Nick Punto’s Value in Utility Role

'Nick Punto Dives to Beat the Throw at First' photo (c) 2008, Alan Turkus - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Immediate reaction to the Nick Punto signing was mixed and there was plenty of comments on his perception as “gritty”, “a winner” or soon to be “dirt dog”. That is all good for laughs, but unlike some players with those qualities and a career wOBA of .296 you would assume Punto would be a terrible signing. I have to disagree and although his health is often a question mark he should make a solid utility infielder.

In his career Punto has averaged 110 games played each season since 2005, but has seen the field less and less each season. 2011 was his worst yet with only 63 games played due to a hernia injury. All of his missed time though has not had a large impact on his value yet. That value has largely come from plus defense in nearly 300 games at each of the infield positions except first base. His flexibility even for such a poor hitter will help the team with building the roster.

His defense does have some questions, but depending on what measuring system you look at it swings from poor to very good. According to UZR his defense at third base and short stop saves more than 18 runs per 150 games. At second base his defense is worth 6.9 runs per 150 games. Those are great numbers and would really be a step up over Jed Lowrie. The question comes though when we look at total zone which grades him as a career negative fielder at short stop, but a very good third baseman and solid second baseman.

*For what it is worth the fangraphs fan scouting report had him as a very good defender in 2010.

I’m going to assume the Red Sox grade has Punto closer to the UZR value defensively (especially at SS) and we can use fWAR to look at his value to the team. Even if healthy all year Punto will be a utility fielder and although some writers have lost their mind and think adding Punto along with Mike Aviles might be the end of Kevin Youkilis in Boston. It’s much more likely the Red Sox find a way to move Aviles this offseason as his defense has graded very poorly and he has three arbitration years left making him a good trade candidate.

With his health problems and below replacement level hitting you would have to assume Punto has been replacement level at best, but in 887 games played he has totalled 12.8 fWAR. That is not amazing, but averages out to 2.08 fWAR for every 150 games played. When you then break it down to what he has done since 2008 in limited time he has averaged 3.04 fWAR for every 150 games played.  Making him an average to above average player when he is on the field.

When he plays Punto has supplied above average play at three infield positions over the past four seasons. The Red Sox have no intention of Punto seeing 150 games in 2012 or 2013, but with Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Marco Scutaro all having dealt with injuries at important times the past two years he makes a very significant add at a measly cost of $3.5 million for the next two seasons.

The Red Sox are looking for budget deals that can help the team this year to stay under the luxury tax. The addition of Punto reminded me of the addition of Pokey Reese in 2004 as someone who added a fair amount of value defensively and also became a fan favorite for hustle, “grit” and energy. The hope here is that Punto can maintain at least the .296 wOBA he has unlike Reese who flailed to a .256 wOBA in Boston.

Categories: Boston Red Sox Dustin Pedroia Kevin Youkilis Mike Aviles Nick Punto

After taking an interest in sabermetrics and statistical analysis Troy began trying to use it to an advantage in fantasy baseball. He started the website RotoSavants.com and also spent time at HardballTimes.com and FantasyPros911.com. After a few years the interest in the Red Sox drew him to start a Red Sox-oriented site (Yawkey Way Academy) with fellow writer Lee Perrault. A short time later he joined Fire Brand. Writer from: December 14, 2009 – July 24, 2010, March 3, 2011 – May 10, 2012.

8 Responses to “Nick Punto’s Value in Utility Role” Subscribe

  1. ChipBuck December 19, 2011 at 10:43 AM #

    It's not the "grit," "scrap," or "dirt doggy goodness" that I like about Punto. I like him because he plays the game the right way.

    Seriously though, I think he could be an asset, especially if Mike Aviles can learn to play the outfield and become a super utility guy.

    • TroyPatterson December 19, 2011 at 10:46 AM #

      I'm not sure how Aviles would be in the outfield, but he does give them a RH bat out there. I just can't see him being able to play RF in Fenway and CF is a big no. I guess you slide Reddick to CF on the days you rest Ellsbury.

      A full spring training to learn the outfield might make him better there.

      • ChipBuck December 19, 2011 at 10:50 AM #

        Oh yeah, centerfield is definitely out. I have a feeling that would be "avert your eyes" bad. Left field he could definitely handle, and he can certainly handle right field a hell of a lot better than Adrian Gonzalez. That's not exactly high praise, but after a full spring (as you said), he might be adequate.

  2. Sam December 19, 2011 at 4:45 PM #

    Surely an average player would have 0 WAR…

    • TroyPatterson December 19, 2011 at 7:37 PM #

      0 WAR is replacement level. Average is 2 WAR

      WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement

      • Sam December 19, 2011 at 9:02 PM #

        Sorry, confused "average" and "replacement level"

  3. hammyofdoom December 19, 2011 at 8:52 PM #

    I always hated just how overrated punto was by people who looked at "grit" more than actual baseball numbers, However, with that said, seeing how he SHOULD be nothing but a utility player, I think this is a fantastic signing for the Red Sox since every team could use that kind of versatility in the field

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