Over the weekend, the Orioles, with only 24 wins as of July 2 and currently 31 games behind the first-place Yankees, became the first team ever to score 13+ runs without allowing a run in consecutive games. When that stat become official following Sunday’s game it brought upon one of those feelings of something like, “Really? No team ever did that before?”
You’re going to tell me that the 2019 Orioles, with a roster currently projected by Fangraphs to win 55 games, is the only team to ever pulverize a team back-to-back games in aforementioned fashion? The same team that is fourth from the bottom in runs and has surrendered the second-most runs? Only in baseball could such a blatant disregard for the norm be a thing.
Speaking of “pulverized,” there hasn’t been a hitter on the Orioles that’s made more consistently loud contact than Renato Nunez. Not the smoothest of segues but nevertheless, Nunez has proven himself to be somewhat of a force at the plate.
Currently the owner of a 104 wRC+ in his second year of extended big league work, Nunez has managed to be slightly better than the average hitter in 2019. His 18 home runs are tied for seventh-most in the American League while his .246 ISO is 12th-best.
Last summer Nunez essentially became the de facto third baseman, and he’s been one of the few Orioles to actually take advantage of his everyday opportunities. In 91 more plate appearances from last year to this year, the Venezuelan has 11 more home runs due to his 10.5 HR/FB ratio nearly doubling to 19.1, and a slightly higher OPS in spite of a lower on-base number. His batted ball numbers certainly lend even greater perspective.
In terms of barreling the baseball, 9.1 percent of Nunez’s batted balls are considered “barrels,” a Statcast term that projects a given batted ball to have at least a .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage. In layman’s terms, it means that 9.1 percent of Nunez’s batted balls end in really hard contact and good things happen. Sharing the 25th best “barrel” mark in baseball with Nunez is Cody Bellinger, the current front-runner for National League MVP.
Nunez’s hard-hit rate is in the 81st percentile according to Baseball Savant, with an above average expected slugger number. It’s obvious that Nunez has some juice at the plate. There is no debating that he’s one of the best in baseball at hitting the baseball hard, and hitting it far. One perfect example was this past weekend as the Orioles were in the midst of their rare dominance.
Zach Plesac looks like someone that’s going to be interesting to watch, considering how he hides the baseball so well and has decent-enough stuff at his disposal. But Renato Nunez ate his lunch on a 1-2 slider that Plesac really didn’t miss with, and was the right pitch. The freaky thing is not that Nunez blasted the baseball 105 mph, but that he pulled it so severely. This isn’t a hanging slider over the middle of the plate, but it’s down and away enough that it shouldn’t be redirected into the left-center field gap.
I mean, this ain’t exactly a still-shot of an everyday home run into the Orioles bullpen.
This kind of stupid pull strength and feel for the barrel has benefited Nunez enough that he’ll probably end the year with somewhere around 25 home runs. For a guy that’s been at the forefront of the previous 175 Oriole losses, he’s had more moments than most of his peers.
Even so, how much faith can you have in a one-dimensional swing? So far this year, Nunez has the 10th-highest pull rate in all of baseball at just over 51 percent, pretty much par for his minor league career. His contact and whiff rates are problems, and while he hasn’t chased outside the zone as much he did a season ago, he still chases a lot. Right now, one out of every four plate appearances end in a strikeout.
And as impressive as these pull-or-be-pulled home runs are, it’s all the evidence you need to know that Nunez has one swing. He’s going to pull the baseball with authority, or he’s going to strike out trying.
You can see how defenses overload the left side of the infield, and of his 68 hits this season, only three have been to right field. His on-base percentage is entirely dependent on his batting average, and right now he’s only hitting .239. His current batting average is nearly identical to his xBA of .238, and all of this comes with a BABIP of only .259.
He’s had weird results because he’s a weird hitter. It’s hard to say one way or another if there’s more juice in the Nunez carton because his pros fight as hard as his cons. Is he trade bait for a team looking for someone to provide pop off the bench? He could be, and there may be a sliver of value to be had for what he is. But I don’t think Mike Elias is so short-sighted.
Renato Nunez not only has one of the 50 best average exit velocities in baseball, but he’s also one of the game’s most prolific fly-ball hitters. We’ve seen what happens when he connects with a baseball, and still only 25 years old playing on a team going nowhere anytime soon, he’ll have the opportunity to provide the Orioles with ample evidence of his worth.
While I don’t believe there’s enough value to trade him now, there may be down the road. He hits the ball hard, and there may be a chance he figures a thing or two out. If not, and his 2019 numbers are a gauge for his median or ceiling, he’ll make for a fine designated hitter or bench bat. Or, you know, an everyday bat on a really bad team...
Nunez, like a few of his teammates, piques interest. Considering the Orioles are in no hurry to drastically change the 25-man roster, Nunez is probably going to stay. I don’t expect many of the current Orioles to be Orioles say four years from now, but if there is one that has the tools to see the turnaround come to an end, it could be Nunez.