To address the title, I’ll simply say I am not a fan of Nick Punto. I am letting all bias be known, simply and outright. I’m sure Nick Punto is a very amiable and likable guy in his personal-life; I’m not debating his character here. I have just never been a fan of Nick Punto: The Baseball player.
He’s the essential “scrappy” kind of guy; Announcers surely gab about his “passion for the game”, or how he’s a true “grinder” (Whatever that means).
This brings me to the main story. There is a battle going on this year in the Twins Spring Training camp, and it’s a fight for the starting job at third base. When I heard that Nick Punto was their best option, I wasn’t very excited.
Never confuse Punto for being a meaningful or even decent producer, offensively that is. Punto doesn’t really do much at the plate, but his greatest asset is his patience. For his issues with contact and complete lack of power, one cannot ignore his ability to work the count and draw pitches.
Although it is of only slight importance, Punto is also an bonus on the base-paths; The man can swipe bags just into the double digits while also being a smart and nimble runner.
With his obvious offensive deficiencies, one can still see how Punto offers a little more than expected. You see though, when a player is as fantastic defensively as Nick is, you don’t need to do much at the plate.
According to Fangraphs.com, Nick Punto has been a very good (and even great) defensive player, anywhere on the diamond. Nick would have a chance to be one of the elite defenders at third base in 2010, and could save more runs than any infielder in baseball.
This brings me to Brendan Harris, Punto’s competition for the starting job at Third base. To sum it up quick, Brendan Harris is a slightly better offensive player than Punto, but remains a noticeable defensive liability.
Whoever wins the third base job will almost assuredly be hitting 9th in the batting order. In a lineup that owns names like Mauer, Morneau, and Thome in the middle, you can take a guy like Punto batting last.
When it comes down to it, Punto is not and never will be a viable top-of-the-order hitter, but the Twins don’t need him to be. With the up-and-coming star lead-off hitter Denard Span and the veteran Orlando Hudson manning the 2-spot in the order, Punto doesn’t need to be held to much of anything at the plate.
Brendan Harris’ slight offensive upgrade is made completely negligible when defense is factored in. It’s about “total value”, and it’s obvious to anyone that Punto adds much more to the team. The Twins are plainly better with Nick Punto starting over Brendan Harris, and I don’t even see why this is a debate.
This is coming from someone who is frustrated with many things Punto stands for. In summary, I would never celebrate “Nick Punto Day” (It exists…Google it).
I may never like Punto’s lackluster offensive game, but I can appreciate any player who makes his team noticeably better, and he most certainly does it with his defensive play.