Going Deep: Clearly We Need to Talk About Renato Nunez
“I’m working on a Going Deep piece on Renato Nunez,” I said to my other Pitcher List writers, writing a sentence I would have never thought in a thousand years I would write.
But here I am; here we are together. With a piece on Renato Nunez. That you are voluntarily reading (I hope).
Why are we talking about Renato Nunez? Well, because the guy has absolutely been mashing the ball. If you happen to be on Twitter and follow our own Colin Charles (and if you don’t, you should), you may know that he often posts a list of the previous day’s leaders in exit velocity.
And if you take a look at what Nunez has been doing so far this season, you’ll see that he’s currently sitting at a .239/.289/.482 slash line with 13 home runs, 28 runs, and 32 RBI. If he plays a full season, that puts him on pace for about 33 home runs, 72 runs, and 82 RBI. That’s a pretty good season from a guy who’s currently 83% available and wasn’t even considered remotely a fantasy option at the start of the year.
Nunez’s Success So Far
Coming into the season, Nunez was essentially seen as a warm body to fill a rebuilding Baltimore Orioles roster that still needs to field a semi-competent team on its way to another 100-loss season.
He’s a former prospect of some modest repute, spending seven years in the Oakland Athletics’ system as essentially a Quadruple-A player. In 2017 in Triple-A, he had himself a solid season, slashing .249/.319/.518 with 32 home runs, and the year before, also in Triple-A, saw a .228/.278/.412 slash line with 23 home runs.
So power, at least in Triple-A, is within Nunez’s profile, but we’ve never seen anything like this from him in the majors. Last year in 73 games with the A’s and Orioles, Nunez slashed .258/.322/.419 with eight home runs. By the time he hits 73 games this year, he’s on pace for more than twice that number of home runs.
So clearly something is going on; the question is: What is it, and is it sustainable?
My answer is yes, I think his power is sustainable, because it’s pretty clear Nunez has made a change in his approach. I think that’s pretty clear given his batted-ball power numbers.
His HR/FB rate is sitting at a career-best 19.1% and is accompanied by a career-best 43% hard-hit rate (according to Baseball Info), as well as a Statcast hard-hit rate of 46.1%, another career-best, and a 14.8% barrel rate—again, another career-best.
Oh, and that barrel rate? It’s good for 28th-best in all of baseball, ahead of guys such as Ronald Acuna, Cody Bellinger, and Bryce Harper. In fact, the power numbers on his Statcast page are beautiful.
Sooooo … What Is Going On?
So what changed? His batting stance and his swing are the same; what’s changed is where he’s hitting the ball. Specifically, he’s pulling the ball more than he ever has before, and it’s been working beautifully.
Right now, his pull rate sits at a career-high 52.8%, and his opposite field rate is sitting at a career-low 19%. For reference, that pull rate is good for the seventh-highest in baseball (Wil Myers leads the league with a 60% pull rate).
That’s a good thing for Nunez because when he pulls the ball, he hits really well, and when he hits to the opposite field, he hits like hot garbage.
When Nunez pulls the ball, he’s the best hitter around. When he hits to the opposite field, he’s godawful.
It should be absolutely no shock, then, to learn that the vast majority of Nunez’s home runs so far this season have been to left field.
It’s fairly simple: That’s all Nunez is doing—pulling the ball more. Either he realized on his own, or he realized with the help of the Orioles new analytics department, that the best way for him to hit is by pulling the ball as much as humanly possible.
So now the question is: Do you pick him up in your fantasy league? And that’s a bit of a trickier question because while the guy can hit a bunch of home runs, he also hits a bunch of garbage, as you can see by his launch angle chart:
It’s kind of all over the place. In a weird way, I think that’s sort of a good thing for Nunez because what’s the first thing you worry about with a guy who pulls the ball a ton? He’s going to get shifted. But if all of Nunez’s pulled hits are either rocket balls or nothing, the shift probably isn’t going to have a big effect on him.
That being said, that makes him a tricky guy for fantasy. That OBP absolutely sucks, and that’s thanks in part to the fact that he hasn’t found a pitch he doesn’t like to swing at, as evidenced by his awful 5.2% walk rate.
That .239 average isn’t so great either, and his xBA doesn’t look a whole ton better at .249, though that’s a lot easier to stomach.
Ultimately, I think Nunez will be useful in 12-team and deeper average leagues (he’s almost a liability in OBP leagues) if you need power. I believe this power can keep up, and if he ends the year batting about .240 with 30-plus home runs, I wouldn’t be shocked at all.
Given how much the Orioles suck, the counting stats won’t be great, but could he turn in a season similar to what Matt Olson or Travis Shaw did last year? Yeah, I think that’s doable, and that’s definitely a useful fantasy player.
Illustration by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)