Pinto's Prodigious Potential
by, 05-09-2014 at 02:39 PM (522 Views)
Outside of shortstop, there may not be another position player with lower offensive expectations than catcher. The physical toll of the position forces many elite offensive players into other roles – Bryce Harper, for instance, was moved from catcher to outfielder immediately after being drafted in an effort to extend his career. Others, such as Joe Mauer or (eventually) Buster Posey are moved later into their career when the beatings sustained as a catcher threatens to shorten their playing time or otherwise hamper their offensive value. Teams readily trade offense for defense when it comes starting backstops, making a true offensive catcher a rare luxury.
That’s what makes Josmil Pinto so exciting. The Twins very well could have a truly impressive offensive asset at catcher, one year after moving one of the league’s best offensive catchers to another position. Forget rare, that kind of good fortune is unheard of.
Pinto burst onto the scene as a September call up in 2013, finishing the month with 83 plate appearances and posting an impressive slash line of .342/.398/.566 while hitting 4 home runs and driving in 12 RBI.
Pinto finished 2013 with the highest WRC+ among all catchers at 169, beating Joe Mauer’s impressive 144 WRC+. He also topped all catchers in BABIP, finishing with .440 – once again beating out Joe Mauer and his .383 BABIP for the top spot.
Of course, Pinto posted these numbers in 1/5 of the plate appearances of Joe Mauer, Yadier Molina or Buster Posey - so they should be taken in the proper context and with a hearty grain of salt. I’m not here to tell you that Pinto is the next Molina or Mauer – his 2013 numbers were unsustainable even for the league’s best hitters and regression should be expected as Pinto piles up more plate appearances. However, his numbers from the past few seasons do point to some promising potential from the Twins future catcher.
Pinto has been a member of the Twins organization since 2006 when he was signed as an amateur free agent. After five seasons of solid, albeit none too spectacular results, his bat came alive in 2012. Playing between A+ Fort Myers and AA New Britain, Pinto finished the season with a .295/.362/.482 line. Even more impressive was Pinto’s new found patience at the plate. In 2011, Pinto drew 14 walks in 73 games. In 2012, that number jumped to 43 walks over 105 games.
His newfound offensive output followed him to 2013, where between AA New Britain and AAA Rochester he posted a .309/.400/.482 line over 126 games. His patience carried over as well, as he took 66 walks between the two levels. As we saw first hand, all of those numbers would pale in comparison to what he managed to do over the final month of the season at the big league level.
At first glance, Pinto looks to have regressed in 2014; while he’s hit 5 early home runs (a mark that puts him second on the team, trailing only Brian Dozier’s 8) he’s only batting .228/.357/.424 while his strikeout rate sits at a higher than normal 22.3%. There’s reason to believe those numbers will improve, however, especially since Pinto’s minor league patience is beginning to show at the big league level. He currently leads all catchers in BB% (16.1%) and his .357 OBP is good enough for 8th overall among catchers.
Above: Pinto is chasing fewer pitches out of the zone (O%) while making better contact overall. Both numbers are good indicators for continued success.
O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% Pace 2013 Twins 30.7 % 52.9 % 42.1 % 58.0 % 84.6 % 75.2 % 51.3 % 22.6 2014 Twins 25.7 % 56.5 % 40.4 % 67.7 % 83.1 % 78.0 % 47.6 % 21.1
Even with his lower batting average, Pinto is currently 7th in WRC+ (122) among all catchers (minimum 90 PA). Outside of Buster Posey (148 WRC+) and Yadier Molina (126 WRC+) all of the other catchers ahead of him are posting career best BABIP and WRC+ totals, indicating they’re likely to regress as the season continues. (Kurt Suzuki, for instance, is currently tied with Pinto at 122 WRC+) Meanwhile, Pinto’s modest .245 BABIP is likely to improve as his batting average returns closer to his career norms.
Pinto does have room to grow defensively as he’s still below average behind the plate. He posted a -3 DRS in 2013 and is currently at -1 DRS in 2014. He also has to work on keeping his hand back when receiving the ball – twice already this season Pinto has interfered with the batter at the plate (he got away with it against the Orioles, but was called for interference in the final game of the most recent Cleveland series). The Twins coaching staff has cited poor footwork when throwing out runners as an area of concern as well. There’s no reason to believe these areas won’t come around with experience, however.
When Mauer's move to first base was announced in the offseason, it seemed unimaginable that the Twins would be able to find a smooth transition from one of the best offensive catchers in the game. Instead, the Twins have gotten an above average season from Kurt Suzuki. Meanwhile, Suzuki's replacement, Josmil Pinto is shaping up to be an offensive threat in his own right. When it comes of offensive output from the catcher position, the Twins appear to be one of the more fortunate teams in all of baseball.