Eduardo Nunez’s Offensive Struggle a Surprise ... Maybe

Fill-in Shortstop Hitting Just .175 Through First Three Weeks of Season

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Eduardo Nunez’s Offensive Struggle a Surprise ... Maybe
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Eduardo Nunez is off to a slow start at the plate.

COMMENTARY | Maybe New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman knew what he was talking about when he tried to downplay expectations for infielder Eduardo Nunez back in February.

Nunez, 25, has been a prospect many Yankee fans have been excited about because of his perceived offensive ability and his speed on the basepaths.

Defensively, however, Nunez was an unmitigated disaster. As a shortstop, Nunez committed 18 errors in just 242 chances from 2010-12. At second base, Nunez made one error in 43 chances. While at third base, the tally was nine errors in just 112 chances.

But at least his advanced defensive metrics were really awful, so he had that going for him. According to FanGraphs.com, Nunez has an ultimate zone rating per 150 games (UZR/150) of minus-22.9 as a shortstop.

That number equates to the number of runs a defender can be expected to save (or give away, in Nunez's case) over a 150-game span. As a third baseman, the number craters to a minus-31.2. At second base, Nunez has posted a career UZR/150 of a, by comparison, Ryne Sandberg-esque minus-8.5.

The shortstop number has actually improved with his regular playing time this season. Nunez has two errors in 46 chances through 13 games and 11 starts in place of injured Derek Jeter this season (a .957 fielding percentage) and a UZR/150 of just minus-5.7.

No offense to Nunez, but when the fact a guy will only cost his team roughly six runs or so over the course of a season with his glove is cause celebre, something has gone terribly wrong.

But at least there's the offense, right?

Well, not exactly.

Nunez, who came into this season a lifetime .272/.318/.384 hitter in 491 career plate appearances, has stumbled out to a .175/.271/.200 start in his first 50 plate appearances, with just a double and three RBIs. The speed fans were excited about hasn't been evident because Nunez has so infrequently reached base; he has just one steal in two attempts after recording 11 thefts in 13 tries last season and going 22-for-28 in stolen-base attempts in more extensive playing time in 2011.

After last week's news that Jeter will be out for at least three more months due to a small fracture in his surgically repaired left ankle, Cashman said the Yankees will continue to go with Nunez at shortstop and Jayson Nix as the backup, according to MLB.com.

"We're going to stay as we are," Cashman said. "Those guys (Nunez and Nix) have done a nice job. They've earned the right, and regardless, this time of year is certainly going to be a factor in anything that happens."

Translation: Anyone who is capable of stepping in as an every-day shortstop already has a job.

Nunez doesn't have a long career from which to say he will turn his woeful offensive start around. Maybe the league has adjusted to Nunez and now the ball is in his court to counter-adjust.

But unless something changes inside the mind of Cashman, all Yankee fans can do is hope is can start to hit, because help is at least three months away.

Phil Watson is a freelance journalist and commentator based in upper Michigan who covers the New York Yankees for the Yahoo Contributor Network.

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