Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Where for art thou Brendan Harris?

As spring training winds down a few questions out of the Twins camp are being answered. Francisco Liriano seems to have locked up the fifth starters spot, Jacque Jones will not be allowed to relive the glory days of 2002, and it will be closer-by-committee to start the season.

Closer mess aside, there is one very troubling development playing out with Opening Day only a week away: Nick Punto looks to be the Twins starting third baseman, leaving Brendan Harris on the bench as a utility option. There was an article yesterday in the Star Tribune about the strong possibility that this will be the case, but I am surprised that more isn’t being said about this issue.

I know there have been jokes abound about Gardenhire’s ridiculous man-crush on Punto, but all kidding aside, this has gone far enough. I can no longer bite my tongue. We’ve all heard the argument, “Punto is a defensive god. The plays he makes on defense compensate for his shortcomings at the plate.” Bullshit.

If we didn’t have another option at the position, then maybe this would be a legitimate statement. If Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert were the Twins’ only other two choices at third, then maybe I could get behind that mindset for yet another season. But that’s not the case. Brendan Harris provides a more than solid defensive option at third, and is a good argument to be a starter over Punto even before you mention offense. In nine seasons Punto’s fielding percentage is .978. Harris inexcusably lags behind at .971. With such a glaring gap between the two I can see why Punto is the obvious choice on defense.

Offensively, you would be hard-pressed to find a reason why Punto is a better fit than Harris. I know the preseason means absolutely nothing, and I understand that, but just for arguments sake, Harris is hitting .351 while Punto checks in at a predictable .200 mark. The career batting average of each (.267 for Harris, .248 for Punto) is not why this argument is one sided.

In a season where the Twins powers-that-be seem to be going for more than the usual division title, they owe it to themselves to put the best lineup out there. Thanks in part to a strong top of the order, the 6-7-8 spots in the lineup are stronger then they have been in recent memory, with more pop and possibility then the team has had there in a long time. So wouldn’t it make sense to put the best possible bat, and run producing option, behind the back end of the order?

Harris not only brings in a better average, but he could also produce a 9-hitter who pitchers would not be able to point to in the order and say, “Let’s focus on this weak spot and keep them from turning over the order.” With Denard Span at the leadoff spot it would be nice to provide him with a little protection in the order, as Orlando Hudson in the two spot is not a big power-threat either. It doesn’t make sense to put three softer hitting, contact-focused hitters in a row when the rest of the order seems to be focused on doing more than just putting the ball in play and running like hell. With Harris in the 9-spot, the threat of a gap-type hitter opens the field up and could produce more runs scored from the bottom half of the order.

Harris is no different than any other hitter on the face of the planet, he needs regular at bats to find his rhythm and reach his full potential. He has yet to get that chance with the Twins. I guess I can spout ill-fated arguments for Harris over Punto all day long, but they will be just that, ill-fated. I don’t know if Harris did something to piss Gardenhire off or what, but the time for playing sentimental favorites is over, unless the manager and front office are going to be content with another one-and-done in the postseason.


Holmer said...

I agree. But I find myself making up excuses for Gardenhire's choice. Punto can get dirtier? Punto would dive head-long into the wall for an out? Punto takes every bunt attempt toward him as a personal stab at his abilities? When Punto runs, his face looks like he's trying really hard?
If these are legit reasons to be considered, then Punto should be the guy. But I prefer numbers.

haasertime said...

what the hell is "fielding percentage" ????

Of course I'm JK, but most people don't know because that stat isn't used anymore. You're not hip unless you invent your own defensive metric or use UZR (cuz UZR sounds cool)

Gardnehire will always chose defense over offense. We're seriously lucky we don't have another player who, like punto, sucks offensively but plays good D.

Anonymous said...

If Gardy is so partial to defense, he wouldn't keep putting Delmon Young out there in left field.

Punto is consistently among the lowest-ranking infielders in the league in every offensive category, and his defense is just slightly better than average (if that). The Fiat Punto is one of the cheapest cars in Italy. Maybe Gardy has stock in Fiat or something.

Punto is at least versatile, which makes him a good choice for the backup/utility role. Let's hope Gardy comes to his senses soon.

Saturday games should be Dollar Dog games.


Anonymous said...

On a shallow note, Harris is also prettier than Punto.

kjamison said...

amen. i had in my spring training notes from ft. myers that "punto plays like shit, but will still "win" a job"...predictable.

Anonymous said...

by far harris is prettier!