This ain’t Chad Pinder’s first roster rodeo with the A’s.
He’s been awaiting his crack to get an everyday role with the squad for years. In truth, the storyline hasn’t changed much since his rookie season.
Check out these quotes from Pinder and manager Bob Melvin from 2017 when he was getting his first extended look as a utility man with the club.
Pinder (via MLB.com)
“I’m just going with the flow, honestly. If they say, ‘Go get reads in center,’ I’m going to go get reads in center. If they say, ‘Go get some ground balls at third [or] first,’ I’m going to do that. I’ll probably need to add some more gloves to the collection. It’s an adjustment, but it’s fun.”
Melvin (via MLB.com):
“That’s kind of the role we envision with him down the road. There aren’t too many guys that give you that type of versatility. It’s one thing to say a guy can, but it’s another to have a guy who actually can do it and produce in those situations. … There aren’t too many Ben Zobrists out there but we feel like he can be one of those guys.”
Melvin (via MLB.com)
“That’s very important, that defensively if you’re going to move around different positions, you have to play them well, or at least be average, and he has. There are very few people that can do what he’s doing right now.”
Melvin (via MLB.com)
“He’s a bat, for sure. It’s finding the right position for him. It might be the versatility and playing some outfield that ends up being the right spot for him, but he can hit, and he’s done it everywhere he’s gone.”
Welp, four years later.
Except Pinder’s career arc is yet to take on the shape of Ben Zobrist’s. There’s still time, though. Pinder turned 29 three days before opening day. Zobrist didn’t get his big break until his age 28 season in 2009, when he played 152 games and got 599 plate appearances as a utilityman.
Zobrist made his first of three career All-Star teams that year and even got some MVP votes. It also kicked off a string of six straight seasons where he played at least 146 games (90.1 percent) each season.
In 2018, Pinder played 110 games and got 333 plate appearances before peaking in 2019 with 124 games played and 370 plate appearances. He could very well top those figures this season given the early developments this season and the aging middle infield.
Back in February, Pinder said he would prefer to get ABs in one spot, but that he’s open to a utility role.
“Would love to nestle in and get a ton of at-bats at one spot,” Pinder said. “Even if it’s moving around, just getting at-bats. I like moving around the diamond, I don’t mind it. But just to be able to get more at-bats would be great. That’s something I’m going to have to prove and earn through spring and the beginning of the season.”
There are some scenarios where Pinder could “nestle in” to one spot this season. If his performance keeps up, Melvin might have a hard time keeping him out of the lineup as the primary right fielder over Stephen Piscotty.
Pinder probably has more pop in his bat. Here’s his mammoth dinger from Friday’s loss to the Astros:
Pinder keeps on producing … gotta wonder if that right-handed hitting RF spot will be his going forward over Piscotty?
Prob will get plenty of games at SS/2B though given Jed/Andrus agepic.twitter.com/F3rwozs9ez
— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) April 3, 2021
Pinder is also probably a better defender at this point.
Check out this catch from opening night:
Pinder went full Superman 😱 pic.twitter.com/FLk1qQTRdQ
— A’s on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 2, 2021
Then again, Melvin would probably like to get left-handed hitting Ka’ai Tom some at-bats there throughout the year.
Otherwise, Pinder’s only other opportunity for an extended opportunity at one position would be if second baseman Jed Lowrie or shortstop Elvis Andrus gets injured, and no one is hoping for that.
Lowrie played two games in the field to start the year before getting an off-day on Saturday as he eases back from offseason knee surgery. Andrus’ bat has looked limp with the A’s in spring training and through two games but Melvin probably wouldn’t consider benching him until a slump extends for weeks or months. Andrus also dealt with back issues last year.
It’s a blessing and a curse, Pinder’s versatility. It’s what gets him in the lineup in the first place, but also what prevents him from getting locked in to one spot. You’ve heard it all before.
Pinder has started each of the past three opening days, but he’s been in a different position each time: right field in 2021, second base in 2020 and left field in 2019.
Pinder was in Saturday’s lineup as left fielder, as Mark Canha moved over to center to fill in for Ramon Laureano, who is day-to-day with a wrist injury after he slid hard into first base. Piscotty also needed a cortisone shot this spring for wrist tendonitis.
Pinder will get his ABs around the diamond again this year, but will be a utilityman for the foreseeable future. For his career, Pinder has played 114 games in LF, 84 games at 2B, 81 games in RF, 40 games at 3B, 35 games at SS, 16 games in CF, 14 as DH and 3 as 1B.
Sure, that’s his role. But you have to wonder how Pinder would do if he could settle into one position and not have to check the lineup card everyday to find out where he’s playing and how to prepare.
Could he be more productive than Piscotty or Andrus or Lowrie at their respective positions if given an everyday chance? We probably won’t know. He helps the team by filling in where needed.
At this point, Melvin sounds tired of answering the Pinder questions.
“Look, he had a great end of the year last year,” Melvin said on Friday. “He had a great spring. He had a really good game yesterday [during opening day]. I’m a big Chad Pinder fan. As long as he continues to perform in that fashion …
“One thing we like to do is get everybody at-bats, especially the platoon and/or bench players a lot of at-bats. They’re probably as ready to go now as they have been and you want to create a team function where everybody is involved. … I certainly can’t argue the fact that Chad’s playing his best baseball right now. That’s about as far as I’ll go with it.”
Maybe one day Pinder will be the team’s starting second baseman in the infield with his buddies Matt Chapman and Matt Olson. Maybe one day he’ll be someone else’s starting second baseman.
Pinder is entering his second year of arbitration and will be a free agent following the 2022 season, unless he signs an extension.