Monday, June 6, 2016

Will The Real Eduardo Nunez Please Stand Up?

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson- USA Today Sports
May I have your attention please
Will the real Eduardo Nunez please stand up?
I repeat, will the real Eduardo Nunez please stand up?

Where did this Eduardo Nunez guy come from? Why haven't the Twins played him more? Why can't he keep his helmet on? Many Twins fans have pondered these questions as Nunez has evolved into one of the most consistent hitters in the Twins line-up at the beginning of the 2016 campaign.

Nunez joined the Twins before the 2014 season and he has been used sparingly over the last two seasons. In just under 400 at-bats, he hit .265/.299/.406 with 34 extra-base hits and a 60 to 17 strikeout to walk ratio. There were some that questioned whether he should be offered arbitration because he hadn't provided a lot of value during his Twins tenure.

At the start of the 2016 season, Nunez playing time was limited through the team's first five games. However, he made himself known in game number six by going 4-for-4 with an RBI and a stolen base against Royals, the defending World Series Champions. Since that game, Nunez has hit .337/.365/.519 with 18 extra-base hits, 27 runs scored, and 12 stolen bases. Those totals rank him second in the American League in steals and fourth in batting average.

After watching him for two season, it's hard to get a handle on this new and improved version of Nunez and there could be some reasons for the shift in his numbers.

Nunez has seen big jumps in batting average and slugging percentage. His rise in batting average can likely be attributed to a large jump in his BABIP. For his career, Nunez has posted a BABIP of just over .300 but his busted out of the gate with a .367 BABIP so far in 2016. With a pair of home runs in the Rays series, Nunez set a career high with seven home runs after never having more than five in a season.

In previous seasons, Nunez's on-base percentage has been 40 points higher than his batting average. This season he hasn't been drawing walks with six walks in just over 180 plate appearances. He doesn't need to draw a lot of walks when his batting average is over .330 but he's also been striking out a lot. His career high in strikeouts was 51 in 2013 and he's on his way to shattering that total as he has already tallied 30 strikeouts.

Although Nunez has been producing at the plate, his defensive flaws have surfaced with his increased playing time. Last season in limited action, Nunez compiled a runs from fielding (Rfield) total of five. This means he was five runs better than an average player was in relation to all fielding. This year his Rfield total is currently negative five as he's posted negative marks at all three defensive positions he's played.

Every team gets an All-Star representative and Nunez has a chance to be Minnesota's lone player in the Mid-Summer Classic. His ability to play multiple defensive positions could be intriguing to the American League manager even if he is below average at all of the positions. It seems unlikely that many managers would want Nunez batting in an important spot with home field advantage in the World Series on the line but baseball is a game where strange things happen.

Twins fans have had little to cheer about this season but Nunez gives fans a reason to stand up. The real Eduardo Nunez might have been here all along. Unfortunately, he will likely follow the path of his helmet and coming crashing back down to earth at some point. For now, enjoy the ride.

I guess there is a little Eduardo Nunez in all of us. 
Darn it, let's all stand up.

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