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Gardy's Rules: Why Pinto Can Still DH

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I'm not looking for a DH candidate in a catcher, I've been that route. I need two catchers. If I have that then I'm going to need three catchers and I donít want to do that.
--Ron Gardenhire, March 13, 2014

That's the sound of Ron Gardenhire making it clear he doesn't plan to play Josmil Pinto at Designated Hitter this year. Having trimmed the roster down to two catchers, Gardy wants to use his rookie catcher as a true back-up, not as an occasional DH. Yet, even when following Gardenhire's logic, Pinto should be allowed to step to the plate as a DH in 2014.

It's well known in Twins Territory that Gardy harbors a deep-seated fear of a mid-game catcher injury that forces a bench scramble. This fear has manifested itself in a proclivity for carrying three catchers on the 25-Man Roster, but also shows up in places like the above quote, illustrating Gardy's attention to the consequences of thinning the ranks of his replacement receivers.

This year, the Twins' Opening Day roster will feature two catchers: Kurt Suzuki and Josmil Pinto. Gardenhire has already made the decision that Suzuki, his veteran presence, and his defensive prowess will helm the catching duo, relegating Pinto to the role of back-up.

However, Pinto's history suggests the offense-challenged Twins of 2014 would benefit from his bat in the line-up. Given Pinto's youth and development path, he would also benefit from regular offensive playing time.

In 2013, Pinto hit .342/.398/.566 in 83 September plate appearances with the Twins, building on a .309/.400/.482 line across AA and AAA for the season (his second consecutive MiLB season with an OPS over .800). His major league OPS was the best in 2013 among Twins with a minimum of 50 plate appearances. Small sample size and September numbers caveats aside, that's a slash line that turns heads and suggests Pinto has a bat that could aid the Twins in 2014.

That point is only underscored by the dearth of offense the Twins are carrying into this season. To an offense that ranked 12th in the league (based on OPS) in 2013, the Twins have added Jason Kubel, who put up at .216/.293/.317 line in 2013, and Jason Bartlett, who was completely absent from baseball in 2013 after putting up a .133/.240/.193 line in 98 plate appearances in 2012. Their Spring Training slash lines--.186/.286/.279 and .098/.159/.098, respectively--have done nothing to assuage concerns that they've entered the decline phases of their careers.

Besides 31-year-old Kubel and 34-year-old Bartlett, 25-year-old Pinto's other competition at DH is 30-year-old Chris Colabello, an independent league find who put up an eye-popping .352/.427/.639 line in 2013 before struggling to .194/.287/.344 in 181 plate appearances with the Twins. Colabello still teases the possibility of offensive skill, but on a rebuilding team, youth must carry the day. At 30, Colabello's bat has likely learned what it can; at 25, Pinto needs the development opportunity provided by regular at-bats, and can't waste away as a back-up catching playing only a couple times a week.

Gardy believes Pinto needs more defensive seasoning before taking over a full-time catching role. Fine.

But the Twins still need Pinto's batóat DH if he's not catching. Gardenhire doesn't want to risk losing the DH if Suzuki goes down and Pinto must take over mid-game, forcing the DH slot into the hands of pinch hitters and hitting pitchers. Fine.

But there's another possibility here, one that Gardenhire demonstrated a comfort with as recently as last year. Gardy went the DHing catcher route before--as referenced in his above quote--as recently as 2013.

Opening Day of 2013, in fact, featured back-up catcher Ryan Doumit in the DH slot, Joe Mauer behind the dish, and a third catcher... no where to be found. Drew Butera, Chris Herrmann, Eric Fryer, and Josmil Pinto all sat out on the East Coast with minor league affiliates, a planeís flight away from taking over in the event of an injury.

In fact, in 2013, Doumit logged a whopping 216 plate appearances in 54 games at DH with no third catcher on the roster. Chris Herrmann joined the roster for a brief stint from late May through mid-June following Wilkin Ramirez's concussion, and then did not slot in again until mid-July. Yet Doumit took those DH at-bats, anyway.

So what was the plan if Mauer had gone down while Doumit was the Designated Hitter?

[Eduardo] Escobar spent a half-hour this afternoon catching pitches from a pitching machine... It's clear Gardenhire is considering Escobar as an emergency catcher, on hand only in case Joe Mauer or Ryan Doumit get hurt during a game... "Another catcher is only a phone call away," [Gardenhire] said. "He would only have to get you through nine innings, or whatever."

--From Phil Miller, March 13, 2013

In 2013, the Twins had a utility infielder who could serve as an emergency third catcher in the event of injury.

By a stroke of good fortune, the same Eduardo Escobar is breaking camp with the 2014 Minnesota Twins.

Is it possible Gardenhire's forgotten this skill Escobar carries in his toolbox? There's no evidence the Escobar-as-emergency-catcher method failed, as Escobar was never forced to take the on the role. Given Gardy's above quote, it does sound like he has some second thoughts over using his back-up catcher as his DH. But looking at the way 2013 went down, the only regret I can see is Doumit's .247/.314/.396 line.

Even by Ron Gardenhire's logic, there is no reason to prohibit Josmil Pinto from serving at Designated Hitter on days when he's not catching. The line-up will benefit from his bat, and his bat will benefit from being in the line-up. By letting Josmil Pinto DH, the Twins will be better in 2013 and beyond.

Comments

  1. stringer bell's Avatar
    Two parts to the backup catcher as DH: 1) The DH replaces the catcher and the team loses the DH. This never happened with the Mauer/Doumit duo. Why? There was no real strategic reason for either guy to be replaced. Mauer being the best hitter on the team and Doumit being a top 5 hitter on the team and being a switch hitter. The only reason to replace either would be to run for the slow-footed Doumit. However, with Suzuki and Pinto as the two catchers, Gardy would pinch hit for both if he has good LH options. This would either tie his hands for pinch hitting or expose the loss of DH situation much more often. 2) Using the emergency catcher. Would only happen if both catchers went out of the game. Obviously again with Doumit/Mauer it didn't happen because they never were hit for, but with Suzuki/Pinto, it could happen, because the Twins should hit for Suzuki close and late and might on occasion hit for Pinto against a tough right hander.
  2. Wookiee of the Year's Avatar
    stringer bell, thanks for the comment--I admit, the pinch hinter angle is one I hadn't considered.

    That said, if you consider Pinto the best option at DH on days he'd otherwise be riding the bench--and I do--then there's something odd in the notion that the Twins should keep a superior bat out of the line-up to ensure a defensive replacement in case they have to pinch-hit a superior bat for Suzuki. I'd think it would be better to put as many of your best bats in the line-up as possible in the first place.
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