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Eduardo Nunez Lacking Line Drive Luck

When Alex Rodriguez went on the DL for knee surgery back in July, the Yankees had to make due with Eduardo Nunez.  Nunez has had fielding issues and his hitting has been just slightly above replacement level since filling in for A-Rod. 

But it appears he's also been the victim of some bad luck.  Nunez has hit 40 line drives this season and only 20 have fallen in for hits. Of all hit types, line drives translate to hits more than any other. Nunez's .500 line drive BAbip is third worst among all qualified hitters. 

Line Drive Pitch Location
(Click image to enlarge)

Granted, not all line drives are equal, and it's possible that Nunez has simply hit more soft, or looping line drives than normal, which would make it easier for opposing fielders to make a play.  But for the most part, line drives to the outfield, even weak ones, tend to fall in more often than not.  And of the 20 outs that Nunez has made on line drives this season, 14 of them have been recorded in the outfield.

Statistically speaking, it is quite rare for a hitter to maintain a below .500 BABIP on line drives over the course of an entire season (no batter since 2008 has hit below .500 on line drives in play).  More than likely, Nunez could see some correction in this area over the final two months of play.  However, with A-Rod likely to return to the lineup soon, Nunez's line drive troubles probably won't matter much for the Yankees down the stretch. 


Thome Reaches 600 HR Club

In the sixth inning of last night's Twins/Tigers contest, Jim Thome flicked a Rick Porcello fastball over left field wall. One frame later, he went to the opposite field again on a Daniel Schlereth curveball, joining Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa in the 600 home run club. Not bad for a former 13th-round pick who signed for the equivalent of about $27,000 in present-day dollars.

While Thome has pulled his share of moon shots to right field, last night's history-making homers highlight his all-fields slugging. Thome has the second-highest slugging percentage and second-most homers on pitches hit to the opposite field since 2002, according to Fangraphs, with Thome trailing only Ryan Howard in both categories. To center field, Thome has the third-best slugging percentage (behind Howard and Barry Bonds) and has the fourth-most dingers (Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Howard are one through three).

All of those homers hit to center and the opposite field are a product of Thome's ability to thump pitches thrown down the middle and on the outside corner. Since 2008 (the first year for which we have data), Thome has the third-best slugging percentage in the game on middle and away pitches:

Thome's in-play slugging percentage by location on middle and away pitches, 2008-2011

League average in-play slugging percentage by location on middle and away pitches, 2008-2011

Thome's .577 slugging percentage on middle and away pitches from 2008-2011 is bested by that of just Adrian Gonzalez (.587) and Pujols (.608).

Any time a player hits a nice, round milestone, talk tends to turn to his Hall of Fame prospects. The truth is, Thome didn't need to pass the 600 HR threshold to bolster his Cooperstown Credentials.

Thome has been a patient, powerful force at the plate for more than a decade and a half, and his career 71.1 Wins Above Replacement place him between Johnny Bench and Paul Waner for 45th all-time among position players, according to Baseball-Reference. Dozens of guys ranked lower on the list have been elected to the Hall of Fame. When Thome does get the call, his all-fields power will be a major reason.


Delmon Young Takes Disappointing Act to Detroit

In the eight years since the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays made him the first overall pick in the MLB draft, Delmon Young has devolved from franchise cornerstone to principal player in a Tampa/Minnesota challenge trade to a giant disappointment shipped to a division rival for a song. The Twins dealt the soon-to-be-26-year-old to Detroit yesterday for minor league lefty Cole Nelson and a player to be named later.

Young immediately made the Twins pay, popping a home run for the Tigers in the first inning of Monday's game at Comerica Park, but power displays from the outfielder once compared to Albert Belle have all but disappeared in 2011. While he remained a hacker last season, the 6-foot-3, 200-plus pound righty hitter belted 21 home runs while batting .298/.333/.493. Instead of building on that success, Young has hit just five homers this year and has a .269/.309/.369 line while serving separate DL stints for an oblique strain and a sprained ankle.

His strike zone is still Great Lakes-sized...

Young's swing rate by pitch location, 2011

League average swing rate by pitch location, 2011

Young has chased about 40 percent of pitches thrown off the plate, which is up from last year's already-high 37 percent and blows away (in a bad way) the 28 percent league average. But you already know that he's a free-swinger. What's more interesting is that while Young bashed out-of-zone pitches thrown low-and-inside last year, he doing nothing with them in 2011:

Young's in-play slugging percentage by location, 2010      Young's in-play slugging percentage by location, 2011 Maybe Young's power outage this year is mostly the result of his injuries. And it's hard to fault Detroit for adding him for a small cost that carries no long-term commitment (Young is under team control through 2012, and considering his $5.375 million salary this year, he's a prime non-tender candidate). Given how poorly a hobbled, 37-year-old Magglio Ordonez has hit (.228/.283/.299), Young could actually help the Tigers' offense a bit if Mags sits and Young platoons with Andy Dirks in a corner spot. Still, given the value position players drafted first overall typically provide, that's awfully faint praise.