Monday, July 15, 2013

Chinks in the Armor?

Even as I become more and more of an old fogie, I continue to be an ardent follower of transcendent rookies as they matriculate into pro sport. Most recently the young careers of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Evan Gattis, and Yasiel Puig have been interesting to read about and watch. In past seasons the rookies to watch have included Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Joe Mauer, Stephen Strasburg, and others. Sports Illustrated has detailed the back-story of each. As these rookies begin to face the adversities that come during the prolonged MLB season, it is interesting to see how they react and make adjustments.

Bryce Harper’s all-out style of play may have contributed to several of the injuries he has suffered, leading to extended stays on the disabled list. Saturday he was thrown out of the game for arguing balls and strikes. And though he gets tremendous media exposure by playing in the northeast and plays for the Braves arch-rival, Harper is still interesting to observe.

Nationals fireballer Stephen Strasburg also receives constant exposure, has been called a sure hall-of-famer, and has been compared to Bob Feller. Braves closer Craig Kimbrel’s 2012 season far exceeded Strasburg’s and was one of the best in baseball history, though he was overlooked for the Cy Young Award. A contributing factor was lack of exposure. Even Braves rookie starter Julio Teheran has exceeded Strasburg in several areas this season.

Puig started off with a bang, much to ESPN’s delight. The AJC’s Mark Bradley found it interesting to compare Puig’s first 36 games to Braves’ rookie Evan Gattis, and the recently released / former rookie sensation / Sports illustrated cover boy Jeff Francoeur:


Like Harper, the constant glare of the national spotlight is starting to expose chinks in Puig’s armor. On the field the league is learning how to pitch to him, and the gaudy stats from his first two weeks are quickly plummeting back to earth. Puig has repeatedly thrown to the wrong base and been thrown out trying to take the extra base. Off the field Puig has shown disrespect for teammates and coaches, as well as for former greats who had earned respect by coming through in the clutch time and time again. Puig has brushed off the media, driven his sports car at unsafe speeds, and had his interpreter line up women for him. When an injury knocked Final Vote winner Freddie Freeman out of the all-star game, NL manager Bruce Bochy passed on Puig and selected Brian McCann.  

In his past eight games Puig has batted .270 with more strikeouts (13) than hits (10) or walks (3), with only one RBI and one extra-base hit (a double). More like Uggla than Freeman or McCann.  

Many Braves’ fans and players have derided ESPN for so blatantly promoting Puig in the All-Star game Final Vote. Puig was featured in every SportsCenter broadcast while the other candidates weren’t mentioned. Then on the last day when it was a race between Freeman and Puig, ESPN showed five Puig highlights for every one of Freeman’s. The network was trying to make news, not report news. Calmer heads remind me that like the Braves and MLB, ESPN is a business out to make money. As the latest thing, Puig brings in higher ratings than Freeman, especially in the biggest media markets. So be it. As a consumer I can choose to change the channel. Hello MLB Network.

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