Eduardo Nunez: Steals Sleeper

Exactly fifty players stole at least 20 bases last season, but only six of them did it in fewer plate appearances that Eduardo Nunez. The Yankees’ reserve infielder swiped 22 bags (in 28 tries) in 2011 while only coming to the plate 338 times, and only four of those steals came as a pinch-runner. The six guys who stole at least 20 bases in fewer plate appearances fit into two basic categories…

Everyday Players in 2012
Dee Gordon (24 SB in 233 PA)
Jason Bourgeois (31 SB in 252 PA)
Desmond Jennings (20 SB in 287 PA)

Non-Everyday Players in 2012
Tony Campana (24 SB in 155 PA)
Eric Young Jr. (27 SB in 229 PA)
Jordan Schafer (22 SB in 337 PA)

Nunez fits somewhere in the middle. His 338 plate appearances last season were largely a function of filling in as an injury replacement for Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez for weeks at a time, though the Yankees liked his production enough — .298/.344/.421 in 125 PA while playing everyday in place of those two — that they found him regular at-bats down the stretch (even sticking him in the outfield on occasion despite no experience there) and insist they will do the same next season. Nunez finished the year with a respectable .265/.313/.385 slash line (respectable in the middle infielder world, I mean), which works out to a .313 wOBA and a 92 wRC+.

A-Rod has spent considerable time in the DL in each of the last four seasons, and the Yankees do give him semi-regular at-bats at DH in an effort to help keep him on the field (apparently it’s not working). The 37-year-old Jeter has been more durable over the last few years than his partner on the left side of the infield, but he’s been spending more and more days at DH in recent years. Manager Joe Girardi calls them “half-days off.” Nunez is in line to take that playing time at third and (especially) short, meaning he could be in line for another 300+ trips to the plate in 2012. All that playing time is poised to equal stolen bases for your fantasy squad.

Now obviously backup infielders aren’t the most sought after commodity in fantasy. Nunez isn’t a guy you’d seek out on draft day or set aside a more than a buck or two for in ottoneu leagues, but he is someone to keep in mind as you monitor the Yankees infield situation. He’s a fine bench piece in AL-only leagues if you watch daily lineups closely, and he could represent a slight upgrade over your current middle infield situation if he’s playing regularly due to injury. It’s not a question of if Nunez will run given his base-stealing track record, just a question of when and if he’ll be in your lineup when he does it.

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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

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Huh. MLBDepthCharts lists Jordan Schafer as the starter in Houston over Jason Bourgeois.