Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will look at the positives of their 2017, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2018. Today, we discuss Eduardo Nuñez.
Eduardo Nuñez, obviously, did not start the year with the Red Sox, nor was he really on anybody’s radar. It was clear for a long time that they’d probably have to trade for infield help, but Nuñez was on a Giants team that was supposed to contend. He was not one of the potential options. Of course, by the end of the year, he was in Boston and quickly became a fan favorite around these parts. It’s a well-deserved title, too, considering how much energy he brought to the team. His arrival, along with that of Rafael Devers just about a week prior, was really the point where this season changed and the Red Sox took control of the division. Third base and the lineup as a whole had already been mildly stabilized with Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin both surprising at the hot corner, but Nuñez brought forth a legitimate major-league starter. He was instantly inserted to the top of Boston’s lineup and he was on fire to start his Red Sox tenure. Over his first 15 games, during which the Red Sox went on a huge run, Nuñez posted a 1.064 OPS.
The biggest way Nuñez was able to energize the offense was by being someone this lineup didn’t really have. He’s not the most talented player who hit for the Red Sox this year, but he brought a different approach and it worked out tremendously. Surprisingly, given Nuñez’ past tendencies, he was able to hit for legitimate power after coming to Boston. Some of this was certainly luck, but it also helped that he was playing in his best park since he was with the Yankees when he first came up. He took advantage of his new home, too, becoming much more pull-happy and utilizing the Monster whenever possible.
That approach wasn’t just about how he was hitting the ball, though. Nuñez was a breath of fresh air in one of the most patient — sometimes, noticeably too patient — lineups in the league. Nuñez is an ultra-aggressive hitter who swings at nearly everything. This can be infuriating at times, of course, because he almost never walks. However, he rarely strikes out, too, and when he was with Boston there was a ton of good contact. If he saw a pitch he liked, he jumped right on it and usually hit it well.
Finally, there was the matter of Nuñez’ baserunning. This may not be a positive for everyone, kind of like the team’s baserunning as a whole. Nuñez is incredibly fast, a fact that no one would argue. He’s also really aggressive, and that leads to some frustrating outs on the bases. There were times when that really hurt the team this year. That being said, on the whole, I think it’s a valuable asset to be fast and aggressive. It keeps pitchers’ focus from being 100 percent on the hitter, and the defense always has to be ready for movement.
Although Nuñez was a massive part of the Red Sox’ run towards the postseason in 2017, it wasn’t all perfect for the infielder. For one thing, as we look back on that approach mentioned above, it’s hard not to take notice of that extreme lack of walks. When he’s on a tear and hitting everything on a line and/or for extra bases, it doesn’t matter much. However, he has nothing to lean on to get on base if he’s hitting poorly. Nobody can rely on batting average on balls in play for entire stretches of the season, and that kind of profile is going to have some ebb and flow throughout the year. During the poor stretches, it’s nice to have the ability to sit back and at least use some walks to get on base. Nuñez, though, walks less than four percent of the time, giving him next to nothing to lean on.
There’s also the matter of his defense. On the one hand, Nuñez is really versatile on that side of the ball, which is a big reason so many people want him back next year. He can play third, shortstop or second base, plus he has some experience in the outfield and could theoretically be put out in left field if the need arose. That’s valuable! Of course, it’s a little less valuable when you realize he’s below-average at every spot. Having a body to put in those spots is great, but ideally you don’t want someone who will cost you runs covering those spots and playing every day. Don’t get me wrong, this is not me saying Nuñez shouldn’t be an everyday player. It’s just that he’s not quite as perfect as some will make him out to be.
Finally, there is the matter of health. In this case, the negative here isn’t something that Nuñez should feel bad about or that he could improve. Instead, it’s just something negative that happened. He suffered from some knee injuries towards the end of the year, and we all know how it ended up. He was brought back too early about a week or so before the end of the season, and immediately re-injured the knee the first time he broke out of the batters box. Then, he was rushed back for the postseason, and the exact same thing happened in the first inning of the ALDS. I’m far from a medical expert so it’s hard for me to criticize training staffs, but in this case it just seems unfathomable that this kind of mistake could happen twice. Again, this isn’t really Nuñez’ fault, though.
The Big Question
Looking ahead to 2018
I alluded to it above, but Nuñez will likely be the free agent who fans most want to bring back in 2018. We’ve talked about this a lot at this point, though, and I’ve made it clear that I don’t see it happened. It’s not about a lack of fit with the Red Sox or lack of interest, but rather there being better opportunities for Nuñez elsewhere. It seems likely that some other team will be able to offer a clearer path to playing time than the Red Sox. The one snag could be the health of Nuñez’ knee, but if everything checks out I can’t imagine he’ll be back. Where ever he is, he’ll probably put forth another three-ish-win season. Let’s just hope it’s not in the AL East so we can be happy for him.