Eduardo Nunez came into this season with a somewhat hazy picture of what his future with the Yankees was going to entail. By all accounts, Nunez has almost everything a MLB shortstop should have to succeed. He has speed, hits decently, flashes some power, and has a cannon for an arm. He’s the perfect player to fill the enormous shoes of Derek Jeter and at least help fill some of the void, right?No, he is not. I’m not saying he’s a terrible player or even a bad player, but many circles of Yankee fandom think that Nunez is a shoo-in at shortstop after Jeter retires. Furthermore, those same circles were calling for it last season. All the signs were there regarding Jeter’s decline, bad range in the field, his bat is slow in the strike zone, can’t get around on fastballs anymore, etc., but he’s proved those critics wrong, at least for this year.
Back to Nunez, he’s shown glimpses of some great play, but he hasn’t played an entire 162-game schedule at the major league level in order to see whether that is his consistent baseline. For example, in 2012 with only 96 plate appearances, he’s hitting .271/.313/.365. That includes his “hot” .313/.361/.344 slash line in April before he was sent down. It was here that many fans believed that Nunez was MLB ready and was being under-utilized by the Yankees.
It didn’t help Nunez’s case when Jeter was hitting like the 25-year old Derek Jeter early in the year and might have staved off the calls for Nunez playing shortstop for at least another year, maybe two. When we look a little more in depth into Nunez’s stats, we start to see some patterns present themselves. First, he’ll hover around .110 ISO, which is a measure of a hitter’s raw power. That’s a bit of a decline from Jeter’s numbers in his heyday when he was putting up ISOs around .140 on a yearly basis.
Nunez’s BABIP (.286) is in the norm, but it’s on the lower side of the scale. A quick look at his batted balls numbers show that he’s not hitting line drives at a very good rate (14.7%), which is contributing to lowering his batting average and the like. As we should already know, line drives are the best way obtaining a hit, and he’s simply not getting good wood on the ball most of the time.
However, what Nunez lacks in power, he makes up in speed. The most stolen bases Jeter has taken in a season was 34 in 2006. Conversely, Nunez in only 112 games stole 22 bags in 2011 and with the way he’s been stealing bases in September, I would think that total would continue to rise sharply. Nunez is the type of lightning rod a team can thrive off, but he has to get on base in order to use his legs and a .313 OBP is not conducive to maximizing his known asset.
I won’t even insult your intelligence with fielding metrics, but I will give you a quick synopsis. Jeter lacks range, that much we already knew, and Nunez can’t consistently throw it accurately, which we painfully see pop up every few games or so. All told, I’d rather have a shortstop with limited range than one putting runners in scoring position after an errant throw.
Although it doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of the season and it’s a very small sample size, there’s one statistic that I absolutely love about Nunez:
In only 19 plate appearances in high leverage situations (Think: At-bats in the seventh inning and beyond in a very close ballgame) in 2012, Nunez is getting on base and then stealing a bag. He’s been caught twice in those situations, but he gives the team an opportunity by getting into scoring position. Also, he has four sacrifice flies in those situations as well, showing that he’s moving guys over or driving them in (eight RBI) when it matters most, much like Jeter.
The beauty of all of this is Jeter found the fountain of youth this season and afforded the Yankees to give Nunez a tad more seasoning in the minors. Of course, you’d like a situation where a player forces management’s hand by playing much better than the incumbent, but Nunez simply hasn’t. That is a testament to how Jeter has produced this season and over the years. I’m sure Nunez will get every opportunity to succeed at shortstop, but the longer Jeter can hold out playing good baseball, the better off the Yankees are as a whole.