A modest proposal

Teixeira, Granderson back Hughes in 5-3 win
Game 69: Ace vs. ace, redux

With legitimate concerns regarding Teix (is he possibly turning the corner or just showing a “hot flash”?), the health of A-Rod and Posada, and the volatility of the bullpen, it seems silly to harp on an under-performing bench. Make no mistake, like all teams, the 2010 New York Yankees aren’t going to be sending up world-beaters off the bench. They’re bench players for a reason. Any tinkering will ultimately have minimal impact on the team and its win-loss record.

Nevertheless, a few changes to bring in some fresh blood may yield some positive dividends for the team. This doesn’t mean promoting Jesus Montero or Austin Romine to the big leagues – that would be foolish. It means taking a hard look at Kevin Russo, Chad Huffman, Ramiro Pena and some of the weaker links in the bullpen. In short, the guys that haven’t “earned the right” to keep their spot when they aren’t performing and better options may be looming. On this beautiful morning, we’ll focus on the hitters.

I’ll admit I’ve never been a true believer of AAA SS Eduardo Nunez. He walked less than Stephen Hawking, was reported to have poor defense, had a BABip 60 points higher than anything he’d been at in his previous two levels (Charleston, Tampa) and I wasn’t sold on his power being more than a fluke. Yet he still threw up a combined line of .313/.343/.421 in just under 500 PA’s between Trenton and Scranton in 2009, so he couldn’t be entirely ignored, either. This year he’s largely shut me up. Offensively, at least. On the year in Scranton he’s posting a line of .320/.359/.410. That’s damn good. He’s hitting more line drives this year (up six percentage points to 17.6%) and his HR/FB rate is crazy low at roughly 2.5%, suggesting power should rebound a bit. (Last year’s rate was 8/150 – around 5%.) While I don’t know much about his defense, Nunez, 23, might just be ready for a cup of coffee in the big leagues.

As of now Ramiro Pena is the backup shortstop and the team (appropriately) seems to value his glove’s versatility. He can capably man all of the infield positions and can also play the outfield in a pinch. Herein lies the problem – for a guy hitting .190/.235/.210 (and little indication he’ll ever be even an average hitter), he really hasn’t been very good with the glove this year. Granted, it’s an extremely small sample, but even the eye test seems to indicate Pena’s been fairly pedestrian with the leather. Per UZR at Fangraphs, he’s negative at all positions thus far. Using B-Ref’s metrics, he’s also been underwhelming. On the year, Pena’s RAR is -4.8, his WAR -0.5 and he’s had a negative WPA in almost half of his games (12 out of 30).

Do I think he’s a poor fielder? No, not at all. But when as a player you’re all-glove, no bat, playing in limited bench time, it’s important that you reach defensive expectations. That hasn’t happened and given that he has options, I can’t think of many reasons to keep him around. Yes, he’s been victimized by an extremely low BABip of .220 and his defense should be better, but how much can he reasonably contribute? Nunez contributing average offense and below-average defense in limited time would be more valuable to the team than above-average defense and well below-average offense from Pena.

You’ll probably get poor defense with Nunez. I’ve heard a few Nunez fans say he’s much improved with his glove this year. He has good tools (and a great arm) but it’s never quite come together. Maybe he has; I’ve yet to hear anything myself, but it’s totally possible. He does, however, lead SWB with 7 errors. Even if his defense is poor, I think it’s reasonable to expect he could give you .270/.300/.350 in the big leagues. Of course, I also thought that Russo would provide that, so perhaps that expectation is unreasonable. Still, if nothing else, with Russo and Cervelli often in the lineup due to apprehension to push Posada and A-Rod (justifiably so), having a Nunez at least provides a better shot that there won’t have a complete black hole when an infielder needs a rest. Because I have no doubt Pena will always be a black hole in the lineup.

While Kevin Russo was a fan favorite early on for his “clutch hits,” he’s been dreadful offensively for the team. For the Bombers Russo is “hitting” .196/.260/.239 and even worse in June, checking in at a paltry .136/.240/.136. The good news is he’s been really hurt (like Pena) by a BABip of .225, has what appears to be solid hitting skills (if the minors are any indication), has been good with the glove and there’s really no one in the high minors that can play a utility role like he. There aren’t better options available in house. With Pena, I think there are.

As I’ve said, the difference between Pena and Nunez in the grand scheme of things –as a backup infielder getting spot duty– is likely to be small. This doesn’t mean you stand pat. If the move is made and Nunez is the inverse of Pena (average hitting, unbelievably poor defense), you probably end the experiment and return to the previous set-up. There’s really not much downside to a switch. With both players having options, the bottom of the lineup very often being an automatic out with injuries and necessary rest for starters, and Nunez potentially having some value to the Yankees (or another team via trade) in the future,it’s a move I think needs investigating.

