Roster Review: Nick Punto

By Jason Wojciechowski on February 19, 2014 at 8:27 PM

Me upon hearing of the Nick Punto signing early in the offseason to a $3 million deal with a vesting option for 2015: "Whatever even for the A's that's no money and he's just a backup and he plays good defense and he knows his role and he's a patient hitter who sometimes (2011) puts up a .388 OBP and who even when he's pretty bad isn't actually that bad relative to position so sure I don't mind depth is great Eric Sogard still has an option so he can hang around in case Jed Lowrie gets hurt or they trade Alberto Callaspo or whatever and sure it breaks the whole 'there are no backups on this team' thing because Punto isn't going to platoon with Callaspo or Lowrie or Donaldson so he's really just a classic normal utility infielder but teams are allowed to have those it's fine."1

Me upon comparing the PECOTA projections of Eric Sogard and Nick Punto: WHAT THE HELL.

For reference:

Sogard: .255/.321/.354
Punto: .224/.310/.286

I've spent a lot of time justifying the idea that Eric Sogard is going to be in Sacramento on Opening Day to myself and others, but let's just note that those numbers work out to a .258 True Average and remember that .260 is league average, without respect to position. Depth is nice, but I'm not entirely convinced anymore that Punto making Sogard the depth play is a better roster-building option than Sogard making Hiroyuki Nakajima and Andy Parrino the depth plays. You can't ever count on Jed Lowrie, even after the marvelous 2013, but I do hope the A's plan to let Punto sit around on the bench and slide into stuff2 even if a starting infielder suffers an injury. That is, maybe Punto is the utility infielder and Sogard can represent the A's creating a variation of an Earl Weaver ideal, acting as the backup shortstop in Triple-A.

Maybe that's overstated. Maybe if Callaspo or Lowrie or Donaldson goes down for three weeks, the actual play is a Sogard-Punto platoon in that spot until the starter comes back. I'm not entirely sanguine about Sogard against lefties, so okay fine, Punto can platoon with Sogard.

More interesting to me is the fact that Punto is almost certainly the superior defender to both Callaspo at second and Lowrie at short, so the question is whether he becomes the full-time defensive replacement for one or the other or whether it winds up being more situational. In particular, whether Callaspo or Lowrie bats higher in the lineup could end up having some effect: imagine Callaspo makes the last out of the seventh, with Lowrie set the lead off the eighth. Melvin might take that opportunity to put Punto in on defense for Callaspo even if he thinks removing Lowrie is the better play overall because he wants to get Punto in but doesn't want to cost the team a Lowrie at-bat.

This also raises the question of whether Punto will be the 9th inning shortstop with Lowrie either out of the game or moving over to second (depending on factors as discussed above) or whether Melvin will shy away from mid-game position changes.

I have no answers. I have only questions. Questions on questions. On questions.

  1. My interior monologue isn't big on punctuation.