Welcome back to the One Big Question series here at Over The Monster. For those who weren’t around for last year’s series or simply forgot what it entails — there’s a lot going on in the world today, so don’t be ashamed! — here’s a brief reminder. Every day, Monday through Friday, for the next eight weeks we’ll profile a new member of Red Sox 40-man roster. Rather than simply going through a simple profile of their overall game and what they offer the team, we’ll focus on the one question that could very well dictate how their season will go in 2018. In order to keep the order objective and avoid side conversations like ranking the players on the roster, we’ll go straight down the roster in alphabetical order by position. In other words, we’ll go by how things are ordered here. If you miss any editions or would like to look back on some of last year’s, you can see all of them here. Today, we’re looking at Eduardo Nuñez.
The Question: Can Eduardo Nuñez recover well enough from his knee injury to provide his typical value on the bases?
As we all know, this offseason for the Red Sox revolved entirely around J.D. Martinez. Sure, there were rumors about other players and there were other spots on the roster that generated some conversation, but ultimately everything was framed around whether or not they’d get Martinez. They obviously did and it was the most notable moment of the winter for the team, but it wasn’t the only key signing. Eduardo Nuñez coming back to the Red Sox is going to prove to be an important decision. In the short-term, he’ll be filling the shoes of the injured Dustin Pedroia, and bringing in someone that wasn’t already on the 40-man roster to do that became even more important when Marco Hernandez’ shoulder proved to not be fully recovered from last year’s injury. Eventually, Nuñez will also become an experienced and relatively dependable utility player who will be used to get everyone on the roster some rest throughout the grind of the regular season. He’s also strong insurance in case Pedroia suffers any setbacks or re-injures himself during the season. So, yeah, I’m fairly confident in calling Nuñez an important piece to the 2018 roster.
That being said, it would not be fair to say there are no question marks with him even while he’s serving as insurance for various other players with their own question marks. He’s not a perfect player even when he’s 100 percent, which I’ll get to a bit later, but the biggest question for Nuñez, like Pedroia, is health related. I’m sure you recall the knee issues that ailed the infielder towards the end of last season, an injury that the team’s trainers misjudged multiple times by bringing him back to soon. The final instance took place right at the very start of the ALDS when Nuñez had to literally be carried off the field in what was almost our final memory of him in a Red Sox uniform. Now he’s back, but there are still questions. Presumably, that was part of the reason he was had on such a team-friendly deal this winter, and while he’s not projected to see DL time to start the year the Red Sox are being very cautious with him in the spring. With all of this in mind, it stands to reason to question the effect this injury could have on the 30-year-old’s value in 2018, particularly with respect to his work on the bases.
It is here, on the bases, where Nuñez can really separate himself as a player, both on this roster and just speaking generally. In a vacuum, over the course of an entire season, running really doesn’t provide all that much value according to the advanced statistics. Even the very best runners in the game add less than a win to their overall value in this area. That being said, it can still be important in a micro view when taking extra bases — whether it be by stealing a base or going first to third on a single or any other way — can impact the outcome of any individual game. Nuñez is fine as an overall baseball player, but if he can’t make his normal impact on the bases he suddenly becomes a much less interesting player.
The reasoning here is the way he makes an impact in the two traditional facets of the game: At the plate and in the field. Offensively, Nuñez made a massive impact with the Red Sox, but we all generally acknowledge that this was above his true-talent level. He’s shown he is an average-to-above-average bat which can be valuable in the middle infield, and there’s some chance Fenway can help his skills play up a little bit more, but he doesn’t exactly have a massive ceiling at the plate. Defensively, Nuñez can and will play all over the infield and will likely get some time in left field, but he’s probably not going to be even average at any spot. There’s still some value in being passable at so many positions — some would argue he’s not even passable at some spots, but I would disagree with that assertion — but again the ceiling is not very big.
As such, Nuñez needs some sort of supplementation somewhere to boost his value on a year-to-year basis. In the past, that has been providing value on the bases. No matter which metric you use, he has been well-above-average on the bases year after year. He steals bases, including 40 swiped bags two years ago and 24 in 114 games last season, and he also takes the extra base whenever the opportunity presents itself. Nuñez’ speed when 100 percent is undeniable, but if the knee is still bothering him in any form that could seriously sap the value he brings on the bases.
We haven’t really seen enough from Nuñez this spring to have a great idea of how he’s moving around, so this question is more theoretical than some of the others at which we could at least venture a guess. This is still an important piece of the puzzle for the infielder, though, and the Red Sox will be at their best if they have a fully functional Nuñez. It’s hard to measure the impact of someone who can get in a pitcher’s head every time he reaches base and has an opportunity to impact every game, even the ones he doesn’t start. The Red Sox likely felt good about his knee given the re-signing, but until we see the baserunning in action on a consistent basis there will be questions, particularly considering the misjudgments last fall.