Nov
26

What Went Wrong: Eduardo Nunez

By

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

The Yankees didn’t have much need for a utility infielder a few years ago, back when Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Robinson Cano were locks to play 150+ games every season. Things have changed in recent years as A-Rod has started to breakdown and Jeter started to receive more and more rest. Ramiro Pena did the backup infield thing for a while, but Eduardo Nunez wrestled the job from him by hitting .301/.350/.421 with three homers and 13 steals in 200 midseason plate appearances last summer while Jeter (calf) and A-Rod (knee) were on the DL.

Nunez, 25, opened 2012 as the utility infielder for the second year in a row, and he hit a solid .294/.356/.373 with six steals in the team’s first 31 games. He was playing primarily against lefties while either Jeter or A-Rod would spend the game at DH or even on the bench entirely. Nunez was contributing enough with the bat, but the problem was his perpetually sketchy defense.

He committed four errors in those first 31 team games: one at short, one one at second, and two at third. We’re talking routine plays too, like this throw. There were several other botched plays as well, including two on ground balls to third in the first two innings against the Rays on May 10th. Tampa scored two unearned runs as a result, plus they tried to bunt towards Nunez several other times throughout the game. Joe Girardi lifted him for defense after the fifth inning, and a day later the Yankees sent Eduardo down to Triple-A to work on his defense.

The plan was to limit Nunez to the middle infield in hopes that consistent playing time at the same spot would improve his glovework, but he responded with two errors in his third Triple-A game. Five days later he jammed his thumb and had to be placed on the DL. Nunez missed close to two months with the injury, so he only managed to play in 44 minor league games. He made five errors in those 44 games, all at shortstop. The Yankees recalled Nunez when rosters expanded in September, and he hit .289/.293/.421 with five steals in 41 sporadic plate appearances. He also committed three more errors, all at short.

Nunez served as the team’s primary DH against left-handers in the postseason, though he took over at shortstop full-time after Jeter fractured his ankle in Game One of the ALCS. He went 3-for-11 (.273) in five postseason games, most notably taking Justin Verlander deep in the ninth inning of ALCS Game Three. In three playoff games at short, he made one error that was inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Girardi, as he had done during the regular season, lifted Eduardo for defense late a few times.

All told, Nunez hit .292/.330/.393 (93 wRC+) with one homer and eleven steals in exactly 100 plate appearances for the big league team in 2012. Anecdotally, most of his defensive issues seemed to come on routine plays. Whenever there was a hot shot or he had to range far for a ball and make a quick throw, he seemed to do fine. The defensive problems seemed to pop up most when he had time to think. The Yankees continued to give him chances and Brian Cashman says he views Nunez as a shortstop long-term, but he had an opportunity to cement his place in the team’s long-term plans this year only to throw it away. (Pun completely intended)

Categories : Players
  • Robinson Tilapia

    I’ll let someone else make the obvious joke associated with the obvious commenter here.

    • MannyGeee

      Assuming you mean:

      #EddardWorld…

      • jjyank

        Who else?

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Not as easy a question anymore, apparently.

  • John

    Why not sign Ichiro and have Nunez be the right handed hitting LF/RF. Nunez ca learn to be an outfielder – he has speed to play left and arm to play right.

    • http://www.yankeenumbers.com Mr. Sparkle

      Cashman has already outright said on WFAN (October 23rd with Francesa) that Nunez will not be converted to an outfielder. His explanation is that he doesn’t walk enough nor does he hit with enough power for a corner spot. I’m not sure when Brett Gardner became a power hitter, but I’m just going by what Cashman has expressed.

      Of course historically, what the Yankees do and what the Yankees say are very often two different things so who knows?

      • gc

        Which means Gardner will most likely be moved to center field (where he belongs IMO) and Granderson will switch to left where those power numbers more traditionally fit.

        • RetroRob

          I’m actually expecting that switch to occur.

  • http://ad.com Eddie Sissorhands

    Why hasn’t someone given me a shot at playing a corner OF spot? Swish did it.

  • Bavarian Yankee

    Nunez would be super valuable if he could develop into an average defender. His bat is good enough to be a starting SS on quite some teams. Add his speed and you have a poor man’s Jose Reyes. He just needs to get his stuff together when it comes to fielding.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Completely agree, but I’m afraid at this point in his career, it’s not gonna happen. I love him on the bases and wish Gardner would be as unafraid to try to steal a base as he is. But his D is just intolerable.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Completely agree.

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    well, if nothing else, it will be significantly harder for him to throw the ball over the catcher’s head from right than it was to throw over the 1B’s head from short…

    • MannyGeee

      counterpoint: He is closer to the first row of fans in RF than he was at short, which is where all those bells ended up anyhow.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        We may have a relay throw hit someone in the bleachers.

        • MannyGeee

          TIL: Bouncing a ball of the face of a fan in the second row is a legal relay throw.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Think of the sales on rubber-exterior helmets the Yanks can make for the fans out there. The ball would bounce off them and back onto the field. It would dwarf the Newscorp money.

