Yasiel Puig vs. Jose Iglesias

A quick break from the political and policy world to focus on baseball. In particular, I want to look at the season that Yasiel Puig has had so far. The Los Angeles Dodgers rookie outfielder has taken the league by storm, earning both NL Rookie and Player of the Month awards in June. Sports Illustrated featured him in their latest magazine and he also finished 2nd in the All Star final vote. Overall, not a bad start to a player’s career.

But, as a biased Red Sox fan, I want to push back on all this publicity. First of all, Puig hasn’t even played in 40 games. Under just about no circumstances should a player who’s appeared in a quarter of the season make the All Star game. Puig is off to an incredible start, but his stats aren’t good enough to justify inclusion over other NL snubs such as Ian Desmond or Jay Bruce. Freddie Freeman is more deserving as well I’m glad the fans chose him over Puig in the Final Vote.

Now to my Red Sox bias. Over in Beantown, the Sox have their own rookie who’s off to just about as good a start as Puig, but isn’t getting anywhere close to the attention. That would be shortstop Jose Iglesias. Let’s take a look at Puig and Iglesias’s stats side-by-side.

Player

G

AB

H

2B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

Puig

36

146

58

8

8

19

7

36

0.397

0.429

0.630

Iglesias

49

187

65

10

1

16

11

24

0.387

0.439

0.488

Without a doubt, Puig’s batting stats are better than Iglesias’s, but not by that much. The Dodgers rookie has hit for a lot more power in fewer games, but Iggy has more walks, fewer strikeouts and that’s given him a higher OBP, even though his batting average is lower. The ultimate comparison between the two hitting-wise is a park-adjusted runs above average stat. Puig checks in at 17.6 while Iglesias is at 11.7.

But the comparison doesn’t end there. We have to take into account fielding where Iglesias is as good as it gets. Anyone who has seen the Sox’s 22-year-old rookie play the field knows what a privilege it is to watch such mastery. He was touted in the Sox farm system as a player who couldn’t hit, but boy could he field. While his hitting has been a shock to everyone in the Sox organization, his fielding has been as advertised. That’s not to take anything away from Puig as well. He’s played some excellent defense across the outfield and has a great arm. But it’s about Iggy is up there with the best of them in the field. Unfortunately, the stats are tough to evaluate, because Iglesias has played more than half of the year at third base, a position he’s never played before.

Jose Iglesias is a wizard at SS.
Jose Iglesias is a wizard at SS.

The best fielding statistic we have right now is Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR)/150, which measures how many runs above average a player is for an entire season (measure as 150 games). At shortstop, Iglesias has a UZR/150 of 15.5, third in baseball for those who have played 150+ innings at the position*. At 3B, the numbers are really ugly. Iglesias’s UZR/150 there is -31.3, entirely because of his limited range at the position. Out of baseball third basemen, only Kevin Youkilis and Mark Reynolds have worse UZR/150. But is it really fair to judge a rookie at a position he’s never played before? Iglesias is a wizard at shortstop and would undoubtedly become a great defensive third basemen if he stayed at the position (which he won’t because of how good he is at SS). This skews Iggy’s defensive stats entirely so that his fielding value is -2.7. That’s massively unfair to one of the league’s best defensive players.

Puig has played almost entirely RF (290 out of 390 innings) and posted a UZR/150 of 3.4, slightly above-average. When his fielding value is calculated, it checks in at 0.3. Is Puig a better defensive player than Iglesias is (at their respective positions)? Certainly not. Any scout or baseball analyst will tell you that. With Iggy at a new position though, the statistics favor Puig.

Finally, we must factor in base running into the comparison, where neither is particularly good. Puig has stolen five bases and been caught three times while Iglesias has stolen two bases and been caught once. Statistically, both are below average on the base paths: Puig checking in at -1.2 and Iglesias at -1.7. Those numbers should improve as they both mature and spend more time in the league.

Having gone through offense, defense and base running, it’s time to add it all up with every baseball analyst’s favorite stat: Wins Above Replacement (WAR). WAR measures how many wins a player earns his team above a basic replacement level player. It’s a cumulative stat so Iggy has the advantage of having played more games. Nevertheless, Puig leads the Sox rookie 2.1 to 1.6 in this all-telling number. Of course, Iglesias’s defense, a major assets of is, has actually hurt him statistically this year because he’s playing a new position. If Iglesias had been at short all year, the gap would be much smaller or could even disappear.

Either way, neither is worthy of playing the All Star Game in New York. You have to play more than a quarter of the year to be deserving of that. But the next time you hear ESPN tout Puig as this wunderkind who’s saved the Dodgers season, take a look at Iglesias instead and see how he stacks up. The answer might surprise you.

(All stats from FanGraphs.com)

*BTW, in almost 200 innings last year, Iggy’s UZR/150 at SS was an astronomical 46.5. That’s how good he is.

The MLS All-Star Game is Unfair

The MLS All-Stars lost to Manchester United 4-0 last night in a scoreline that doesn’t reflect how the game went. The MLS’s stars played well in the first half, sticking with the Red Devils for the full 45 minutes but found themselves down 2-0 at the break. In the second half, United took control and outplayed the MLS, leading to a 4-0 final scoreline.

But my issue isn’t with the final score. Yes, the MLS deserved better, but that’s how soccer – and sports – work. United took their chances very well and the MLS missed a couple of golden opportunities. What is a problem is that this game is seen as a referendum on the state of soccer in America.

The MLS All-Stars get to practice for a couple of days and then are tossed on the field together and expected to compete with the top teams in the world. You can compare individual players at each position around the field and Manchester United will generally have the better players, but the gap is closing.

However, if you just look at the scoreline or even watch the game, you wouldn’t notice that. Many of United’s players have been playing with each other for years and the team has been playing friendlies around the U.S. for the past month. They are in preseason mode, but are finding their form. And they are used to playing with each other.

Rooney and Berbatov play off each other well. The defense holds the backline and communication around the field is significantly greater for the Red Devils. Continue reading “The MLS All-Star Game is Unfair”

2009 AL All Star Starters

With just a couple days left for fans to vote for the starters of the 2009 MLB All Star Game, it’s time to look at which players deserve that honor. First up, the American League:

Catcher: Joe Mauer

This one is easy. Mauer leads all American League catchers in Batting Average, Home Runs, RBI, Runs, Hits, On-Base-Percentage, and Slugging Percentage. He’s made just one error on the season and has thrown out 9 of 26 batters who have tried to steal against him. The one negative for Mauer is that he missed the first month of the season with an injury. That just makes Mauer’s stats all that more remarkable as he leads all AL catchers in all those categories despite many fewer at-bats.

First Base: Justin Morneau

One of the tougher choices in the AL, First Base has many deserving players. Kevin Youkilis leads the league in OBP, 38 points higher than Russell Branyan who is in second place, but has just 12 home runs and 42 RBI on the year. Carlos Pena leads with 23 home runs, but sports just a .238 avergae. Mark Teixeira has 20 homers and 60 RBI, but just a .276 average. Only Justin Morneau is complete in all the stats with 18 home runs, 63 RBI (most amongst first basemen), and a .309 Batting Average. His .389 OBP is 5th between AL first baseman and his .960 OPS is 4th. He has made just one error this season and has the second highest Zone Rating amongst AL first basemen. Continue reading “2009 AL All Star Starters”