Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Historical Context for Puigmania

Yasiel Puig is in the Final Vote for the last spot on the National League All-Star roster. You can vote for him as often as you want here.

I call this blog On the Field of Play because I'm mostly going to write about what happens on the field. Don't come here for expositions on PEDs, the Hall of Fame, the award votes, player salaries, Commissioner Bud, or the All-Star Game selection process. Regarding the latter, there's a school of thought that says you should pick the players having the best seasons to date, and another school of thought that says you should pick the game's biggest stars. Call it Chris Davis and Carlos Gomez vs. Prince Fielder and Andrew McCutchen. I can see the validity of both arguments, and I don't feel like adding anything to the debate.

Puig has been the most controversial of potential All-Stars, given how he's rocketed onto the scene in the last month. One side says he's one of the game's most exciting players, and the other side says come on, we're talking about a guy who's got 140 plate appearances in the majors.

Of course, they've been highly impactful plate appearances, as he's batting .409 with eight doubles, eight homers, 26 runs, 19 RBI, and a .667 slugging percentage. In June, in limited play (his first game was June 3), he hit .436, had seven homers, ran wild on the basepaths and in the outfield, catapulted the Dodgers back into the pennant race with a 15-11 record since his call-up (that passes for red hot in the NL West),  eased traffic on the 5 and the 10, and was the first player to be named both Player of the Month and Rookie of the Month since Mike Trout did it last July for the other Los Angeles team.

Regardless of whether that should warrant a trip to Citi Field next week, is this a historically great performance?

I looked for players who matched Puig's top hitting stats in June: 44 hits, 7 homers, 16 RBI, 19 runs scored. Surprisingly, it's not all that uncommon. There have been 219 months in which hitters have matched or exceeded all of those figures. Bob Johnson had 63 hits in August 1938. Mickey Mantle hit 16 homers in May 1956. Hack Wilson had 53 RBI in August 1930, and Joe DiMaggio matched the figure exactly nine years later. Babe Ruth scored 45 runs in July 1920. Again, all of those players at least matched Puig in every category. A lot of them exceeded him.

But Puig, because of his call-up and the Dodgers' schedule, played only 26 games in June. Almost all the players on the list played the full month, many at a time when there were regularly doubleheaders in the schedule. SO they played a lot more games than Puig. Johnson had 40 games in which to compile his 63 hits, and Ruth scored 45 runs in 34 games. If I narrow the criteria to 26 games, I get a much smaller list:
Rk Player Split Year G H R HR RBI BA OBP SLG
1 Josh Hamilton June 2010 26 49 23 9 31 .454 .482 .815
2 Lou Gehrig June 1936 26 48 35 12 31 .453 .536 .934
3 Dustin Pedroia July 2011 26 46 27 8 22 .411 .465 .723
4 Chuck Klein May 1929 26 45 31 11 34 .413 .448 .789
5 Magglio Ordonez July 2003 26 45 22 7 24 .429 .474 .771
6 Stan Spence Sept/Oct 1944 26 44 21 7 25 .436 .491 .782
7 Yasiel Puig June 2013 26 44 19 7 16 .436 .467 .713
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/10/2013.

That's an impressive set of comparables. Gehrig and Klein are in the Hall, Hamilton and Pedroia both were MVPs, and Ordonez made six All-Star teams and was top-12 in the MVP vote four times. Shane Spence was a solid player who had five really good years, though three were during World War II. Puig is the only rookie on the list.

Interestingly, Puig's numbers have been handily exceeded twice in the past three years. And Pedroia didn't even make the All-Star team in 2011.

So what we're seeing is rare, but not unprecedented. And Yasiel, about the 405...

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