For better or for worse, Eduardo Nunez joins the Red Sox today. This is being written before lineups are announced, but one would assume Friday will not only be the former Giant’s first day in the Red Sox clubhouse, but also his first day in the Red Sox lineup. Some are upset at this acquisition, thinking that his bat alone is not impactful enough to be worth the time. While that’s true, that was never the idea. If Boston’s offense is going to get back on track and get to where it needs to be, it’ll be because the players that are already here are performing more like they were expected to prior to the season. Nunez will be an improvement, though. There’s also questions about how he should be used, which I’ve discussed here. That’s in addition to questions about his glove, which I’ll talk about in the near future. The point is: Nunez is not a perfect player or a perfect addition for many reasons.
Today, I want to focus on a particular flaw of his. It may not even be accurate to call it a flaw, to be honest. It’s just...different. To put it simply: Nunez swings at a lot of pitches. Since Boston made this trade, we’ve already talked about this approach some, but mostly what happens after he swings. Specifically, he makes a lot of contact, which fits extremely well with the rest of this lineup. His process behind making that contact does not really fit well with this roster. Historically speaking, or at least over the last 15-20 years, the Red Sox have been among the most patient teams in the league. It’s been their calling card on offense, in fact. That hasn’t changed this year, as through Wednesday’s action they swung at a lower rate of pitches than any other team in baseball.
In 2017, Nunez is swinging at 54.7 percent of the pitches he’s seen this year, a rate that comes in more than ten percentage points above the rate of the entire Red Sox team this year. To be fair, it would rank higher than any team in baseball, as it is among the highest individual swing rates in the league. Among the 176 batters who have accrued at least 300 plate appearances in 2017, only ten have a higher rate than Nunez. The highest rates on Boston this year belong to Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez, who are both swinging at 47.5 percent of the pitches they’ve seen.
Looking at recent Red Sox history, there just aren’t many players that have played in Boston that have swung this often. When these players do come to town, it hasn’t always gone well. The most recent and the most obvious example of a free-swinger coming from outside the organization is Pablo Sandoval. He...uhh....well he wasn’t super great for the Red Sox. Another example would be Carl Crawford. He....uhhh....well he also isn’t one of the best Red Sox players we’ve ever seen. To be fair, it hasn’t been all bad. Adrian Gonzalez swung more than 50 percent of the time when he was with the Red Sox, and while his reputation is inexplicably unfavorable around some parts of Red Sox Nation he was quite good with the organization. Adrian Beltre would also fit this bill, and I think we all know how well Beltre played with the team.
It’s worth noting that Nunez hasn’t always swung with this frequency. He’s always been a more aggressive hitter than usual, but he’s taken things to a new level. It’s also worth noting that aggressive styles aren’t necessarily bad even if it’s not how the Red Sox generally do things. For one thing, pitchers are hitting the zone at the start of counts more than they have since 2010, so an adjustment is probably in order. Just look at the names above Nunez on this list. There are multiple All-Stars there.
More to the point, it’s worked for Nunez himself. At the same time he’s upped his swing rate, he’s also made more contact than ever. He’s never been the type of hitter to strike out on a regular basis, but he’s cut his rate down to its lowest ever point. In fact, Nunez’ production has gotten better as the year has gone on. As you can see from the graph below, there’s been a slight correlation between his swing rate and his overall production.
None of this is to say that Nunez is going to be good for the Red Sox, nor is it to say he’s going to be bad. I can’t predict the future, and if I could I’d certainly be using that to do something other than predict Eduardo Nunez’ second half next performance. All I can say is that you are going to be hearing a lot about how aggressive Nunez is and how different that is from the typical Red Sox hitter. All of that is true. I’m sure there will also be plenty of comparisons to Sandoval. It’s understandable where they’ll come from, but if Nunez does fail it won’t be solely because of his approach at the plate.
All stats above are from Fangraphs.