Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Redemption of Little Nicky Punto

Nick Punto hit a homer last night – his 2nd this year – though the Twins later gave the game away. If Bat-Girl were still writing her hilarious blog, she would have had the tiny super hero flying around the bases in a cape. Bat-Girl loved Little Nicky Punto.

I wrote about Punto last year, calling him the worst 3rd baseman in the league and wondering why Mr. Gardenhire gave Mr. Punto so much playing time. This year, Punto hasn’t played much at third, but has gotten lots of playing time at second base and short stop, especially after Alexi Casilla went down with a finger injury.

Has Punto, long known as a good defender but very poor batter, improved this year? Well, yes, it appears so. I looked at a few stats that purport to measure offense and, compared to the Punto of 2007, Little Nicky has stepped up his game. I looked at the two Puntos (07 and 08) and eight other American League middle infielders. I chose these because I didn’t want to spend the time looking at every single AL player who’s seen regular duty at second base or shortstop this year. That’s too much work and I think the point can be made with just a sampling.

The eight other players are:
Pedroia (Bosox)
Lugo (Bosox)
Cabrera (Chisox)
Ramirez (Chisox)
Carroll (Cleve)
Peralta (Cleve)
T. Pena, Jr. (KC)
Grudz (KC)

Batting average: Punto is batting .285 so far, which ranks him 4th in this group. The ’07 Punto would be 9th. (Pedroia is hitting .317).

Slugging %: Punto’s is .424, also placing him 4th in this group. Last year’s version would rank 9th.

OPS+: Punto’s tied for 2nd in this group at 107 (with Peralta and Ramirez), behind Pedroia at 112. Last year’s OPS+ would put Punto 9th.

Looking at just these few indicators, I’d say Punto has gone from a dismal offensive force to an acceptable one. And the homers? Well, he’s already hit twice as many as he hit in 2007!

Joe Posnanski has written about how bad Tony Pena, Jr. (known around Kansas City as TPJ) is for the Royals. I looked at these ten players, and in every category that matters, the ’07 Punto is ninth and Pena is tenth. TPJ is the only one on this list with an OPS+ on the negative side of zero.

But TPJ can pitch!

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