Iron Maiden "The Clairvoyant" -1988
The frustration is evident. It must be Nick Punto Day!
I have previously spent time looking over his greatest games. (for some reason) Today, I hope I have the clairvoyance to, um, look into the past! to see why this little man has such a big impact, good and bad, on so many fans.
Many better writers will also be posting about Nick Punto here. You can also search twitter. just type #NickPuntoDay. Check them out over the course of the day. Hopefully they will all hit it out of the park.... ok, slide it into first base. Hopefully they don't get pciked off.
Feel the sweat break on my brow, Is it me or is it shadows that are dancing on the walls, Is this a dream or is it now, Is this a vision or normality I see before my eyes
Nick Punto is the most talked about utility/futility infielder in the history of Twins fan-hood.
I wonder why I wonder how, That it seems the powers getting stronger every day, I feel a strength an inner fire, But I'm scared I won't be able to control it anymore
Such a man has inspired Nick Punto Day amongst Twins bloggers even though he has this a career batting line of just .248/.322/.324.
Just by looking through your eyes, He could see the future penetrating right in through your mind, See the truth and see your lies, But for all his power couldn't foresee his own demise
Baseball-reference.com says these players are most similar to the mighty Punto: Wayne Terwilliger, Chick Fewster, Jeff Reboulet, Chuck Hiller, Ray Morgan, Jack Brohamer, Bobby Young, John Farrell,Danny Murtaugh, and Abraham Nunez. Who the hell are these guys? Well as Twins fans, we know Wayne Terwilliger as the former 1st base coach, who looked about 90, and Jeff Reboulet as one of the teams mid-90s crappy shortstops.
Will 2010 be the end of Punto's Twins run? Why does he matter to so many Twins fans? A .646 OPS screams utility infielder and utility infielders are not often well known guys. Will his power over the fan-base come to an end?
A Time to Live?
Miguel Batista was a former 2 time all star, who'd seen his career fall to the depths of Japan baseball. He was signed in 2006 and anointed the starting third baseman to start the season. In 50 games he had a line of .236/.303/.388. This is not great, but the Twins routinely trot a couple no hit/good glove infielders every year, so, he was middle of the road with the bat.... What's that? He couldn't field? His -13.5 UZR was just horrible. his defense alone would have lost the team more than 2 games. Actually watching him play the field was worse than the numbers. He also had a weird batting stance.
The team started slow. Fans were already wondering if the team would go anywhere in 2006. 2005 had been a disappointment and 2006 had started even worse. Justin Morneau wasn't hitting, the left side of the infield was terrible and the team bottomed out. Then things started to change.....
On June 7th, Seattle, Justin Morneau was benched (he did pinch hit), the team lost in extra innings. The team was 25-33. they would only lose 2 of the next 23. Batista was gone after 4 more games. Punto, fresh off a .239/.301/.335 season in 2005 (mostly at 2b), was tabbed to replace Batista at third. Nick went .290/.352/.373 in 2006 He was useful at the bottom of the lineup and his defense, 17.4 UZR/150 in 89 games at third, was light-years better than Batista. Jason Bartlett became the shortstop the next day.
The Twins found lightning in a bottle with Morneau, Bartlett, and Punto. They also got a great year from Joe Mauer, Johan Santana had woken from his early season slump, and Francisco Liriano had just started to find his amazing form. Liriano the best pitcher in the MLB in June and July. the darling though, was Punto. He was gritty. He slid into first. He was a little guy. He was a piranha! Punto was joined by Bartlett, Jason Tyner and Luis Castillo as the "piranhas". They were glorified as the plucky little underdogs. They were guys that could beat you by hitting the ball 40 feet and running. They'd take the extra base. They steal. They'd keep biting.... like a piranha. Punto was a plucky folk hero than anything in 2006. It would have been hard to find fans that didn't like him.
A Time to Die
The real reason these blog-posts are being written have as much to do with the events of 2006 as it does 2007. Nick had been signed to a 2 year/4.2 million dollar contract prior to the 2007 season and penciled in at third base. He was only 29 year old. He'd finally come into his own. This contract seemed fine. The team could have just given him a 1 year deal at about 1.8 million, but he'd been a solid player in 2006 and was a popular clubhouse guy. Everything looked fine!
The Twins had been swept in the playoffs in 2006, but expectations were high. Everyone was coming back from a team that went 96-66 except Francisco Liriano and Brad Radke.
The team faltered. Many players had down years. Nick Punto had the biggest statistical drop-off. How much of a drop-off? He had a hitting line of .210/.291/.272 in 536 plate appearances. He was hitting, an even worse, .197/.285/.253 as late as Sept 4th. His defense was still good, but his bat was historically terrible. How bad? His slugging percentage was the lowest of anyone over 200 ABs. It was the lowest of anyone with 400+ ABs since 1992. The worst in 15 years!!!!! His -27.1 Value Over Replacement Player(VORP) was 8.5 runs worse than the next worst player. He was about 6 losses worse than an average player. The Twins never got it together and Gardenhire stubbornly running Punto out there everyday, just made it worse.
Time to Meet your Maker
2008 was a better year. Punto rebounded with a .284/.344/.382 after a slow start. He posted similar numbers to 2006. The Twins were a game 163 loss away from the playoffs.
In December, he was signed to a 2 year contract for 8.5 million dollar contract. The announcement caused my car to almost drive off the road. Really!!? we needed to lock this guy up early? The guy who had had the worst offensive year in the majors in 15 years? We needed to lockup THAT guy? We needed to give him 8+ million? We needed to sign him early? If the team had to sign him, why not wait? Had he signed later in the off-season, he'd have had to take less money. That would have made the move more palatable. Two years was a big deal because he has done better in even numbered years than odd. 2006 and 2008 were much better years than 2005 and 2007. He had been injury prone. Why give the guy that kind of money? Why do it for 2 years?
As soon as your Born your Dying
2009 is Nick Punto in a capsule. He ended the year at.228/.337/.284. These numbers were close to his career average. On September 1st he was hitting .213/.315/.265. These numbers were nearly as bad as 2007. The team was 67-65, 3.5 games out of first.
....and reborn again?
He ended the year .292/.407/.375, the team ended the year 20-11 and in the playoffs.
Will the rebirth continue in 2010? He is better in contract years and even years.
So, Am I Clairvoyant enough to predict his future?
He will play more games at third base than anyone else in 2010.
He will play good defense (third base is his best defensive position) but not as good as he has in the past.
He will hit better than 2007 and 2009, but not as well as 2006 and 2008.
His option will not be picked up.
As far as will he be back? No Iron Maiden song or Nostradamus could predict this for sure.
He won't make near what he has in 2009 and 2010.
Gardy loves him.
I'm going with nick coming back for 1 year 1.8 million dollars.
I won't like it. My fiance will love it. Many fans will love it and hate it.
There will be a NickPuntoDay Part 2!