December 20, 2008 - It has been almost two weeks since the Twins resigned free agent infielder Nick Punto to a 2 year deal for $8.5 million with an option for a third year and I am just now beginning to accept what has happened. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire seems to already have anointed Nick Punto as his starting shortstop.
I am not a Nick Punto hater but let’s cut to the chase here, Nick Punto has proven he can not play regularly in the major leagues. The man can certainly play in the field and I have no problem at all with him being on the team as a utility player but a starter he is not. I know that the Twins are looking for someone that can play shortstop and hit a little but let’s look at Nick’s history.
In his favor Punto is a switch-hitter, can play multiple positions, has good speed, takes charge of the infield and he is an aggressive and fun player to watch even if he does seemingly stupid things like diving into first base on a regular basis. But I see two major drawbacks to Punto playing shortstop on a regular basis. Nick’s aggressiveness works to his disadvantage when he is diving and crashing into everything in site. These things are not bad in themselves but for Nick who is slight of build to begin with it, it leads to the DL list every now and then. Ability is important but so is durability and Nick has not proven that he can play for an entire season putting up decent hitting stats with out getting hurt.
Now let’s take a look at the season coming up, the 2009 season, an odd number. How is that important you say? Let us look at Punto’s batting averages, in 2007 he hit .210, in 2005 he hit .239, in 2003 he hit .217. In the even numbered years Nick hit .284 in 2008, .290 in 2006, and .253 in 2004. I would say there is reason to be concerned, very concerned. Punto wants to be the best player possible and who doesn’t but the bottom line is that (and I am trying to find a nice way to put this) he worries too much. When Nick goes a day or two with no hits he gets out of his normal rhythm and tries to make up for the bad days and this leads to more bad at bats which leads to long slumps. 2007 was a good indication of what happens to Punto when he gets on a bad roll.
If you look at Punto’s fielding stats you will find that Nick is a better 2B then he is a shortstop. So if Gardy has his mind already made up about playing Punto on a regular basis, maybe the Twins should look at moving Alexi Casilla to shortstop and playing Punto at 2B. Personally I think the Twins need to find a regular shortstop by hook or crook or they should try Casilla at shortstop and look for a 2B because I have no problem seeing Punto sitting on the bench waiting to come into the game for defense or to steal a base when it is called for but please don’t send him out there every day.