After 17 seasons of watching Derek Jeter play shortstop, Yankee fans have been subjected to watching Eduardo Nunez butcher the position in 2013. Jeter isn’t the greatest fielding shortstop, but he obviously brought a ton of value to the team by adding an above average bat to the lineup. Nunez offers neither a bat nor a glove. Yes, he’s close to an .800 OPS over the last month, but his season slash is still .257/.311/.356. That’s actually not too awful for a defense-first shortstop, but no one would consider Nunez particularly skilled on the field.
Between a 39 year old Jeter with a glass ankle, and Nunez, the Yankees may own the two worst fielding shortstops in the game. After watching Jeter in the field last week, the Yankees decided to bench him and hope that his ankle and range recover at some point in September. Nunez was handed the starting gig, and his defensive inadequacy is in the spotlight. The Red Sox found rallies around ground ball singles to the left side, and last night’s 4 run 5th inning by the Orioles was only possible through 3 singles that a slick fielding shortstop would have turned into outs.
Two recent articles have made the Yankees’ defense at short stop a topic of discussion. Jeff Passan brought up Nunez’ awful UZR/150 numbers on Monday, which now stands at -41.2. Other defensive statistics agree, DRS says that he’s allowed 27 more runs than the average shortstop. Meanwhile, Grantland and Ben Lindbergh took a look at Jeter’s offense over the years, and with the help of BIS’s John Dewan, (the ones responsible for DRS) they showed video footage of what Jeter should and shouldn’t look like. In the process of doing that, they compared video of Jeter’s best and worst plays to that of the best fielding shortstop in baseball, Brendan Ryan.
And now the Yankees have gone out of their way to acquire Ryan. Though statistics don’t think Ryan has been particularly good with the bat or glove in 2013, he’s been limited in playing time. In 2012, DRS had him saving 27 runs above average, in 2011 it was 18, and then it was 22 in both 2010 and 2009. UZR also loves his defense, as he owns a career 11.7 UZR/150 at shortstop.
Unfortunately, Ryan is not a very good offensive player. Over the last two years, Ryan owns a .193/.268/.273 slash and a 56 OPS+ in 757 plate appearances. I guess you could hold some hope that those numbers will increase in Yankee Stadium and the other AL East ballparks, as Safeco Field is one of the most unfriendly ballparks in the game for right-handed batters.
But Ryan isn’t joining the Yankees to out-hit Nunez. With the offense clicking, the line up can sustain a hit somewhere in the order. Nunez isn’t exactly batting clean up, so trading his bat for Ryan’s is undoubtedly a step down, but something that can easily be overcome. What Ryan provides the team is clear in fWAR. His -0.7 in 2013 is by far the worst of his career, and he’s only a year removed from a 1.4 fWAR, and two years removed from a 2.8 fWAR. So how is a negative 2013 fWAR an upgrade? Nunez has played in just 77 games this year, and despite that, he owns a -1.6 fWAR. He currently ranks 6th in all of baseball as the least valuable player, and that comes with the least playing time of the top 11 candidates.
Despite what we’ve been watching, Nunez is bad, perhaps the worst player in baseball, and his bat hardly makes up for it. With a sufficient amount of offense in the lineup, the organization now realizes that they need the pitching to perform along with it, and that starts with making the plays in the field. They’ve acquired arguable the best defensive short stop in the game, and hopefully that will prevent a number of ground ball singles. We’ll see how much playing time Ryan receives, but knowing that the Yankees need to win as many games as possible, Nunez doesn’t deserve an ounce of playing time.