Someone please explain why Mets fans seem to want Eduardo Nunez

Someone please explain why Mets fans seem to want Eduardo Nunez

by Brian Erni February 01, 2018 0 Comments

Something strange is happening.

This offseason, some Mets fans seem intent on ignoring one player, who is very good and would still come at an affordable and reasonable term, in favor of one that might exacerbate the Mets' problems more than solve them.

The first player I'm referring to is Todd Frazier. The second: Eduardo Nunez.

Earlier this week, I wrote that the Mets should, for a litany of reasons, pull the trigger and sign Frazier. Sure, it would allow Asdrubal Cabrera to play a position he's more comfortable in. But it would also give the Mets a very good, right handed hitting power bat, who is also an excellent defender, and has proven to be a unifying clubhouse voice.

The responses that post warranted would make you think I asked for the Mets to reincarnate Charley Smith and put him back at the hot corner.

I guess I can't be that surprised. For those scoring at home, Frazier did not have good batting average seasons in 2016 (.225) or 2017 (.213). So if you take a cursory glance at the traditional stats, and ignore the fact that he hit 67 home runs over that span while being extraordinarily durable (305 games played between the two seasons), you may come away with the opinion that Frazier is a boom-or-bust hitter. That would be wrong, but more on that later.

What does shock me is the affinity for Nunez. Is batting average bias that bad that people would want to, not just settle for, but actually want, an inferior player? It certainly seems like it.

First of all, if you've merely walked past Moneyball on a book shelf, or even been in close proximity to a TV while the movie adaptation is on, then you should be publicly shamed for falling in love with batting average. 

Repeat after me: It does not matter if you get on base by a hit or a walk.

Brandon Nimmo told Darren and me on Orange and Blue Thing that, "a walk is a win for me." That's because Nimmo is smart.

Seriously, what's the difference between a single and a walk? Optics. The result is the same. And if we just compare these two players based on OBP, they, too, are essentially the same.

Frazier OBP: 2017: .344, career: .321.
Nunez OBP: 2017: .341, career: .320.

So then why is Frazier that much better? Well, a player who has both good plate discipline and a confidence in their eye to take close pitches and work an at bat actually limits the volatility that comes with putting a batted ball into play. Batting Average on Balls in Play (or BABIP) is a stat that essentially shows how many times you got a hit when you put the ball in play.

This stat matters because it's often a telltale sign if you're getting lucky. You know that old adage, "It looks like a line drive in the box score," that Keith likes to trot out when someone drops a bleeder in? It's meant to account for that.

More often than not, bleeders, dunks, and duck snorts are outs. So if you want to tell if a player is getting lucky, look at their BABIP and compare it to their hard-hit rate (the higher the BABIP and lower the hard-hit rate, the more lucky they are).

Frazier also hit more line drives (18.4%) than Nunez (17.5%), and made less soft contact than Nunez (23.2% versus 24.5%). So this is to say that Nunez as a ".300 hitter" is probably more a product of a few more balls sneaking through the infield, or fly balls dropping in front of outfielders in the expansive outfield of AT&T Park than it has to do with him being a great average hitter (he is a .282 career average guy). Does his speed help? Sure, a little. He beat out 10.5% of potential infield hits, as opposed to Frazier's 5.8%, but not so much that it accounts for the BABIP factor.

Want more reason to like Frazier? In 2017, he swung at just 25% pitches outside the zone (down from 32.6% in 2016 and a 32.5% career average), a new career-low. He also swung and missed at pitches in the zone 9.3% of the time, and made contact 76.9% of the time on all pitches. Nunez chased at pitches out of the zone 39.6% of the time, and had a swinging strike percentage of 8.1%.

So Nunez swung and missed just a touch fewer times, but also chased pitches out of the zone far more. Overall, the two saw almost identical pitches in the strike zone (46.5% for Frazier, 46.7% for Nunez), so it's not like Nunez wasn't getting as many pitches to hit. He was just swinging at more garbage. Is Frazier's career-low chase rate sustainable? Maybe, maybe not. If he regresses, the OBP may dip a little, but considering he posted this over a full season sample seems to imply he has figured something out.

Now, on to the defense. The argument I hear all the time is that Nunez plays multiple positions. Okay, great. Does he play any of them well? No. No he does not.

Here are Nunez's advanced defensive metrics over the course of his career. I'm giving you a career sample, because measuring defense based solely on one season can be tricky. So here we go:

Nunez, by position, Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved:

2B: UZR: -5.5, DRS: -8 in 358.2 innings.
3B: UZR: -15.5, DRS: -5 in 1856.2 innings.
SS: UZR: -29.5, DRS: -42 in 2091.1 innings.
OF: UZR: 3.3, DRS: -3 in 163.2 innings.

Woof.

So yes, Nunez plays multiple positions. He also plays every single one that the Mets would want him to play pretty badly. And if you choose to throw him in the outfield, well...you can't, because the Mets have about 17 outfielders.

At third base, Frazier has a career UZR of 27.9, and has been worth 17.1 Range Runs Above Average and 30 DRS. That's...significantly better. So much so that I don't even really need to expand on that (my extreme gratitude to the amazing Fangraphs for all the aforementioned stats).

I know this paints Nunez in a bad light, and maybe that's being too tough on him. The best case I heard this offseason that was made for Nunez came in this column from John Harper, who cited Alex Rodriguez's glowing appraisal. In all sincerity, I do think that intangibles are real. Ballplayers can be more valuable than their stat line indicates. Baseball isn't played by cyborgs. It's a human being's game, and by definition, not every x-factor can be accounted for in a mathematical equation.

So I'm not going to flip a table if the Mets sign Nunez. But he should be, at best, option three of the four-player finalists pool that includes Frazier, Neil Walker, and Josh Harrison. And as for Frazier, it boils down, very simply, to this:




Brian Erni
Brian Erni

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