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Renato Núñez will be the Orioles’ starting DH next season

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The streaky but powerful righty should be a lock for next year’s lineup.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox
Look at that power!
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, Paul Folkemer recapped Hanser Alberto’s season. Today, I’ll be telling you about Renato Núñez. It’s a fun comparison to make, because as far as hitters on this team go, two more different styles of play would be hard to find.

Hanser chugged along all year, hitting .295 or better for most of the season. Núñez is a feast-or-famine guy: he hit .304 in July, but .213 in both June and September/October. Hanser is a slap hitter, finishing the year with twelve home runs; Núñez had thirty-one, including bombs like this one. Hanser struck out only 50 times this season (making him the hardest guy to strike out in the league); Núñez had a healthy 143 in about the same at-bats. Alberto turned heads for his consistency and ability to get on base; Núñez shines with his power, and he can drive ‘em in.

What the two players do share is ... a love for stickball. (Hey, Alberto apparently has some pop when it doesn’t count?)

No, what they share, more importantly, is the good fortune of being waiver wire pickups by the Orioles who hit their way into a regular role this season, and probably next.

After signing in 2010 with Oakland as a 16-year-old international free agent, Renato Núñez spent seven seasons with the Athletics, including a trip to the All-Star Futures Game in 2014. The righty out of Venezuela got a brief call-up in September 2016, then spent the 2017 season with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds, where he won the league MVP award. After he injured his hamstring, the Athletics waived him in spring 2018. The Rangers claimed him in April and waived him less than a month later, when the team activated Rougned Odor from the disabled list. (N.B.: Odor hit .205/.238/.409 this year and produced one of the worst season-long slumps in the Majors. Just sayin’.)

Núñez was picked up by the Orioles on May 13, 2018, making his debut in the black-and-orange on July 20 after Manny Machado was shipped to Los Angeles during the midseason fire sale. That season, he’d play in 60 games, batting .275/.336/.445 with thirteen doubles, seven homers and twenty runs batted in.

That augured good things, and in 2019, with the chance for regular at-bats, Núñez came through in the power department. The numbers speak for themselves: 31 long balls and 90 RBIs, good for second-place on the team after Trey Mancini, who had a monster year, as well as 24 doubles, third-best on the team. He slugged .460 and racked up a .771 OPS.

Cutting down on two things would improve his odds of sticking around in the major leagues: one, the streakiness, and two, the strikeouts. MASN’s Roch Kubatko recently defined Núñez’s season as “Cold spells and power outages followed by tape-measure home runs that came in bunches.”

He’s right. “Noonie” logged his first-ever five-hit game in a 6–5 slugfest against the Yankees on August 14, a month where he hit just .237. He had a slow end of the season, homering on August 21, not again until Sept. 8 and then not again until Sept. 27, when he slugged a three-run, 433-foot homer against Boston.

According to Fangraphs data, Renato seems to have a problem striking out on sliders. He hit .253 on the fastball and slugged .513. Against the slider, his average dipped to .185 and his slugging percentage was .331. Neither the sinker (.287 BA/.494 SLG) nor the curveball (.283 BA/.650 SLG) nor the changeup (.254 BA/.475 SLG) gave him issues in the same way.

A BaseballSavant swing profile tells the same story; Núñez has more power outside-and-up than most hitters, but he swings more often on the down-and-away pitch than the average hitter, too.

The field has not been where Núñez shines. When he wasn’t DHing (109 games), he’d play at first (21 games), where he made me miss Mancini and Chris Davis, or at third (8), where he’d make me nervous. Truthfully, however, his defensive numbers show that he was pedestrian, as opposed to bad. He made 3 errors at first and 1 at third, with a UZR of -1.2 and 0.0, respectively. His combined total defensive runs saved was zero. (Hey, he wasn’t in the red, at least!) This doesn’t mean that he’s a solution at the hot corner, but it does mean that, if the Davis logjam-at-first-base finally clears up, Mancini should be the guy, not Núñez.

As a still relatively unproven commodity with a subpar glove, Noonie is probably not a trade piece this offseason. That said, he is still just 25, and those power numbers could be of interest to some team, especially by the trade deadline next year if he keeps this up. For now, with a projected salary of $524,000 next season, the Orioles can afford to keep giving him at-bats.

As the bottom third of the lineup crashed and burned this season, manager Brandon Hyde kept saying, as if to anyone who would listen, that the team was looking for guys who would “take the opportunity” given to them and “run with it.”

One of the guys who galloped to the rescue was Renato Núñez. It’ll be exciting to see what he’s capable of next year.