Nick Punto doesn’t hit for average, and he may struggle to get playing time in 2010 with the additions of Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy as the Twins new double play combination.
But here are three reasons why he’s One2Watch4 in 2010.
1-When Punto makes a great play, it’s a REALLY great play.
We kept score of Web Gems for the first time last season on Baseball Tonight and Punto had four…a respectable total, but not quite up to the billing that Karl Ravech gave him as “Mr. Web Gem” in 2008.
However, all four of Punto’s Gems rated as either the No. 1 or No.2 gem for that particular night. He had none that barely made the list. It’s an odd pairing, but he and Jermaine Dye were the only players in baseball last year with at least four Web Gems, all of which rated as the No. 1 or 2 gem for that night.
Punto may get more opportunities at third base this year, with the Twins seemingly committed to a Hudson-Hardy combo. That should suit him well. The last time he played third base regularly was 2007, and by Fangraphs computations, he ranked best in the majors in UZR/150 (Baseball Info Solutions rated him seventh).
2-The guy knows how to work an at-bat
Punto saw 4.2 pitches per plate appearance in 2009. That ranked 20th-best among players with 250+ plate appearances, which equates to being in the top seven percent of a group of 320 players. His walk rate (Punto walked at nearly the same rate as Bobby Abreu) ranked in the top eight percent of that group of 320.
My favorite Nick Punto stat from 2009 came from the data provided by Inside Edge. In the eighth inning of Game 2 of the AL Division Series against the Yankees, Punto got a go-ahead hit on a 2-2 curveball from Phil Hughes. By Inside Edge’s computations, Punto saw 119 curveballs in 2009. He may not have hit many of them well, but he only swung and missed at three of them.
3- He’s a smart baserunner
Pages 311 to 325 of "The Bill James 2010 Handbook" are a real eye-opener if you never studied what makes a good baserunner. We won’t give away their full means of evaluation, but it’s a pretty thorough system and the explanations are easy to grasp.
Most importantly for our purposes: Their system ranks Nick Punto as tied for the 13th-best baserunner in the majors in 2010, and the best on the Twins. That’s attributable to a number of factors: He’s above average at going first to third, and second to home, AND he’s skilled at taking extra bases on wild pitches, sacrifice flies, and the like.
When you hit .248 for your career with a .647 OPS, there better be something else about you that's worth watching. In Punto's case, there's plenty to choose from.
Monday's One2Watch4 Team: The Tigers