Josmil Pinto knows how to hit a baseball.
When crafting a compliment sandwich, it is important to begin with something as positive and sincere as possible. While today's sandwich will be very heavy on the meat and low on the bread, it's important to remember everything that follows in the context of Pinto's hitting prowess. The 25-year-old catcher has put together a .257/.339/.445 line in his first 280 plate appearances in the big leagues and has some good numbers at Triple-A.
What he sorely lacks is the ability to provide adequate defense behind the plate. Pinto isn't just your garden variety bat-first catcher, he's a legend of defensive ineptitude. In 2014 his incompetence donning the tools of ignorance was so extreme that it is a story demanding to be told.
As we walk down the dark, dark road of Pinto's defensive failures be aware that very small sample sizes will be in use. Keep in mind that this is a chronicle of historical events rather than an attempt to capture or understand the subject's true talent level.
In order to evaluate Pinto's hellish season it is important to determine what it is fair to evaluate a catcher on. That is a complex question, one that I cannot answer definitively. As a result in order to tell Pinto's story I will focus on three basic aspects of catching: throwing, blocking, and framing.
Chapter 1: Throwing
A catcher's ability to throw out base runners is one of the most important aspects of his job, as well as one of the easiest to quantify. While pitchers play a large role in controlling the running game, catchers with great arms tend to catch plenty of base runners stealing.
Remarkably, last season Pinto didn't catch a single man stealing. This might not seem that outrageous considering he caught only 25 games, but it's virtually unprecedented. Since 1960 there have been 3055 catcher seasons that include at least 200 innings behind the plate. Only three times has a catcher failed to catch a man stealing.
|Sandy Alomar Jr.||TEX||2005||17||0|
Pinto let base runners go wild under his watch. He prevented stolen bases about as well as sheriffs in the fictional Old West prevented gunfights, which is to say not at all.
There is video evidence to suggest that Pinto is physically capable of throwing runners out:
But in 2014 he showed a mind-boggling inability to do so. In his last two games before getting demoted in June the Twins' backstop gave up six stolen bases. One can only imagine what would have happened if he'd been behind the plate during the AL Wild Card Game.
Chapter 2: Blocking
Blocking can be hard to quantify, and successful attempts rarely make the highlight reels, so it's hard to say conclusively that Pinto was as bad as this aspect of catching as the others. However, pitch blocking was identified as a problem area for the young catcher by analysts as well as his manager, so there's likely something there.
In terms of the numbers- rudimentary as they may be- Pinto's blocking efforts last year look unremarkable.
|Innings Caught||MLB Rank||Passed Balls||MLB Rank||Wild Pitches||MLB Rank|
It's worth noting that the average non-Pinto catcher with four passed balls caught 595.2 innings, more than twice his total. Similarly, the average backstop with 10 wild pitches caught 331.2 innings. Do the basic numbers suggest that Pinto's blocking was unbelievably bad last season? No.
But he definitely wasn't great.
Chapter 3: Pitch Framing
A couple of years ago it would be easy to miss a defensive performance as poor as Pinto's, but with catcher framing numbers evolving the Ryan Doumit types can no longer escape scrutiny.
According to Matthew Carruth's StatCorner Catcher Report, Pinto was arguably the worst framer in baseball. The following table shows how he ranked among the 58 players with a sample of umpire calls of at least 2,000.
|Zone Ball%||O-Zone Strike%||Calls||Calls Per Game||RAA|
|20.5% (1st)||5.3% (56th)||-81 (50th)||-3.06 (58th)||-10.8 (50th)|
His calls per game were by far the worst in baseball (second worst was Gerald Laird at -2.58), and his totals are among the worst even though he spent merely 25 games behind the plate. Beyond the quantitative measures, Pinto's horrible framing was noted by teammates.
Appearing on 1500 ESPN Radio's "Mackey & Judd", Twins closer Glen Perkins did not mince his words when discussing the inadequacies of his battery mate.
"He's a long ways away, to be honest with you. Balls close to the zone, balls below the zone . . . I guess I don't really know about blocking and all those things. But his pitching framing, he's got some work to do. I don't know what level he's at, but he's surely not at the big-league level as far as catching for me."
When your teammates are openly telling the media your defense isn't big-league caliber, that's not a great omen. The reliever's words also seem to indicate Pinto does not have a magical relationship with his pitchers that justifies the holes in his defensive game.
Perkins continued his scathing condemnation of Pinto:
"He can hit, but that's not what it's all about. You've got to be able to do other things, especially a young guy like that. You can't be a 25-year-old DH. He's got to learn how to catch, got to learn how to frame, got to learn how to call the game. Hopefully he'll be able to do that. He's going to be a major league player. Hopefully he'll be able to do it as a catcher."
Perkins has a point here, but his conclusion is probably wrong. Pinto would have a lot more value to the Twins if he could be a serviceable defensive catcher. However, if it is humanly possible to prove oneself incapable of catching at the big league level in only 226 innings, then Josmil Pinto did it in 2014.
At the moment his FanGraphs page reads C/DH, but he may wind up as the rare 25-year-old DH. It's not as impossible as Perkins seems to indicate. After all, it worked for Billy Butler.
To put a tidy bow on this meaty compliment sandwich I should say that there's a not insignificant chance Pinto could make his way as a professional hitter. While Steamer projects a fairly modest 106 wRC+ for him, players who begin their careers as catchers tend to develop late offensively. There is more breakout potential there.
He certainly possess intriguing raw power that could help facilitate a step forward.
For now, Josmil Pinto's claim to fame has to be his incredibly poor defense, but he's got plenty of time to make a name for himself with the bat.
Especially if he leaves the old catcher's mitt at home.
. . .
Nick Ashbourne is an Editor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.