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Teixeira, Granderson back Hughes in 5-3 win
Game 69: Ace vs. ace, redux
  • http://www.mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

    I’d actually rather see Russo go down and Nunez come up. Ramiro Pena’s role in the major leagues will always be that of 25th man on the roster and late inning defensive replacement. Russo I think has more upside, but Nunez and Russo would seem to duplicate each other a little bit at the major league level for now (though Nunez would likely hit better). I’d just assume keep Pena and his glove to fill in late in games across the field, and have Nunez fill the role Russo is filling now, without being able to man the outfield of course. If the Yankees are confident in Pena’s ability to play the OF as well as Russo, this is the way I’d go.

    • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

      I could get on board with this. Russo does seem to have a little more upside, so getting him more reps in SWB is seemingly important.

      • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

        But at the same time, Nunez’s stock has gone up and perhaps he now has some upside so he could benefit from constant PT as well.

    • JMK

      That’s not a bad idea either. I’d be cool with it if it were to happen. If it means Pena is simply a late-innings defensive replacement and he has very limited exposure at the plate, I’m all for it. That said, I’m hesitant to say that Nunez would hit better than Russo, but this has merit. I would, however, offer that Russo and Pena are unlikely to be late-inning replacements on the diamond (I doubt they’d pull A-Rod, Jeter or Cano), so they’d more likely catch an inning in left or right field.

  • Not Tank the Frank

    He walked less than Stephen Hawking

    Classic! I’m going to use that one.

  • John Pound

    They both are drags on an otherwise well balanced team.I fully expect the Yankees to do what they did last year,get a Hairston or a Hinske,perhaps Ty Wiggington for a rental.

  • This Year

    I have been a believer in EN for at least two years and have never understood why he has gotten so little respect either withinn the organization or from so-called expert baseball observers. He can swing the bat and from what I have observed this year of his defense at SW (watching pretty regularly on milb.com), he is pretty damn good in that area as well.

  • yoo-boo

    Nunez is everyday player so he wont be called up to replace Pena or Russo now unless Jeter is done at SS which is highly doubt.

    I heard Nunez’s major problem on defense is throwing. I dunno whether it is true. I only watched him in ST. Mariners liked him so Nunez has to be above average range at SS.

    If Yanks want to upgrade off bench hitting team then they will get veterans. Just hope they dont trade away a future prospect A.

    • Pete

      Nunez is an everyday player? For the Yankees? I don’t think so. Also, how do you know the Mariners like him, and how does that equate to him having above average range at SS? What I’ve heard is that he is more like BJ Upton on D (at SS) – great arm, good athleticism, but unbelievably error-prone. He could be a ~20 error a year guy at short, which means he’d essentially have to have the range of someone like Elvis Andrus to really be a quality defensive SS.

  • Accent Shallow

    Hitters have much more control over BABIP than pitchers do. It shouldn’t surprise us at all that Pena and Russo have low BABIPs, since they’re not hitting the ball hard. Pena in particular has about as much power as a kitten, so it would surprise me to see him maintain a “normal” BABIP going forward.

    • JMK

      Pena’s been hitting line drives at a good clip (22%) and ground balls fairly well (37%), and has never had a BABip that low at any level. He’s certainly a weak hitter, no doubt. But it’s partially bad luck, too.

      Russo has a line drive rate that’s pretty low and has very little power. Still, with his track record, I’d say it’s unlikely that he’s that bad.

      • Pete

        but Pena’s line drives are almost always weakly struck, too. I’ve seen him put the bat head on the ball and hit a line drive that barely makes it to the OF in the air. This means that while they’re still better than grounders or fly balls, his line drives are nowhere near major-league average line drives in terms of likely production equivalency.

  • ZZ

    The thing people need to remember when evaluating Nunez as a prospect is that he is a SS.

    People keep hoping he puts up these “typical” big numbers for a top prospect (the high OBP, power, etc.) before considering him as a legit prospect. But that is not likely to happen and that is not the best way to evaluate him.

    The SS position in MLB and in the minors is a complete wasteland right now. With the numbers Nunez is putting up this season he is and is going to be one of the best SS prospects in baseball. Now you could say who cares because that is by default in a way.

    But that doesn’t matter because teams need SS and they are going to value Nunez like a top prospect in a trade. He is not going to be a centerpiece in a big trade like Montero for example, but he is going to be considered an A list prospect.

    Therefore, unless Nunez is going to be playing close to everyday the Yankees should not call him up. He needs to be playing everyday because at the end of the season he is going to be very valuable to the Yankees as a prospect.

    Also, you mentioned hearing about Nunez supposed improved defense. I have heard from several people he has gotten much better defensively to the point where he is definitely going to stick at the position now. He always had the tools, but he was sloppy. So, the Yankees worked on him with his footwork and it has come together for him. I believe a large bunch of those errors came in a week or 2 span where he got sloppy again. If you get a chance to watch him play, I think people will be very pleasantly surprised with his play at SS.

    • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

      He needs to be playing everyday because at the end of the season he is going to be very valuable to the Yankees as a prospect.

      I think the utilization of that value will be in question, though. Unless he just falls apart, the Yankees aren’t going to move Jeter off of SS so I doubt Nunez is ever and every day SS for the Yankees, and the same goes for 3B and 2B. Hell, even if A-Rod can’t even fake 3B and has to DH, I doubt the Yankees “settle” for Nunez there. If he can keep this up–a .340ish OBP, supposedly improved defense, etc.–then I think he could be valuable as an okay trade piece. However, I doubt he’s ever an every day player for the Bombers.

      • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

        He will very likely not be the next everyday SS for the Yankees, but I do think he could become a middle-of-the-pack starter in the bigs. As ZZ said, there are not a whole lot of good SS in the majors at the moment. Maybe once Jeter is gone, the Yankees will face the same situation as with Bernie Williams, when the position didn’t become settled for several years.

        Yankee fans should also accept that the next SS of the Yankees will probably be a very inferior player (in comparison to Jeter). Unless they get someone like Reyes or Hanley, which is not very likely.

  • black dynamite

    Why was Nunez’ 2009 line illegitimate because of a high BABIP, but this year isn’t? He has a .376 BABIP this year and a luck/park adjusted .662 OPS. He luck/park adjusted OPS for his career is .683, so once you take away luck/park he’s playing as he always has.

  • Poopy Pants

    “and some of the weaker links in the bullpen”

    sooo…that would be the entire bullpen…

    • http://twitter.com/Carlosologist Carlosologist

      Mo and D-Rob say hi.

      • Master

        2 do not make a bullpen.

  • nsalem

    “Any tinkering will ultimately have minimal impact on the team and its win-loss record.”
    The Yankees would be making a big mistake if they do not add some
    much needed offensive bench strength before the deadline. Tampa Bay and Boston are not going away. One of the 3 best teams in baseball is not making the playoffs this year. The couple of wins a big bat could provide, may very have much more than “minimal impact”. Theoretically we can have the best record in baseball going into the last weekend of the season, lose a couple of games and be fishing in October. This is not the time depend on unproven talent. A very talented team is going home this year after game 162 (or 163), hope its not us.

  • jspec

    Not a good propsal. The team is tied for 1st, why upset the apple cart? The team won the WS with Pena. The # on his defense don’t add up. I notice you didn’t mentioned how many fielding errors he has so far. To bring in a weaker glove for a few extra hits (which is speculative, guys never had MLB at bat), is crazy! The Yankees are correct in the value they placed in Pena. I would not scarifice defense for offense in sports. If Pena is going to prevent #28 this year then it’s just not our year.

  • crawdaddy

    Nunez only has 4 errors at SS this season while playing 61 games at that position. The other 3 errors happened when he played a couple of games at 2nd and 3rd. Last year he made 33 errors at SS for Trenton so I see some definite improvement in decreasing his error total.

  • dan g.

    I CANNOT BELIEVE WHAT I AM READING…………..YOU HATE THE GUY .WHAT WOKE YOU UP………….. HIS NUMBERS THE LAST TWO YEARS? THE RUMOR THAT HIS NAME WAS MENTIONED INVOLVING THE LEE TRADE? THE INABILITY OF RUSSO AND PENA TO HIT! OR OF THE ABOVE…………THIS IS AN IMPORTANT DEVELOPMENT………………WHAT IS NEXT SAYING GETTING CAMERON WOULD HAVE BENN A MISTAKE……………..NO. NO. YOU WOULD NEVER SAY THAT!

  • Frittoman626

    Trade Nunez and others to get a good bat

  • http://conservationvalue.blogspot.com/ Jon G

    Hmmm, where have I seen this idea before… ;-)

    Hey, given Pena’s poor bat (which hopefully improves if his BABIP is uncharacteristically low), it can’t hurt to try the exchange of Nunez for Pena and see what happens. It’s always reversible, but if you don’t try, you never know if it will turn out to be a good idea, especially heading into NL parks where we’ll need some pinch hitters and Thames is on the DL.

    I was all for seeing Russo get a shot, but a trip back down might help him get his confidence back and improve his bat, mentally. Send him down for Miranda (or Curtis or Vasquez if he catches fire) and see what happens… Of course, Miranda or Vasquez might have to wait until Moeller gets sent back down.

    The bottom line is that right now Pena and Russo are playing a bunch (especially Pena) with Arod’s hip, which hopefully becomes a non-issue soon. And we are going into NL parks, where we will need to call upon pinch hitters who can not only field, but also hit better than Pena and Russo are right now.

    We’ll likely see chatter about Huffman soon, depending on how he does in his limited role while Thames is on the DL.

    The types of roles we’re talking about are, indeed minor. But as we saw last year’s acquisitions, they can make a difference…

  • dan

    can eduardo nunez play third base! here he can hit but not a good fielder.