Opinion

Why Eduardo Nunez Will Bounce Back in 2019

Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (Oct. 25, 2018 – Source: Jeff Gross/Getty Images North America)

Boston Red Sox utility infielder Eduardo Nunez was one of the few members of the 2018 Red Sox to experience a down year. Playing in 127 games, Nunez finished the season with a .265/.289/.388 slash line and an accompanying 78 wRC+. He combined this with atrocious fielding and subpar baserunning to finish the year with a -0.4 fWAR. In a season where everyone else was having career years, Nunez was struggling to make it to the finish line. However, the good news is that Nunez should experience a bounce-back season and look closer to the 2017 version of Eduardo Nunez instead of the 2018 version.

Eduardo Nunez a Prime Bounce Back Candidate

It’s easy to forget about now, but Nunez was a really good hitter for Boston in the 2017 season. Initially arriving in a midseason trade, Nunez recorded a .321/.353/.539 slash line with an accompanying 132 wRC+. While some of that was due to an unsustainably-high BABIP (batting average on balls in play), Nunez was making strong contact throughout his early Red Sox career, making medium or hard contact 79.3% of the time.

However, Nunez’ 2017 season ended on a low note. Nunez suffered a minor knee injury and attempted to play through it during the 2017 postseason. That was a bad decision, as Nunez aggravated the injury during his first plate appearance of the playoffs. Nunez hit a ground ball, but could barely make it out of the batters box before falling to the ground, clearly in significant pain.

The Red Sox brought Nunez back for 2018, but the righty clearly wasn’t healthy at any point during 2018. Nunez thought that his 2017 injury could be career-threatening, but still managed to be the Red Sox Opening Day second baseman.

Anyone who watched more than a handful of games knows that Eduardo Nunez simply never got healthy from that knee injury. Playing in notable pain for the majority of the season, Nunez was slower and weaker than the year prior. However, Nunez showed incredible grit and toughness by staying on the diamond even when he clearly was in a lot of pain.

Fortunately for Nunez, he doesn’t have to go through any of that in 2019. The second baseman finished the year relatively healthy and should be 100% with a full off-season of rest. Obviously, it’s easier to play when you’re feeling healthy, so Nunez should improve on his 2018 marks in 2019.

With Nunez, Less Is More

Eduardo Nunez is at his best when he plays in small doses. The Red Sox signed Nunez last off-season expecting him to be part of a second base platoon with Dustin Pedroia. Nobody thought Pedroia would be ready for Opening Day, but the belief was that Pedroia would return in mid-May and see the majority of the games.

While Pedroia did return in mid-May, his stay in the majors only lasted three games. With Pedroia gone for the season, the Red Sox had no choice but to make Nunez the primary second baseman. Second base is normally his worst defensive position and his knee injury only made his limited range more pronounced. Even Ian Kinsler suffered a hamstring injury after a week in a Red Sox jersey, forcing Nunez to once again see more playing time than he probably should.

The good news is that this shouldn’t happen again. Pedroia is on pace to come back for Opening Day, and ideally his body will hold up. Even if it doesn’t, the Red Sox have plenty of serviceable depth options. Everyone knows what Brock Holt brings to the table, but the Red Sox have another good utility infielder in Tzu-Wei Lin. Combined with Nunez, this trio can man the second base position in the event Pedroia suffers another injury.

None of this is to say that Nunez is going to be an All-Star this year. He won’t. However, Nunez has the chance to be an above-average depth piece, which is all he was signed to do. Look for Nunez to play in about 100 games across the infield and play well in his limited time.

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