The Nunez gap

Sometimes, there are players that fans and organizations see in a completely different light. Recently, we went through this with Joba Chamberlain. Many, myself included, thought (and still think) he should have been given more of a chance to prove himself as a starting pitcher, but it doesn’t look like that will ever happen with the Yankees. Now it seems like there’s something in a vaguely similar vein brewing with Eduardo Nunez.

Over the last two seasons, the Yankees have definitely shown more faith in Nunez than most fans have. Well, perhaps that’s not true. There are a lot of fans who definitely believe in Nunez a lot more than I do. Regardless of who populates the faithful and unfaithful camps, it’s clear that there’s a chasm in Yankee land when it comes to Eduardo Nunez.

We’ve heard Yankee announcers talk Nunez up, especially John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman. Each time they talk about him, they rave about his potential, especially the “pop” in his bat. Apparently a .098 Iso in 2916 professional at bats qualifies as pop these days. His walk rates have never been special, though it is wroth noting he jumped from 5.7 to 6.5 from 2010 to 2011. It’s still not great, but I’ll take the improvement. He also managed a .130 Iso in 2011 (up from .080 in ’10), but that was buoyed by a strong July (the only month in which he had a SLG, .480, higher than .375).

There’s also been a lot of talking up of Nunez from the front office. They say similar things about Nunez and his potential and while I may not believe it, I understand why it says those things and know that they have to. It’s the front office’s job to talk up its own players for multiple reasons. Of course I’m sure there’s genuine hope and belief in Nunez from Brian Cashman and company, but when I look at what I’ve seen from Nunez–both with the “eye” test and his statistical profile–it makes me think that their words aren’t 100% sincere.

I’m not sure if I had much of a point here, aside from pointing out that there’s a gap in the way we think about players. While I generally don’t love Nunez’s potential, I don’t think he’s useless. As a cheap utility player, he’s got some value to the Yankees.

17 thoughts on “The Nunez gap

  1. bottom line

    One possible reason for the perception gap: Nunez has not been given adequate credit for his baserunning.
    Stealing 22 bases in 28 attempts last year he showed the ability to swipe a bag almost at will in key situations. Yes, he was caught from time to time but I really thought he was a weapon, especially in late inning pressure situations. Based on his performance in limited action last year as basically a rookie, I would think he has the potential to steal 40 bases a year. Add to that a pretty good contact bat (even if the walk rate is sub-par) and the glimmer of power– hitting even a handul of HRs as a 23 year old rookie SS is encouraging — and Nunez is a pretty attractive property.
    He certainly has the range and quickness to be at the least an average MLB infielder. If someone is willing to gamble that he’ll cut down on his throwing errors — as it often the case with young infielders — he could actually be a steal for the Braves or some other acquiring club..

  2. UYF1950

    Matt, it would appear that at least one club the Braves have at least more then a passing interest in Nunez. Perhaps Nunez’s greatest value to the Yankees is what he brings to the table that “other” team(s) see. All I want for Christmas is a nice quality starter for the Yankees. Maybe Nunez as a piece can make that happen, if you know what I mean.

    BTW, I want to wish everyone Yankees fans and non Yankees fans a very Happy and Safe Thanksgiving.

    • Professor Longnose

      Thank you. Happy and safe to you, too.

  3. fredweis

    Nunez should be converted to an outfielder (much rather him the 4th outfielder over Golson or Dickerson) or traded for pitching.

    He has zero chance of winning a starting role over the incumbent infielders.

    It also contradicts reason for the primary utility infielder to be a below average defensive player.

  4. David, Jr.

    Both of the two reply posts are right on.

    Particularly in view of a look at the bottom 2/3 of the starting shortstops in MLB, it is easy to see how, regardless of what the Yankees or Yankee announcers say, a team such as Atlanta could look at him as a starting shortstop.

    All he has to is improve his walk rate and his speed becomes lethal. Also, I have read that some scouts believe that his very strong arm will become more reliable with steady play at only one position.

    I am betting that he has quite a bit of value. We would need to sign a Nick Punto type as a backup infielder, and Nunez plus one or more pitching prospects would bring a good starting pitcher.

  5. David, Jr.

    Meaning Bottom Line and UYF.

