A few weeks back, Twins blogger Andrew Kneeland (of Twins Target) sent out an e-mail to different Twins bloggers asking to partake in Nick Punto Day. What is Nick Punto Day? Well, NPD isn't a holiday - at least not yet - but it is a day for Twins bloggers to give their thoughts on one of the most controvertible players in Twins history, Nick Punto.
We all hate when manager Ron Gardenhire describes him as a "gamer" or talks about his "hustle" and his yearning for Punto has even brought on several tasteful (and tasteless) jokes over the years, but I see why Gardenhire is so fond of him. Other than the fact that he's both over-payed and overplayed, he's a valuable player to have on a team.
Although he's only 5'9'' and 170 lbs., Punto is one of the most athletic players on the team. Every position he plays, he plays it well. Other than the 52 innings he's spent in the outfield, Punto has been used as an infielder throughout his entire career. At 32, he has racked-up over 5,300 innings at second base, shortstop and third base. And what's the most impressive about those 5,300+ innings is that his UZR/150 at each position has been great. At second base, his URZ/150 at second base is 3.9, at shortstop it's 18.1, and at third base it's 19.9.
With both J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson now in the fold, Punto is likely to receive a bulk of the starts at third base, which is his best defensive position. Danny Valencia, a top prospect in the Twins system, could be ready around mid-2010, which could push Punto into the role most would like to see him in, which is utility.
Punto has started an average of 125 games over the last five years and in the same span, he has hit .249/.324/.327 in 2,022 at-bats. Other than drawing a fair number of walks, Punto doesn't offer much offensively.
With all things considered, it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty...
I've grown tired and weary of the people that complain about Punto being penciled into the starting lineup. Punto, much like former Twins outfielder Carlos Gomez, should play everyday. Despite putting up atrocious numbers at the plate, both players can still be very valuable to a team with their great defense. The problem is that when your lineup already has two or three guys that aren't adequate on either side of the ball, then someone gets singled out.
Punto has wrongfully been the scapegoat to many complainers over the years. His defensive value cannot be denied. I've always thought that if Punto's to be blamed, then the front office is even more at fault. Gardenhire plays the roster he's given and knows Punto's value and believes that he offers something more than whatever else he has on the roster. And I agree 100% with him on that.
With guys like Hudson and Hardy filling out the middle infield, why not take a chance on Punto in the #9 hole? His defense is great at third base and great offensive production probably won't be a necessity.
Overall, I like Punto and hope he stays with the Twins. I do hope however that if the Twins do need more offense that Gardenhire doesn't think twice about pulling him out of the lineup.