The Horrors of an Overexposed Eduardo Nunez

In 2011, Eduardo Nunez firmly established himself as the Yankees backup infielder.  Given the job out of spring training, the then 23 year old seemed to rise to the occasion. He surprised Yankees fans across the board with his ability with the bat.  Unlike utility players in the past (Enrique Wilson, Ramiro Pena, etc.), Nunez was a non-zero hitter.

Over 112 games and 338 at bats, Nunez put up a more than respectable line of .265/.313/.385 adding up to a .313 wOBA and a 92 wRC+.  That type of offensive production is more than you can expect from any bench player.  For a good comparison, look towards Derek Jeter‘s 2010 line (.270/.340/.370).

For the first few months, Nunez was not given the chance to prove himself one way or another.   In fact, it was not until Derek Jeter went down with an injury in mid-June that the young shortstop truly made his mark.  Through 66 plate appearances, Nunez hit .333/.375/.517.

So, Eduardo Nunez was a near league average hitter on the season, and when asked to fill in for the starting shortstop, passed with flying colors.  So what is the problem?

Both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference have Nunez pegged as well below replacement level at -.6 and -.7 WAR respectively.  These negative values were not contrived from his bat, as his numbers were more than respectable even for a starting shortstop.  Rather, they are a result of his atrocious fielding.

According to fangraphs, Nunez cost the team 15.7 runs due to his defense alone.  Baseball-Reference has him at a slightly less disastrous -12 defensive runs.  And one does not even need to look into advanced metrics to figure out that Nunez was horrendous with the glove- the eye test and good old fashion Error stat do the trick.

It seemed that every time the ball would leave Nunez’s hand, Yankee fans across the country would cringe.  He made 6 errors in 285.1 innings at short and 14 errors in just 386.1 innings at third.  Nunez led the team in this category despite not being in the starting lineup regularly.

Now, picking apart the backup infielder’s game seems to be a nitpick on a championship-caliber team.  After all, he is a bench guy with a passable bat, good speed, and some shoddy defense.  But with the current construction of the team, i.e. the old left side, the lack of a better option may easily become a problem.

Derek Jeter, 37, and Alex Rodriguez, 36, both missed time in 2011 and are both prime candidates to hit the DL at some point in 2012.  If Nunez is forced to step in for any extended period of time, there is a high probability that the holes in his game will be exposed to the point where something must be done.

Everything seemed to work out well with Nunez and Eric Chavez splitting time in 2011, but Eric Chavez, even if he decides not to retire, cannot be counted on.  The guy is made of glass.  Looking into the system, and there are two candidates, Ramiro Pena and Brandon Laird.

Pena is your prototypical slick-fielding, no-hit backup.  In fact, his bat is so bad that he was worth even less than Eduardo Nunez in 2011 despite playing in just a fraction of the games.  So Pena is not a viable option.

Laird is an interesting option.  He is primarily a 1B/3B guy with a good glove that has consistently gotten better over the past few seasons.  The problem with Laird though is that he has not proven that he can hit above AA.  The 24 year old failed to put up even a .300 OBP in 489 at bats in Scranton, making him a cheap, but risky option.

So it seems that if the Yankees wish to provide themselves more safety on the left side of the infield, they will have to look towards the free agent or trade market.  Moshe Mandel over at River Ave Blues looked into some options for an Alex Rodriguez “caddy,” and topping the list was current Brave Martin Prado.

Prado had a down year in 2011, and the Braves have indicated that they are looking into shedding his salary.  From 2008-2010, Prado was a solid hitter, so the Yankees should, and probably will look into the Braves’ asking price.  There are also some interesting names on the free agent market: Casey Blake, Jerry Hairston Jr., Ty Wigginton, among others.

In the end, the Yankees are a good enough team that they can get by with an overexposed Eduardo Nunez.  But seeing as how they play in the toughest division in baseball, it may be wise to look into a possible upgrade.

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10 Responses to The Horrors of an Overexposed Eduardo Nunez

  1. Susan says:

    Good article Alex. It would seem that the team with such deep pockets could find a suitable utility infielder. I liked Hairston Jr. the first time around and thought it was a mistake to let him get away. I like Chavez too. Despite the errors, I still kind of like Nunez. As for Ramiro Pena, I'll take it a step further, not only is he not a viable option for the Yankees as a back up infielder, he wouldn't be a viable option for a team in the Little League World Series.

