We only got to spend over two months with Eduardo Nunez as a member of the Boston Red Sox, but they were memorable. He came out of the chute hotter than the Earth’s core, hitting .500/.542/.955 over his first five games in red socks, which included a thrilling walk-off groundout against the Royals and the start of his unbridled assault on Hanley Ramirez’s record for number-of-times-a-player’s-helmet-falls-off while doing regular baseball activities. His performance as a Red Sox was excellent and seemed to give the team a much-needed boost. The Red Sox won 11 of Nunez’s first 14 games with the team, including eight straight. While adding Nunez at the trade deadline was largely panned as underwhelming, it turned out to be a great fit that many would like to see again next year.
What Went Right in 2017
I will dig into a few details in a moment, but the number one positive in Nunez’s 2017 has to be getting traded from a team that was winning ~38 percent of its games and had no chance of making the playoffs to a first-place team that was on-pace for October play. What is that like for a player? One day you are coming to work with a mindset of playing out the string and the next you are in the midst of a race for the division-title. How do these guys flip that switch? Or are they ridiculously competitive enough that the difference isn’t really something they experience; they are just always grinding to win. In any case, Nunez flipped that switch if had to, and managed the transition well.
Nunez fit in well with the Red Sox’s lots-of-contact lineup, but he did it in a different way. Whereas most of the 2017 Red Sox hitters were patient, Nunez was up there swinging: he only worked six walks in his 173 PA. For a bit of perspective, Sam Travis matched Nunez’s six walks, but did so in 90 fewer trips to the dish. But don’t get too caught up in his walk total, Nunez’s lack of patience did not hurt his offense productivity. Lower the PA minimum to 170 and you’ll find the .305 TAv Nunez posted during his stint in Boston was the tenth-best mark in the AL last year. He had a different approach than many of the other guys in the lineup and it worked. When he saw a pitch to hit, he tended to take a hack, and often connected with authority. Another example of his productivity: in his time in Boston, he doubled up the home run total he posted with the Giants, taking eight balls out of the yard for the Red Sox. All told, Nunez was a treat at the plate. Mix his offense with his versatility on defense and speed on the bases, and it is easy to see why he quickly became a fan favorite.
What Went Wrong in 2017
We can talk about how despite offering versatility on defense, he wasn’t really a great defender at any of the spots he played, or how his aggressiveness on the base paths was often infuriating. Seriously, why do this? But the biggest downer of Nunez’s 2017 was the trouble with his knee that ended things early for him. The original (as far as I know) injury, a posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) sprain, happened in early September during a game against the Rays. It kept him out of the lineup for 13 games, but, despite being cleared to play, he aggravated the injury during his second plate appearance, barely able to run to first base. In order to be ready for the playoffs he then went through a similar period of rest and rehab as he did after the initial injury, but upon return the results were the same, only coming in his first plate appearance rather than his second:
Ideally, adequate time away from playing does the knee some good, and Nunez can be playing at full strength next year.
Outlook for 2018
Nunez is a free agent this offseason. The combination of his ability to play multiple positions, hit for power, and provide speed on the base paths, as well as the haze surrounding Pedroia’s status for 2018, should make signing Nunez one of the top higher priorities in the offseason plan. However, all those assets that make him a good fit for the Red Sox likely means he can find a better situation elsewhere, such as one where Nunez does not need to worry about a franchise player returning after two months to reclaim his job, relegating Nunez to a bench role. A player like Eduardo Nunez should be able to find a stable starting job somewhere in the league, which will certainly be more attractive than the utility/10th-man role he would ultimately have in Boston.
Of course, everything with Nunez hinges on the condition of his knee. Nunez and the Red Sox medical staff twice deemed his knee healthy enough to play, but both times he ended up in a crumpled heap along the first base line. That is concerning. But the Red Sox are the team most likely to have up-to-date information on Nunez’s knee. If they think he can be back healthy – without rushing him to do so – then I would love to see him back in a Red Sox uniform. But, as I said above, if he is fully healthy, I think he will end up signing somewhere else. Let the Marco Hernandez era begin!
Photo by Kim Klement – USA TODAY Sports