Over the course of the last week, we’ve taken a pretty deep look into the problem that Josmil Pinto presents to the Twins, as well as the benefit he brings to the team. Looking at the Twins catching situation from the perspective of Kurt Suzuki though, could Pinto potentially be in a position to start? The answer is more surprising than you’d think.
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In 2014, Kurt Suzuki performed at an All Star level, and hit for the highest average in his major league career (.288). On top of his average, Suzuki experience the highest batting average on balls in play (.310) that he has produced in his career. His 61 runs batted in were the highest total he has posted in a season since 2010 (71) at the age of 26. He has only produced over 50 runs batted in three times in his career (2009, 10, and 14). All things combined, Suzuki was responsible for being a 2.0 FanGraphs WAR player, the highest mark since 2011, and one he hasn’t eclipsed since 2009 (3.1).
Behind the plate in 2014, Suzuki was markedly better than Pinto, but that alone isn’t saying much. Josmil Pinto allowed every base runner (20) to steal safely on him. Suzuki through out 21 would be base stealers while giving up 64 steals. The Twins All Star also only allowed three passed balls in 119 games behind the plate, while Pinto gave up four in just 25. Although it’s easily apparent that Suzuki was better behind the plate than his counterpart, he still was responsible for being worth -5 defensive runs saved above average.
So the question becomes, what does all of this signify? The long and short of it is that the gap between the All Star of a season ago in Suzuki, and the guy having been stuck in Triple-A in Pinto is not all that wide.
Looking forward at the 2015 season, a few key things are bound to happen. Last season, Suzuki broke into the “never before in his career” category quite often. His offensive numbers were significantly higher than expected, and that’s something the Twins benefited from. While getting away from the Coliseum in Oakland would be expected to help some, Target Field is far from a hitters park as well. In 2015, Suzuki should be expected to regress, and relatively significantly at that. A career .257 hitter, the Twins will see an average closer to the norm. Also, the Twins shouldn’t expect the same kind of run production from their backstop, if for no other reason than an improved lineup as a whole. Those developments along bring Suzuki’s defensive play into full focus.
Without the offensive prowess shining for Suzuki, Josmil Pinto finds a significant door opened. While Pinto should be expected to hit for power at the major league level, his playing time will be dictated by his ability behind the plate. Thus far in his major league career, he hasn’t shown much of said ability. Last season however, Pinto was able to throw out 18% of would be base stealers in Triple-A. He also allowed only three passed balls in 34 games behind the plate. Those numbers are probably good enough to get his bat to take over the conversation.
At the end of the day, while Kurt Suzuki was the All Star in 2014, it’s Josmil Pinto who has the most to gain in the 2015 season. As regression sets in for the former Oakland Athletics backstop, Pinto could take the role and run with it in the first season of Suzuki’s newly inked two-year deal. Throughout the spring, Pinto will have to show an advanced level of defensive development, but carrying it into the season is something he appears capable of.
What has been regarded as a problem when the Twins see Josmil Pinto behind the plate, could quickly turn into their starting catcher if things fall into place.
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