more like a true competitive game.

      And oh, the tradition. What it must be like for a kid to walk into that dugout full of heroes….