Note: This post was written before Tuesday’s game in Tampa Bay, a game in which Eduardo Nuñez went 3-5. The numbers below do not reflect that performance.
After a month of July in which the bats completely fell asleep, the Red Sox lineup is finally starting to come around (Tuesday’s game notwithstanding). There are a bunch of reasons why this is the case, but there are two that I feel are the most important. The first is simply that they were never going to be this bad. The core of the lineup -- Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Hanley Ramirez, Jackie Bradley, etc. — were simply never going to be that bad for the entire year. Those guys still have some work to do, but they are swinging the bats better of late. The other big reason — and probably the biggest reason — are the two spark plugs. The bats have been undeniably better since Eduardo Nuñez and Rafael Devers have come to town. I’ve already talked about Devers’ impact, so today is Nuñez’ day.
To put it technically, Nuñez has been crazy banana pants since coming to Boston. The infielder only has 47 plate appearances in ten games, but he’s made them count with a .422/.447/.822 slash-line and a 234 wRC+. I’m not going to shock anyone by telling you that this is not a sustainable performance. Unless Dave Dombrowski just traded for the greatest baseball player we’ve ever seen — and as much as I love Nuñez I don’t see that happening — his performance is going to come down. That being said, he might be able to keep a larger chunk of this production than you’d originally assume, particularly compared to what he’s done earlier this year.
Overall in San Francisco, Nuñez had 378 plate appearances with the Giants and hit .308/.334/.417. That’s a solid line, but certainly nothing special, as it was good for an essentially-average 101 wRC+. That doesn’t do most of his season justice, though. The 30-year-old has been phenomenal for a few months now. This isn’t a streak that only started since coming to the Red Sox. Really, he’s been mashing since the start of June. In 157 plate appearances since that time, he’s hitting .369/.401/.584 with a wRC+ of at least 150 in June, July and August.
Although he was on something of a roll with San Francisco before being dealt, things have changed since he was traded to Boston. Specifically, Nuñez has hit for more power. The former Twin and Yankee has never been thought of as a monster power hitter, but the .109 Isolated Power he posted with the Giants always felt low. Of course, the .400 ISO he’s posting in Boston feels way high. Still, there are tangible changes that have been made to help this change in power along.
The first and most obvious change would be a simple change in home. Going from San Francisco to Boston, Nuñez got to experience one of the biggest upticks possible in park effects for a hitter. The Giants, of course, play in one of the biggest pitchers’ havens in all of baseball, while Fenway can be an extra-base haven if it’s used correctly, particularly for right-handed hitters. That alone makes him a good bet to be better than he was in his time in San Francisco.
To go along with the simple change in park, Nuñez has adjusted his swing to perform at Fenway. As a right-handed hitter, he obviously has that big ol’ green wall out in left field that he can abuse for doubles and home runs if he’s able to pull the ball. While in San Francisco, he had a relatively balanced approach and used the whole field. Since coming to Boston, he’s started pulling the ball over 50 percent of the time. Some players go into a funk when they see the Green Monster as they try too hard to use it to their advantage. That...well that hasn’t been an issue for Nuñez. It’s also worth noting that on Tuesday, his first road game with the Red Sox, he had an opposite field double. If he’s able to change his approach based on which park he’s in and still have the same kind of success, he is truly locked in and a good bet to keep a strong performance going. To go along with the pull-happy approach, Nuñez is also hitting the ball in the air a lot more — another good recipe for extra-base hits — and is simply hitting the ball harder. None of this is a surprise if you’ve been watching him hit.
Between the change in park and Nuñez’ ability to adjust his swing to maximize Fenway’s hitter-friendliness, I think it’s fair to change the expectations for Nuñez moving forward. He’s clearly able to put up better numbers than he did with the Giants, and he could use Fenway to put up the best power numbers he’s ever produced. The Red Sox still need the core of their lineup to produce if they’re going to consistently put runs on the board, but don’t be surprised if Nuñez continues to be one of the three or four best hitters in the lineup for the rest of the year.