2013 in brief: Surprisingly valuable backup, especially when filling in at shortstop.
2014 status: Free agent.
You know, credit where credit is due: Nick Punto was really, really useful this year. We joked about 2012′s massive Boston deal being “the Nick Punto trade” because you just knew that Ned Colletti was going to get his gritty utility infielder somehow, but Punto paid off for this team and then some.
And really, that’s not how I thought it would go early in the season, when I was busy telling anyone who would listen than BABIP was a real thing and that it was going to get real ugly, real quickly. Still, in mid-May, when things were really bleak and I was desperate to find some positive things to talk about, Punto made the list:
I will be the first to admit that there’s no way in hell that Punto is sustaining a .417 BABIP. When he falls, and he will, he’s going to fall hard. But maybe that won’t be so important later in the season, when Mark Ellis & Hanley Ramirez & Jerry Hairston are healthy, and Dee Gordon may have shown enough to stick around, and ownership has bought Chase Headley and 1987 Ozzie Smith and 1964 Brooks Robinson.
It’s important now, with everyone hurt and Cruz atrocious. Hitting .333/.418/.423… well, it matters a lot.
That uppance did come, of course, because Punto hit an absolutely awful .162/.202/.192 in June & July. But a funny thing happened: after spending most of the first two months spotting at second and third as Gordon & Justin Sellers each tried and failed to fill in at shortstop, he became Hanley Ramirez‘ caddy… and he was really, really good at it. When the bat wasn’t always there, the defense absolutely was, and as the BABIP pendulum swung back the other way, he hit .294/.371/.412 over the last two months.
Due mostly to that stellar defense, Punto was worth two wins over replacement, but even that probably doesn’t give him full credit, because “replacement” assumes that there’s a replacement-level option in the system. As Gordon & Sellers showed us, that’s not always the case.
I’m not sure if we’ll see Punto back next year, but he’s at least made me say something I thought I never would: come on back, Shredder.
Next! Justin Sellers, for some reason!