            • MannyGeee

              YESSSSSS!!!! The first 20,000 fans to the Stadium on Friday will receive rubber helmets courtesy of Bell Atlantic.

              Also, they will have springs inside them to keep them from staying on your head, speaking of Nunez…

              • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

                HEY DAD! I understand the net behind home plate, but why is there a net between us and right field?

                • Robinson Tilapia

                  It is high, it is far, it is….

  • J6takish

    Didnt BJ upton have a similar career path? He came up as a shortstop but his throwing was brutal and had to be moved to CF

    • MannyGeee

      he was also hidden in Tampa where he wasn’t on a team expecting to win every season. when you’re expected to dwell in the basement, you can do these experiments.

      Also, how old was BJ Upton when it was decided he would be an OF? was he in High-A, or did he have a few hundred ML at bats under his belt?

      • J6takish

        He learned CF at the major league level midseason

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

          For a non-contender who didn’t care about the growing pains. He was also hitting .300/.384/.508 in the process.

    • http://www.yankeenumbers.com Mr. Sparkle

      Have you seen his throwing since the move? Throwing to the wrong bases, overthrowing cutoff men, inaccuracy. Not to mention some of the awful jumps he gets (since that has nothing to do with throwing.) He’s one of the most overrated outfielders I’ve ever seen.

    • RetroRob

      Nunez is nowhere near the prospect and athlete as Upton.

      I think he could learn to the play the OF, although his instincts seemed way off the few times he played out there. As noted, the Rays can go through those growing pains in last place, and also with the promise of Upton’s bat. None of that applies to Nunie.

  • The Real Eddard

    He needs to play everyday. He will work through his defensive issues but he can’t get better if he is never on the field.

    Slow news day when it’s still filler posts 6 weeks after the season is over. Let’s get thehot stove started!

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I look forward to him working out his issues as they go and playing everyday…..in the NL West somewhere.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      He needs to play everyday. He will work through his defensive issues but he can’t get better if he is never on the field.

      How well did this work in his minor league career? The guy can’t field and will probably never even be average defensively.

      • G

        Well the thing is it isn’t far fetched to believe that he could be a good defender, assuming the anecdotal evidence that he struggles more on routine plays is true. If it’s truly a mental thing, as it seems to be, there’s at least potential to fix him. I can at least see why some people are still so high on Nuñez. However, I’m not particularly optimistic. Given the sad state of second base around the league, I think he could hook on somewhere as a 2B since the shorter distance he has to throw the easier it should be (hilarious video of him missing on a routine play not withstanding). While he’s with the Yankees, however, I’m starting to think he’ll be a frustrating backup SS, great pinch runner, and solid enough bat against lefties. If he can take a big step forward, I welcome it, and it’s certainly possible. It’s just not looking likely.

  • The Real Eddard

    We have another impostor above. That ain’t me. Eduardo did go wrong. They had no choice but to move him down and work on his defense. This year, however, he should take over that utility infielder role which will be a big role considering the age of Jeter and Alex. I just hope they don’t trade him away unless it’s in a package for a young star like Upton. Jeter and ARod ain’t getting any younger.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      If there’s any truth to the Keppinger stuff AND they’re still interested in Chavez, I’m not quite sure he’s any sort of shoe-in for the utility role…..whoever you are.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      The Yankees have said that he will focus on one position, SS. That means he won’t be a “utility” player in the true sense of the word, as he’d only back up Jeter. Doesn’t seem like he’s the guy the Yankees need.

      • G

        Exactly. Because he’s the player New York deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A backup shortstop.

    • Jedua

      What If we make a Real Eddard day and we all post “The Real Eddard” as nickname

  • Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle AKA True Yankee(TM)

    Oh Nunie =/

  • Preston

    I do think that playing 3b really messed with him. He flat out can’t make that throw consistently. He probably would be better if he played SS everyday, maybe we’ll see him do it to begin 2013 if Jeter’s injury lingers. That was the plan last year that he would play everday in AAA, but then he got hurt. He is talented, and I do think he can be a solid starter in the majors. Time will tell if that’s at SS or 2B.

  • http://none Ton Lon ton

    If I were Cashman I would invoke the poss of trading Nunez and Pineda for king Felix

    • Cris Pengiucci

      So would I, but I think the Mariners might have an opinion on this as well. I don’t think it would be favorable, either.

  • Phil

    Play Nunez everyday in Triple A to start the year (assuming Jeter is ready for opening day) and see if he can an improve his defense with consistent playing time. They will possibly need an everyday ss in 2015?

    • Preston

      I agree Nunez needs to play everyday, that would actually be a pretty fun lineup in AAA C Romine, 2B Joseph, SS Nunez, 3B Adams, LF, Dickerson, CF Mesa, RF Almonte. I would definitely want to go see that team play, especially if Marshall was the SP.