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The Amazing Nick Punto

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Well...he has been amazing...right?

First, "amazing" might be a little over-the-top.  But, he's been better than we could have hoped, he's been miles better than whatever third baseman we had before him, and he's definitely turned into a nice number 2 hitter.  So even if he doesn't have the power you generally need from a third baseman, is it really hurting the Twins?

Punto in 2006

At 28, Nick Punto is having a career year.  While he picked up 394 at-bats in 2005, most of these came because of his flexibility.  This year, now the Twins' full-time third baseman, Punto is on pace for only 348.  This number is unadjusted for being a starter however, and as long as he A: stays healthy, B: continues to hit second in the batting order and C: continues to play everyday, his at-bats should easily surpass 400.

2006 Batting Statistics
Games   AB  H 2B 3B HR  R RBI BB SO   Avg  Obp  Slg  Ops  
  72   202 65 14  4  0 35  21 28 24  .322 .403 .431 .834

Advanced Batting Statistics
VORP   EQA   WARP
14.7  .282    1.9

If Punto were throwing up these numbers at second base, we could probably add him to the mix of snubs at the All Star game if it were to happen tomorrow.  At third base the expectations go up a little bit (a lot in some areas), which is why even though the 14.7 Value Over Replacement Player is a nice number (third highest on the offensive side for the Twins), his Wins Above Replacement Player is only 1.9.

By now, nobody should be doubting that Punto has been on fire.  When you compare him to what was there before, everything is going to come out smelling like roses.  On one side you have energetic defense, quickness, an out-of-this-world on-base percentage and a nifty VORP.  On the other side you have no home runs, a sub-par slugging percentage and a weak WARP.  Talk about a mixed bag.

Sizing Up the Competition

Everytime somebody talks about how good he's been, somebody else brings up the fact that "Well...it's just not great for a third baseman."  So, out with it.  In comparison to the rest of the third basemen in all of baseball with significant playing time (55+ games played), where does Punto sit?

Statistic  MLB   AL
Average     5     1
OBP         3     1
SLG        25     9
OPS        15     5
Runs       25    12
RBI        35    15
HR        Last  Last
Doubles    27    11
Walks      17     7

Some of these numbers inherently play against Punto because he had a late start at everyday play.  Runs, RBI, doubles and walks could all be higher on the list.  Of course they're not, and so what you have is the makeup of a good offensive middle infielder, not corner infielder.

The Bottom Line

The reason that baseball has pages and pages of statistics is to give you the perfect way to evaluate players objectively, without using the tools that are most likely to fool you:  your eyes.  These numbers, every line and every digit, represent what a player can do in any specific range.  Isolated power, times on base, value against X, etc.  The better these numbers are, the easier it is to contruct The Perfect Team.  Of course there's never going to be The Perfect Team in baseball, but the pursuit of A Better Team never stops.  So you look for ways to improve.  Smart managers, smart GM's and smart owners all should be starting with the numbers.

All of these numbers, however, are merely guideposts to one final number:  The Win.  There are uncountable ways to win an at-bat, a game, a series, THE Series.  No matter what happens, no matter what numbers you put up, you have to win.

Since Nick Punto effectively became the Minnesota everyday third baseman on June 13, the Twins are 26-6.  Is it all because of him?  Of course not.  But he's been a part of it; a big part of it.

Having power always helps.  Having power at the corners is "ideal", particularly at third base.  But it's not a prerequisite to win.

Third Basemen of the Last 10 World Series Champions

Year Team Name        HR  Avg  Obp  Slg
2005 CWS  J. Crede    22 .252 .303 .454
2004 BOS  B. Mueller  12 .283 .365 .446
2003 FLA  M. Lowell   32 .276 .350 .530
2002 ANA  T. Glaus    30 .250 .352 .453
2001 ARZ  M. Williams 16 .275 .314 .466
2000 NYY  S. Brosius  16 .230 .299 .374
1999 NYY  S. Brosius  17 .247 .307 .414
1998 NYY  S. Brosius  19 .300 .371 .472
1997 FLA  B. Bonilla  17 .297 .378 .468
1996 NYY  W. Boggs     2 .311 .389 .389

Punto's slugging percentage would be 8th on this list, beating Boggs, and Scott Brosius twice.  His OBP tops them all.

I'm not trying to say that the Twins shouldn't look to upgrade at third base.  What I'm saying is that there are other areas that are larger holes than where Nick Punto plays.  Designated hitter, the bench in general, the outfield, even a back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher should be more of a pressing need than a third baseman.

I asked the question ealier:  So even if [Punto] doesn't have the power you generally need from a third baseman, is it really hurting the Twins?  The answer is:  no.  It's not.  The Twins are winning.  If the Twins begin a slide at some point over the coming weeks or months, it's likely going to be from lack of production from the DH or outfield, due to injuries.  It's not going to be because "Nick Punto isn't the ideal third baseman".

Yesterday he was 1-for-3, with a walk.  Nick Punto gets results, and he helps the team win.  That's all I need.