What Went Wrong: Eduardo Nunez

King: Stephen Drew and Paul Maholm are on Yankees' radar
Staff Notes: Harkey, Long, Cavalea, Wakamatsu

The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a young-ish player who couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime.


Despite all the optimism about an Opening Day return, Father Time remained undefeated as Derek Jeter was slow to recover from his offseason ankle surgery and unable to start the season with the Yankees. That gave the team the opportunity to do something they’ve seemed eager to do for a long time: play Eduardo Nunez everyday. Jeter’s injury was the perfect chance to play the kid without him having to look over his shoulder.

For about three games, everything went fine. The 26-year-old Nunez went 4-for-10 with a walk in the season-opening series against the Red Sox, but then he took a pitch to biceps in the fourth game and went into a deep 7-for-55 (.127) slump through the end of the month. The bat wasn’t working, but Nunez actually showed off some improved throwing mechanics and went from disaster to merely shaky in the field. Errors aren’t the best way to measure defense, but he did go from 30.1 innings per error from 2010-2012 to 62.3 innings per error in April 2013. Like I said, shaky instead of a disaster.

With his batting line sitting at a weak .200/.290/.275 through 95 plate appearances on May 5th, Nunez was pulled from a game after hurting his ribcage, apparently on a swing. An MRI came back clean but rest and treatment didn’t work, so a few days later the Yankees placed their backup shortstop on the DL. On the DL is where he stayed for two months and 57 team games. In typical Yankees fashion, his rehab moved very slowly.

Nunez returned on July 6th and five days later, Derek Jeter came off the DL (for the first time). Luckily for Nunez, the Cap’n hurt himself in his first game back and the shortstop position remained open. Eduardo went 16-for-62 (.258) with three doubles and a triple (.611 OPS) in between his return from the DL and Jeter’s second return from the DL. Nunez sat on the bench for a few games while Jeter played short, but on August 3rd, the shortstop job was his once again.

During the Cap’n’s third DL stint, Nunez went a respectable 23-for-80 (.288) with seven walks (.341 OBP), three doubles, one triple, and one homer (.728 OPS) with four steals in four attempts. Jeter returned for about two weeks in late-August and early-September, but the combination of his need to DH and Alex Rodriguez‘s hamstring and calf problems kept Nunez in the lineup, either at shortstop or third base. Nunez had a very nice .295/.321/.487 batting line in September as the season wound down.

Surprised his helmet stayed on. (Scott Halleran/Getty)
Surprised his helmet stayed on. (Scott Halleran/Getty)

Despite that strong late-season performance, Eduardo’s season batting line sat at an ugly .260/.307/.372 (83 wRC+) with three homers and ten stolen bases (in 13 attempts) in 336 plate appearances. The league average shortstop hit .254/.308/.367 (85 wRC+), so Nunez wasn’t far off the mark with the bat. The problem was, as always, his defense. That improvement he showed in April was not evident late in the season, when he was back to booting grounders and airmailing throws.

The various defensive stats — -20.6 UZR, -28 DRS, -12.1 FRAA, and -18 TotalZone — absolutely crush him at shortstop, like worst defensive player in baseball bad, but defensive stats don’t really work in small samples. Nunez only managed 608.1 innings at shortstop this summer, only about 40% of a full season. Going back to silly ol’ errors, he made eight in the final month and a half of the season, roughly one for every 35.3 innings in the field. Right in line with his pre-2013 work.

Both fWAR (-1.4) and bWAR (-1.5) agree Nunez was one of the ten worst position players in baseball this season. That’s out of the 955 players who had at least one plate appearance. If you don’t want to use WAR — I actually don’t, I prefer it for multi-year stuff but not single seasons — then all you need to know is that Nunez was (at best) a league average hitter relative to position this season while being well-below-average defensively. That adds up to a below-average player.

This was Nunez’s Big Chance. Capital letters. Jeter was going to be out for a while and even if he came back at some point, A-Rod and Kevin Youkilis were sure to miss a bunch of time as well. Instead, Nunez did nothing to stand out in regular playing time. He didn’t hit all that much — not even show a sign that there was something more to come, really — and his defense was bad. Nunez seems to have some serious backers in the organization though, so much like Phil Hughes The Starter, I get the sense he will continue to get chances to show he is something he probably isn’t, which in this case is a depth infielder best used in an emergency.