  6. Tim Sampson

    I have followed Nunez the last few years. In the minors, he was labelled as starting shortstop defensive quality with questions as to his ability to hit. Now everyone considers him a poor defender. Lets review the facts. He has earned the back-up middle infielder position for the Yanks AND helps out at 3rd base and in the outfield. Despite replacing superstars for extended periods in one of the most critical media markets, he came up w/ several clutch hits, stolen bases, etc.. Most of his errors were throwing altho a few were situational. He has gone from a regular starter in the minors to a “super utility” guy playing (I believe) 5 positions for the Yanks. What a bum!!! The Braves are right in valuing him. If he gets a chance to play regularly at one position, he has a chance to be a very good player (if not a star). He is blocked in NY. Trade him and let him get his shot BUT make sure we get value back for him. I believe he could be an important piece in a trade for Jair Jurrgens (or someone similar – a #3 starter type).

    • David, Jr.

      A star is going too far. However, I agree with most of what you say, Tim. He was impressive last year and can easily improve into quite a good player.

    • If Nunez becomes a star, I’ll eat my hat.

  7. Hi Matt,

    I have never been a big Nunez fan, but perhaps I’ve judged him unfairly because I’ve only seen him play in the majors – meaning i’ve never really seen what he can do on a day to day basis. At times, his bat has impressed me, but I keep waiting for him to air mail the ball out to the L train or something. Was he more consistent in the minors? perhaps as ARod and Jeter spend more time at DH (which I am in favor of to keep them fresh and healthy), Nunez will improve as he sees more playing time and adapts to his new role, a role I assume he’s never had until he came up to the bigs.

  8. I think Nunez is a good example of why looking at statistics is not always very useful for minor leaguers, especially without the context of good scouting. A lot of people wrote Nunez off based on his minor league stats (particularly plate discipline), while scouting reports were generally pretty good with regard to his hitting ability and defensive tools.

    • I just don’t see how the scouting reports, especially on his bat, can be so positive. He appears to have almost no approach at the plate and his swing is way too long for someone with that little power.

      • T.O. Chris

        When he came up weren’t the scouting reports saying Pena was considered the bat and Nunez the glove? Now all of a sudden Pena’s worthless and Nunez is a star in the making.

        • Not as I recall it. I remember everyone hyping Pena’s glove.

          • T.O. Chris

            Maybe I have it turned around in my head after time has elapsed.

            I don’t mind Nunez as a utility player, but I don’t see him being the next starter at short for the Yankees. If you can put him in a package for a top starter I think you have to do it. He can’t be a deal breaker to a trade from where I sit.

            Though I don’t want to trade anyone for Jurrjens so I would tell the Braves to keep moving unless they want to trade someone else.

  9. T.O. Chris

    I love how all of a sudden learning to be patient and take walks has become the easiest thing in the world to fans. All I read in regards to Nunez is “all he has to do is take more walks”, like he can just click his heels together 3 times and become Swisher. Having a great batter and having the ability to draw walks is a skill a lot of guys don’t have, and something many never do well. I’m sure he can improve upon it if he really sets his mind to it, but that doesn’t mean he’ll become this huge walk high OBP guy. He’s a free swinger by nature and guys that swing the bat that free usually tend to carry that philosphy their whole careers. Look at Vlad, you don’t see him suddenly taking more pitches because his bad ball hitting skills have decreased. You don’t see Cano taking more pitches even though every coach he’s ever had has asked him to do so. Now Nunez doesn’t possess the bat skill these two have so many would probably argue it would be easier for him to rationalize taking more balls to get on more because he doesn’t hit 300+ every year, but that may not be who he is. The point is not every body is Giambi and Swisher and some guys never drastically improve their BB% over their career.

    I chalk most of his bad D up to gitters and inconsistent play, as he does have a cannon and had a reputation of better defense than he showed. But I still don’t see his upside as anything more than that of a league average, or slight above that SS. He’ll never be a starting 3B or OF though, his bat simply won’t allow that.

    He’s got value, both to us as a utility and to other teams as a possible starter. It seems as though so many people have underrated him at this point though that a large group of fans are now overrating him. I don’t see him having all-star potential, and I don’t see him ever being talked about as one of the handful of best short stops in the league. He’s a guy who can still bases, has a little pop, and should improve his defensive consistency. I tend to look at him like an Alexei Ramirez with less power and more stolen base production.

  10. smurfy

    “Nunez keeps at-bats alive. He’s got a Wiffle Ball approach to hitting. The plate is just something he stands next too, but doesn’t pay attention to it. Those guys bother me as a scout. They’re so unpredictable.”

    And he means that in a good way, as in, “you can’t pitch around him.

    Part of a dynamite piece by Jeff Bradley in a Star Ledger column:
    http://www.nj.com/yankees/index.ssf/2011/11/bradley_yankees_may_need_more.html

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