    It's quite embarrassing that not only has he been a fixture on our team for a couple years now but that Girardi seemingly finds a way to get him in the game as much as he can. I know some people say he's a slick fielder but every time I see him he looks like shit out in the field. As I've said before, if he was allowed to hit off a tee for an entire season I doubt he'd hit .200. In my opinion, the most worthless player of any generation. I would feel much more comfortable with Rob Abruzzese as our utility infielder than Ramiro Pena. Surely he could at least hit a ball off a tee, right? ;-)

  2. Tanned Tom says:

    This happens with young players, they come up, are given a chance to play, and the flaws in their game get highlighted. The thing to do is trade them after you discover their limit and before others do. Nunez should be traded. With the team's offense I do not care about a no hit back up. Pena is better in the field, he can't hit? so bat him 9th. Calling him the "most worthless player of any generation" is ridiculous hyperbole.
    Laird is the another guy who should get a shot. You'll know by the all-star break if he is ready, and that should be fine. Chavez? the one thing a backup has to do is be ready if called upon, this guy is too injury prone and not a patient enough hitter anyway. Another option, though I hesitate, is to throw a 3B glove at Montero this spring. A couple of decent 3Bers started out as catchers, and with Montero's bat, it's worth a look. In any case the Yanks will need to carry 2 backup infielders.

    • Susan says:

      If there is a more worthless player in the game than Pena, please name him. If we released him, as we should, I seriously doubt any team in the majors would pick him up. There's simply zero reason for him to be part of this team outside of being a bat boy or something.

      • Mike Sommer says:

        Maybe not today, Susan, but Fred "the Chicken" Stanley wasn't worth more in his day.

        • Susan says:

          Good point Mike. I'm only 40 so I wasn't too familiar with Fred Stanley but I just looked up his career numbers and it certainly looks like he was the Ramiro Pena of his time. 10 career HRS in 14 seasons and a career average of .216

          I've followed baseball very closely since 77-78 when the Yankees and Dodgers went at it, (which is why I'm always so anti-Dodgers) so in my generation, I stand by what I say about Pena being the most worthless player. Of course you OLD men remember the guys from the 50s-70s. LOL

          I know at times I go overboard in my bashing of Ramiro Pena but it just irks me to no end when I see that slug playing for the team I hold so dear. There really truly is no excuse for him to ever be on the Yankees big league roster. It's just complete asininity.

  3. Fred says:

    I'll second thoroughly enjoying Jerry Hairston's time in pinstripes. The guy fields almost every position, does so well, and isn't awful with the bat. For the right price he'd be a great bench addition

  4. Dr D says:

    I'll try to make it as short and clear as I can. For young players its all about tools. If you can get a young player with 3 + tools, you develope them; PERIOD. Managment has issues with this (ten years in the playoffs with one Crown) BS. We have Nunez, Dickerson and Golson with three tools, and no respect. NAME THREE OTHER STARTERS IN THE CURRENT LINE UP (out field) WITH THREE TOOLS! PS; Swisher is not one! But he's good trade bate. And Nunez playes the out field.

    We need to forget about drafting other players and develope what we have. We have what is necessary to win the World Serie, WE JUST DON'T KNOW IT.

    • Gonzalo says:

      Agree with Dr D
      These people are talking about bring this guy bring that one. If we do that the payroll will be around 300.
      We have a lot of talent in Betances, Banuelos, Laird, Montero, Romine, Heathcott, Phelps, Nunez, Golson, Laird, etc, etc, etc. there is no point in sending these players away, overpaying, and then paying again or give away more young talent to bring what others developed.

      It's Steinbrenners money but having the money It's what makes me think about giving them a chance because we can afford those risks and we hace covered other positions. It's just ridiculous to bring an utility player that won't make any big difference instead of bringing somebody from the minors

  5. baseball maineiac says:

    Advanced metrics also show Jeter costing the team 13 runs defensively, albeit in significantly more playing time. But Jeter's bat has always been able to carry his glove. They need a reliable fielder on the bench and guys that can play regularly at third and short to keep at Triple-A in case of DL time for Jeter or A-Rod. Offense really isn't too critical for backups because the Yankee lineup will score plenty of runs even short a couple of regulars.