As Yogi Berra’s biographer, I can tell you three things about Mr. Berra:
1. He doesn’t talk much, and when he does, contrary to public perception and AFLAC commercials, when he does say something it usually makes sense.
2. Yogi doesn’t give advice, he tells you what he would do in a particular situation.
3. Well, I forget what number 3 was, but it was something good.
This morning Yogi is being widely quoted as saying “They [the Yankees] better find a way to get that kid 500 at-bats.” “The kid” is Eduardo Nunez, and at 25 years old and after putting together parts of three seasons for the Yankees, he isn’t really a kid any more. But I understand what Yogi is saying.
Last year in 38 games and 100 plate appearances, Nunez hit .292 with an almost respectable OBP of .330 and an even more nearly respectable slugging percentage of .393. He’s not a great hitter, but he seems to be getting better. His power is moderate but promising. In 491 major league at-bats, he has seven home runs and 23 doubles.
He’s valuable in other small ways, too. He grounded into just one double play last year, and he has terrific speed. For his career, he’s stolen 38 bases in 46 attempts, and last year he was 11 of 13.
His problem, of course, is fielding. No matter how hard I try to twist the stats, I can’t make a case that he’s a good fielder at either shortstop or third base. (He’s played 18 game at second base but with Robby Cano there that position would seem to be a most point.) Still, you think that some sort of intensive remedial postseason fielding clinic would be in order to prepare him as a backup for Derek Jeter (who is, after all, 38 this year and is going to need relief in the late innings) or even to play third base, where he is probably a better hitter than Kevin Youkilis.
Still, for all his shortcomings on the left side of the infield, Nunez’s chances per nine innings over the last three years has been just about the same as Jeter’s — a shade over 3.7 chances per nine innings — and even though he hasn’t gotten to as many ground balls on average as Youklis over the last three seasons, remember that Nunez is in his physical prime right now while Youklis, at 34, will probably be fading.
All in all, the Yankees have little to lose by giving Nunez more of a shot — if nothing else, letting him play regularly while Jeter and Youklis take turns at DH-ing, or something like that.
Oh, just remembered the third thing: Yogi is usually right.