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The Punto/Harris Decision

Last week, I noted that Ron Gardenhire put out a tragedy of an outfield defense when he stuck Michael Cuddyer in center field and flanked him with Delmon Young and Jason Kubel. The Twins are traditionally a defense oriented ballclub with a pitching staff full of pitch to contact strike throwers, so it was surprising to see Minnesota put such a poor collection of gloves on the field at the same time.

Well, the latest odd defensive decision from Gardenhire isn’t as disastrous as the no-glove outfield, but it might be just as weird.

The Twins gave Nick Punto a 2 year, $8 million contract over the winter to retain their starting shortstop. While he’s not much of a hitter, Punto has proven to be an extremely adept fielder, posting a career UZR/150 of +17.5 at shortstop and +19.5 at second base over 3,300 career innings up the middle. He’s not flashy, but he has good range and is very steady, rarely making errors. The combination makes him one of the better defensive shortstops in the game.

Well, Punto went on the disabled list at the end of May, and the Twins used Brendan Harris as his replacement while he was away. Harris, while an okay hitter for a middle infielder, is a lousy defender. He’s a career -9.5 UZR/150 at shortstop and -6.7 at second base, and he just doesn’t have the range to be a quality defender at an up the middle position.

Punto came off the DL on June 11th, and he’s been playing regularly for the last week. At second base.

Yes, Gardenhire has decided that when he puts Harris and Punto on the field together, he’s giving Harris the more challenging defensive position and putting Punto at the less important of the two middle infield spots. Remember, Punto is a borderline gold glover at short, while Harris probably shouldn’t be playing the position at all.

I don’t get it. If the Twins didn’t think Punto could play shortstop, they wouldn’t have re-signed him for $4 million a year – they’re not paying for his bat. So, did Harris make one great play that convinced Gardenhire that he’s a changed man defensively? Is he bribing him? What possible reason could the Twins have for running out a bad defender at shortstop and a really good defender at second base?