King: Stephen Drew and Paul Maholm are on Yankees' radar
Staff Notes: Harkey, Long, Cavalea, Wakamatsu
  • Ed

    Shouldn’t this be titled: “What Went Wrong: Nunez was and still is on this team”

  • Vern Sneaker

    Enough already with this guy. He’s inexpensive, swings hard, and occasionally hits a line drive. Throw him into a trade with some team that knows how to fit helmets.

  • Wolfgang’s Fault

    2013 was not a good year for Nunez, but to be fair, his first half was shot from getting drilled two different times in the ribs w/high heat, & the hammy blowing out on him. You had to figure he was pressing early on, too, as he was filling in for a future HOF on the freaking NY Yankees. By season’s end, he looked overmatched at shortstop but held his own at 3B. I think he’s a big league player, but it looks like the Bomber faithful have lost patience w/him. I’d love to hold onto him but would be surprised if he’s a Yankee come Spring. If he is in camp, cut the guy some slack & lets see what he can do when healthy; ok? He may not be a starting shortstop, but I do still think this guy is a ballplayer!

  • Darren

    I won’t be surprised if Nunez is the guy who is slotted in to be ready to play SS if Jeter isn’t healthy. The Yankees just have too made other areas of need to pay someone like Drew or Peralta when they can fool themselves into thinking that Nunez’s injuries were fluke-y, that he has a good bat, and that he looked fine in the field for long stretches.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      My rant below notwithstanding, I do think the Yanks need to ask “is this person truly better than Nunez” when judging who to bring in for that side of the infield.

      • WhittakerWalt

        Luckily, it shouldn’t be hard to find a player who’s at least a bit better than Nuney.

        • Caballo Sin Nombre

          The requirement is: a bit better and no more expensive.

          • WhittakerWalt

            That’s a bit more problematic. Doesn’t Nuney make the minimum? Anyone you bring in is going to cost more than that, you have to pay something. Otherwise you’re stuck with one of the very worst players in the game in your starting lineup. This year we fielded almost an entire team of such players, and next year isn’t looking a whole lot better. I don’t care to repeat that experience.

  • entonces

    Sounds to me like a kid who improved defensively year over year and also improved offensively in second half. He’s no Jeter but with his speed and contact ability he’s still a useful player.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    When I lived down in Florida, I used to go down to Key West every now and then. One of the iconic structures in Key West is the “90 Miles to Cuba” buoy. At any time of day or night, you can rest assured there’s a Cuban exile standing by the buoy, squinting as hard as can be, claiming he can actually see Cuba from there. He can’t, as it’s just a bird, boat, or dirt in his eye but, goddamnit, he’s going to keep on squinting until he sees it.

    Eduardo Nunez is dirt in the Yankee eye.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      Phenomenal analogy.

    • Barry

      You could! From 4000 feet.

  • MannyGeee

    Oh Nunie… What the hell happened… We weren’t looking for or expecting Nomar. But goddam, talk about off a cliff, man…

    Oh well, there’s always next year. Yes, there will be a next year. Can’t get away from him that easily.

  • http://www.twitter.com/mattpat11 Matt DiBari

    I actually think he was worse in the field than he ever was by the end of the season.

    He’s just bad

  • Stan the Man

    Everything about Nunez is small sample sizes. He wasn’t able to stay healthy this year and when he was healthy he was an average to above average hitter for a SS (taking out his April stats after getting hit). Defensively he looked fine at 3B, so he should at least be considered for the infield utility role to replace Jayson Nix. Outside of that the starting SS this year (Jeter) was terrible and was never healthy, so you can’t trade or cut Nunez till you know what you will get from Jeter or add a player that is a starting SS through free agency.

    • WhittakerWalt

      And silliness like this explains why he’s still on the team. Never has an atrocious player had more people make so many excuses for him. He is an AWFUL player with almost literally ZERO value. He can’t hit and he can’t field. He had a sort of hot September, and that’s it. Yet this one month where he kind-of-almost hit OK is the one you’re going to pretend represents the “true” Eduardo Nunez.

  • Yazman

    “Father Time remained undefeated”

    Quick nit pick — I think Mo retired with the victory there.

  • Heyo

    He’s just awful.