In case you missed it, here’s what Philadelphia Phillies closer Jonathan Palebon had to say yesterday on the subject of Dodgers rookie sensation Yasiel Puig:
"The guy’s got a month, I don’t even think he’s got a month in the big leagues. Just comparing him to this and that, and saying he’s going to make the All-Star team, that’s a joke to me."
The real joke is that anyone is debating whether Puig belongs in the All-Star game. Sure, he’s only been in the big leagues for a month, but by any definition, it has been a historic one. Papelbon may be offended by the comparison, but Puig is the first player since Joe DiMaggio to have more than 40 hits (he had 44) and four home runs (he had seven) during the first month of his career. Of course, a month is a small sample size, but it’s larger than the one Papelbon rode to his first All-Star appearance in 2006: He came into the game with 80 innings of major-league service. Puig will have well over 250.
Papelbon also said the very idea of Puig being an All-Star "really does an injustice to the veteran players that have been in the game for eight-, nine-, 10-plus years. It kind of does them an injustice because they’ve worked so hard to stay there."
In other words, the All-Star Game is an opportunity to reward players who have successfully managed to hang around the big leagues for a while, not a showcase for the game’s best talent. (And, as such, a promotional opportunity for a sport badly in need of promotion.)
There’s an argument to be made that it’s risky to over-hype young players, that it’s best to withhold judgment until they’ve logged a full season or two in the majors and have demonstrated that they can fight through slumps and adapt. Pitchers begin to figure hitters out, discover holes in their swings, find little ways to catch them off-balance. Likewise, hitters can figure pitchers out, whether it’s a matter of getting used to their delivery or learning to identify their pitches a split-second earlier.
The greatness of the game is in these very subtleties, the often invisible adjustments players are constantly making -- or failing to make -- with very visible consequences. NBA players have down years, but baseball players can completely fall apart without warning. During the final 75 games of last season, the Mets rookie first baseman Ike Davis hit 25 home runs. He’s now back in the minor leagues.
Papelbon was right about one thing: It’s hard to stay in the majors. And no one knows what’s going to become of Puig. He can’t hit .443 forever. But right now, he may be the best hitter in baseball, and he’s almost certainly the most exciting one, with an incredible back story to boot. That’s more than enough for me.
(Jonathan Mahler is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)