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Athletics 2014 season review: Nick Punto

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At night, Punto becomes his alter-ego Shredder, whose superpower is the ability to dive head-first into anything.
At night, Punto becomes his alter-ego Shredder, whose superpower is the ability to dive head-first into anything.
Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the first installment of Athletics Nation's season review series, in which we'll take an individual look at each of the 45 players who took the field for the 2014 Oakland Athletics. I have arbitrarily chosen to go in order of jersey number, which means we'll begin with No. 1: Nick Punto.

Player profile

Name: Nick Punto, aka Shredder
Position: 2B, SS, 3B, RF (for one out)
Stats: .207/.296/.293 (.589, 69 OPS+), 2 HR, 3 SB
WAR: 0.5 bWAR, 0.2 fWAR
How he got here: Signed as free agent prior to 2014
2014 Salary: $2.75 million
2015 Status: Contract option vested, will be back with A's
2015 Salary: $2.75 million

Season summary

Punto is a versatile player, and he was signed by the A's last winter to serve in multiple roles. He platooned with Eric Sogard at second base, starting against left-handed pitchers, and he provided Bob Melvin with a sure-handed shortstop to back up Jed Lowrie. As a switch-hitter, he was also capable of hitting equally well (or equally poorly) against pitchers of either hand. His value was meant to come from defense, not offense.

The 36-year-old was more or less as advertised. He had one of his worst seasons at the plate, and his defense up the middle was only about neutral, but these days that's enough to grade out as a slightly positive player (0.5 bWAR, 0.2 fWAR). You could argue that, since he was merely replacement-level, he was a waste of a couple million dollars, but just remember how much trouble the A's had finding even that level of production at second base this year. A replacement-level middle infielder is apparently a valuable thing right now, and his salary is in line with similar veteran players on other teams.

Punto strained his hamstring in early August and spent 34 games on the disabled list, and that proved to be a huge blow when Lowrie went down for two weeks at the same time. The loss of both capable shortstops put a big dent in Oakland's lineup, and that was surely one small factor in the larger second-half collapse -- the team went 13-21 while Punto was out. While he was gone, Sogard had to play some shortstop, Alberto Callaspo had to play at all, and Andy Parrino had to be on the roster. It's probably worth $3 million to prevent any of those things from happening again.

Otherwise, Punto didn't do much of note, and he wasn't supposed to. Utility infielders generally operate in the background, making the routine plays and batting ninth and hustling a little extra. That sentence describes Punto's season perfectly.

2014 season grade, relative to expectations: B- ... He was signed to play sure-handed defense up the middle and only expected to hit enough to remain a viable MLB option. He did just that, barely. He could have improved on that grade by raising his 69 OPS+ -- it was 86 in 2013, when he posted a .655 for the Dodgers -- and he could have earned an A by hitting at a league-average level. But given that no one expected him to hit much, it's hard to complain about what we got.

2014 season grade, overall: C- ... Punto was basically replacement-level, so he gets a barely passing grade.

Video highlights

Let's start with Little Nicky bunting and then diving head-first into something.

Next, we have an example of his defense. Here, he holds his ground at second while the runner barrels into him, and he still gets enough on his throw to double up the speedy Alex Rios

Video evidence that he's capable of hitting a homer. That wasn't a cheap one, either.

He notched a walk-off in July, breaking a scoreless tie against the Blue Jays in the 12th with a little help from Melky Cabrera. To their credit, Toronto fans didn't cry over spilt Melk.

Then, things went downhill. Punto strained his hamstring running the bases in what turned out to be a near-blowout win.

But he came back! Here he is legging out a triple in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game against the Phillies. He was eventually stranded at third, but the A's went on to win in the 10th. He hit another big late-inning triple against the Angels three days later.

***

There are 44 more of these capsules coming, so if there's something else you'd like to see in the future ones then let me know in the comments! And remember the words Punto lives by: Always Be Shredding.