In the wake of Steve's post on Eduardo Nunez, I had some thoughts that I wanted to chip in. But I didn't see the post until it was buried to the bottom of the home page and I had rather a lot to say. So you're getting a whole new post about a rehabbing backup middle infielder.
I think a point was very seriously missed. While calling for an attachment to reality, about ninety percent of what constitutes Eduardo Nunez was swept under the rug in favor of a numbers comparison to right fielders. Mainly, that Nunez doesn't hit for enough power to play the outfield. That could very well be true. Or it could very well be false. In the past two seasons, Brett Gardner has accumulated 11.2 fWAR while slugging .379 and .369.
There's no indication that Nunez can be the defensive stallion that Gardner is -- and some of the early indications have been the opposite -- but to say that players of a certain position must play a certain way is poor, simplistic analysis. It was unconventional to have offense first players like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Robinson Cano at traditionally defensive positions. It's an incredibly nice luxury to have a defender like Mark Teixeira at a position that has traditionally harbored immobile sluggers. There are lots of ways to contribute and lots of ways to put a lineup together. There is no formula that a corner outfielder must hit X homeruns or bat Yth in the lineup.
While position scarcity (it's easier to find a slugging first baseman than a slugging catcher, etc.) exists, each player is contributing to a run scoring and run prevention unit. The optimal way to put those units together is entirely dependent on the personnel of that team.
But getting back to Nunez and where he fits into all of this. If you want to know why people believing in Nunez "can't be killed with a hammer" I can tell you pretty easily. Because he's one step short of bipolar in his light and dark characteristics on the baseball field.
When he centers a pitch, the ball jumps off of his bat like it was shot out of a gun. But he has too much of an uppercut in his swing and gets under the ball too much.
He's an absolute terror on the basepaths. But he's too swing happy at the plate to draw enough walks to get on base consistently.
He can cover a ton of ground in the field. But he has booted balls that he should have gloved.
He has a rocket for an arm. But he has shown pretty awful accuracy.
There are all sorts of things about Eduardo Nunez that impress you when you watch him play. But there's all sorts of other shit that is completely maddening. If you just look at his overall numbers and nothing else, you're completely missing the fact that he's great at some things and simply dreadful at others. If you want to know why so many people are still on board with him, it's because most of his biggest problems look fixable.
With a patient and veteran-dominant Yankees lineup, you could see Nunez learning to take his foot off the gas at the plate and taking some walks. With Kevin Long giving him some pointers and consistent major league at bats, you could see him leveling out his swing and getting better pitch recognition. With more reps in the field, you could see his speed and first step start to make up for some of his fielding gaffes.
There's no guarantee that all of that -- or even any of that -- happens. I don't think anyone is betting on him all of a sudden putting it all together. He's a very checkered player, and if he does start to fix things, it probably won't be all at once. But almost anyone who has seen him play would tell you that Nunez -- as raw and unrefined as he can look -- could be a contributor should even a few of those things get fixed.
In a bench role, Nunez has the opportunity to learn and (hopefully) iron out some of the glaring kinks in his game without being a huge deciding factor in how the team does. Does anyone think that we're living and dying with Jayson Nix's contributions? Or that Nunez couldn't -- in spot starts against lefties and pinch running opportunities -- contribute at least as much?
Maybe after another season or two he would get forced into a starting role by injury or economy. Maybe by then he'd be ready to screw up less. Or maybe he'll spend an entire career being maddeningly incomplete. There's really no way to know for sure right now. But 450 plate appearances into his major league career seems a bit premature to write him off.