On June 2nd, the Los Angeles Dodgers lost to the Colorado Rockies 7-2 to bring their record to 23-32, 9 games under .500. Manager Don Mattingly was looking at the possibility of being fired before the All-Star break, and it looked like the high-priced Dodgers were going to be a total flop. The next day, Yasiel Puig made his major-league debut, and the Dodgers haven’t looked back. Since that day, the Dodgers have gone 50-24 and have taken a commanding lead in the NL West.
Puig, a 22-year-old Cuban defector who signed a 7-year/$42 million contract with Los Angeles last June, has been a huge spark for the Dodgers since joining the big club. In 81 games this year, he’s hitting .350/.409/.562 with 14 HRs, 32 RBI, 55 runs scored and 10 SBs. He also has 7 assists from right field, which is 3rd in the league. He would be leading the NL in batting average if he had enough plate appearances. The same goes for his OPS of .971. His WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is already at 4.6, which is just outside the top 10, despite only having played 81 games.
Of course, because Puig has been such a sensation and has taken L.A. by storm, the inevitable backlash has come with him. Seemingly on a daily basis, we’ve seen columns pop up decrying Puig’s lack of respect for the game, his arrogance, his disregard for the ‘fundamentals.’ We’ve seen especially harsh criticisms of him from the likes of Bill Plaschke and Scott Miller. Media members seem to be cheerleading from the sidelines for Mattingly to force Puig to the bench and teach him a lesson. It is almost as if like they dislike a young, black Hispanic player playing in a brash, aggressive manner and not showing his elders (i.e. middle-aged white guys) the proper humility.
But, in the end, the media hysteria about Puig and his ‘attitude’ wouldn’t even exist if he wasn’t having such an amazing impact. And that is the larger point here. In a season with no clear-cut MVP frontrunner, I think a legitimate case can be made that Yasiel Puig is this year’s NL MVP. Currently, it seems like the top candidates are Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen and Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. And while all three players have had very good seasons and been quite valuable to their respective teams, none of them have had a truly phenomenal year. On top of that, it is debatable if they are even the MVP of their teams!
Puig’s impact, on the other hand, is crystal clear. Before he came up, the Dodgers looked dead. There were rumblings that major changes were on the horizon, and that trades and firings were on the way. Now, it looks like Don Mattingly might win Manager of the Year after he looked like he was heading to the unemployment line in June. The team is now 12 ½ games up in their division and coast the rest of the way. This doesn’t happen without Puig’s contributions. Take him away this season, and you have a team that most likely would have been imploded by now and just playing the string out.