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Why wasn't Josmil Pinto playing more often?

I hope it's not ruining this for you, but...I don't think there's a real answer to be found here.

Denis Poroy

We didn't know what we had in Josmil Pinto as the 2014 season approached. The Twins didn't, either, which is why they signed Kurt Suzuki. They needed an insurance policy; a guy who would be fine splitting time behind the plate but also a guy who could start regularly if things went south on Pinto.

It's easy to say that that's exactly what happened. With a .222/.323/.407 triple slash heading into his demotion yesterday, there's only so much valued to be gleaned by keeping him just because he's a more talented bat than half of the 13 position players on the active roster. Maybe he slumped because pitchers eventually had a better scouting report; maybe he slumped because he was pressing; maybe he slumped because his mechanics were getting lose; maybe he slumped because he wasn't playing regularly.

While it's likely that the culprit is a combination of those and other things, going purely on value he hasn't been helping the team lately. Since May 1 he's hit .200/.227/.329, and on the season runners are 16-for-16 in attempted stolen bases. Pinto has had issues with his footwork and his throws to second, things which are largely fixable because a lot of it is mechanical, but he's also allowing too many wild pitches (6) and passed balls (3) on his watch. Sure, some of that can be blamed on consistently catching Samuel Deduno, but not all of it. So yes, if he's not playing and not doing well when he does, send him down. It's the right decision.

And that brings up the big question: why wasn't Pinto playing more often in the first place? He started in 19 of the team's 24 games in April and then just 14 of the team's 29 games in May. Here's what it comes down to.

  • Pinto started five of the following nine games after May 8 (the final date in which he had a regular start as a designated hitter) - four as the catcher, just one as the designated hitter.
  • Pinto then started just once in a five-game National League ballpark swing.
  • In the 17 games since, Pinto started five games at catcher and one at designated hitter. Who started at DH for those games? Josh Willingham (3), Kendrys Morales (most recent 3), Trevor Plouffe (2), Danny Santana (2), Joe Mauer (1), Jason Kubel (1), Oswaldo Arcia (1), Eduardo Nunez (1), Pinto (1), and then two games were in Milwaukee.
It's this stretch where you really start to wonder why Pinto wasn't getting more time. You can argue that hot hands, such as Santana and Eduardo Escobar, meant that Gardy needed to be more creative with how he was able to involve everyone else on the roster. But that mentality did seem to come at the expense of Pinto, who started just seven of the club's last 22 games. And yes, Pinto was struggling at this time - but was he sitting because he was struggling, or was he struggling because he was sitting?

The Twins are stuck being forced to send Pinto back to Triple-A, where he can do what he should have been doing at the Major League level: play almost everyday. Maybe it's a case of there simply not being enough opportunities, thanks to Pinto's defensive deficiencies and his subsequent slump. Or, perhaps, the Twins did not try hard enough to keep him in the lineup. Even then, however, we don't know if regular playing time would have helped Pinto or magnified the holes in his game.

Without a black and white answer to the question of why Pinto wasn't playing more often, I'm not sure there's much to do other than debate our own philosophies on player development and how much winning right now really matters. Sometimes there is no right or wrong approach to in-season decisions like this, just strategies that do or don't end up working in the long run. But we do know two things for sure.

First, sending Pinto to Triple-A now, considering the way he was (or wasn't) being used, is a good idea.

Second, even if playing Pinto more meant he eventually would have been sent to Triple-A anyway, at least the Twins would have given him - and themselves - a real opportunity to see where he was in terms of his development.

No, going to Triple-A now won't affect Pinto's long-term development and, no, the extra 30 plate appearances he could have had by playing regularly won't make a lick of difference for much of anything, but it certainly would have allowed the Twins to answer the question: is Josmil Pinto good enough to play for the Twins right now? As things played out, we can't answer that question, and I think that's what bothers me the most.