(As with the rest of our CPBL coverage on the site, we’ll be using the Taiwanese order for player names as is standard across CPBL English-language broadcasts and websites such as CPBL Stats. For example: Jhang Jin-De was known as “Jin-De Jhang” while playing in Minor League Baseball.)
The Fubon Guardians have decided, multiple times within the last couple of years now, that a foreign hitter would suit their ballclub. Just for a moment, let’s ignore all of the questions about whether that’s a good idea or not and take a look at the depth that led to the front office coming to this conclusion.
On one hand, they sure had a lot of infielders already, particularly at the two positions they were targeting. Lee Tsung-Hsien and Lin Yi-Chuan are pretty solidified at shortstop and first base respectively, so we don’t really have to think about that from here. Both are well above average, and they’re going to be in the lineup if they’re healthy.
At third base, it’s been a combination of Chiang Chih-Hsien, Hsin Yuan-Hsu, and Yeh Chu-Hsuan (with Yang Ruei-Cheng also occasionally making a start) – not spectacular, but also not in glaring need of an upgrade. Chiang, unfortunately, recently injured his shoulder on a rough fall running to first base, so it’s unclear when he’ll be ready to return to the lineup.
That leaves second base as the primary position in need of an upgrade, and while they have the quantity of players ready there already, the position does not become a lineup strong point with any of them. Both Chen Kai-Lun and Wang Cheng-Tang are defense-first infielders for the most part, and Yang Ruei-Cheng is best as a strong utility bench player. Early in the year, the team tried adding Yamaico Navarro, but the signing was terminated.
The next course of action was, of course, to sign Eduardo Núñez. Offensively, he’s been a slightly above average player for the five MLB franchises he’s worn the jersey for. His best stretch was 2015-2017, where he produced 4.0 bWAR. His 16 home runs in 2016 were a career high, as was his .313 batting average the following year. Since then, both his power and contact skills have trended down (a disappointing 2019 was essentially the end of his career as an MLB everyday player), and it seemed unlikely that he’d be more than an average major league player in 2021 if given the opportunity.
That’s a significantly different path than the one Rosell Herrera took to Taiwan – the 28-year old Herrera had a great spring for the New York Yankees in 2020 and was set to be in the picture as a AAA option for the team before the cancelled 2020 MiLB season. A good season from Herrera will put him in a decent position to get another MLB Spring Training invite in 2021, in my opinion, whereas Núñez is probably done playing in Major League Baseball.
So, what does Núñez bring to the CPBL?
I have a ton of respect for his MLB career and he’s brought a lot to his teams, including the 2018 World Series champion Red Sox, but if I’m honest, I’m not convinced expectations should be “elite player” for Núñez in 2021.
The bat was why he was brought in, so let’s start there. Ever since the good stretch I mentioned before, his offensive numbers have gone down a worrying path. On the traditional side of things, his batting average and OPS have both tumbled continuously since the start of 2018. He’s never been a big walks guy, but they’ve gone down gradually, and the strikeouts showed a slight trend of climbing.
The slightly puzzling part is that plate discipline wise, the advanced numbers seem reasonably consistent with the status quo for Núñez. I’m looking at the Baseball Info Solutions/FanGraphs numbers for the percentage of times when he swings at pitches outside the strike zone, and they’re mostly consistent with 2016+. The rest of the advanced stats I look at all seem to signal less of a decline than the basic ones, but I think that might just signal that analytics never quite liked Eduardo Núñez as much as the traditional stats. This is supported at Baseball Savant, where his Percentile Rankings are pretty underwhelming.
After a 16-homer year in 2016, he hit 10 in 2018 (127 games) – but he only hit two out in 60 games for the 2019 team. I hate doing this, but if you double that sample size, it mostly matches the 2018 game total, and the homers are still nowhere close. His power has always been a bonus, rather than the reason you sign him, but it’s declining nonetheless. He does not have the power to significantly benefit from a “juiced ball,” which isn’t a factor in CPBL this season anyway, at least not in the first half.
What you decide to make of all of that is up to you. It’s a bit fitting that the more traditionally-minded CPBL was the league with a team that decided he’s a good fit. If I were to summarize, I’d say that he was solidly above the MLB average offensively for a couple of years, but well below in the years both before and after that stretch.
When scaling all of this to the Taiwanese league, it’s not straight-forward. Pitching in CPBL is going to be much more varied in terms of talent, so instead of having to face MLB pitching 100% of the time, he’ll face AAA-to-MLB-level starting talent around half the time (with low-A to AA arms against him the rest of the time). This will obviously help Núñez, and by my eye, he should be able to hit fairly well against the middle tier of starters and the bullpens.
Recent foreign bat comparisons are slim, but here’s two: Herrera is currently batting .279, whereas Roger Bernadina hit .256 throughout his 24 games with the Monkeys in 2019. Herrera’s numbers seem like a decent comparison, as both are hovering around the same area for MLB scouts when it comes to current talent (just not current trend) – and hitting about .280 in the two-spot in the batting order should be a reasonable projection for Núñez. That’s good, but it’s not the massive boost from the Guardians status quo at second base that I suspect many people will be hoping for.
Defensively, Núñez has never been a strong player. His speed has gone from being a major benefit to a decent attribute throughout the years, and he’s had a negative dWAR on Baseball-Reference in every year since 2015. FanGraphs agrees with most of that, but is more generous towards his 2016. Much like his hitting, though, it’s not particularly impressive on an MLB grading scale outside of that stretch. His worst years were before the improvement rather than after, which is something, but I can’t imagine the Guardians will be expecting much improvement on the defensive side of the game 11 seasons into his career.
Considering CPBL defense is not as different as hitting or pitching when compared to MLB, it’s fair to assume that Núñez will likely be an average-to-below-average defender in Taiwan. The Fubon Guardians did not sign him for his defense, and both Chen Kai-Lun and Wang Cheng-Tang will be better options at second base late in games where the team will prioritize it.
If Nunez plays third, it’s going to be a similar situation, but like mentioned earlier, there’s not nearly as seamless a lineup spot for him there unless Chiang Chih-Hsien is out for a significant amount of time.
Here’s the big question – are these expectations enough to warrant a foreign player spot when Manny Bañuelos, J.C. Ramírez, Henry Sosa (injured at the moment), and Mike Loree (dominant in 2021 so far) are the alternatives? It doesn’t seem like it – especially when only three can be active at a time (there’s a big mandatory delay after you send a pitcher down before you can call them back up). The three currently active players are three of the most solid arms in the league right now: I ranked Loree #3 on my April power rankings for CPBL pitchers, with Bañuelos #7 and Ramírez #14.
If anything, Núñez would seem to click more on a potential second-half Fubon Guardians; that team is expected to have Chiang Shao-Ching join the pitching staff following the CPBL first-year player draft. They’re also awaiting the return of Kuo Chun-Lin1 from Tommy John surgery at some point this year. Factor in current starters Chen Shih-Peng and Chiang Kuo-Hao and it’s easier to see why the team would opt to use the foreign player spot for an infielder.
Either way, he’s going to get a chance, given how adamant the team has been about adding a foreign bat, but I’m skeptical of the impact he’ll have in this situation.2
As a small bonus, here’s the Guardians starting rotation depth:
|Mike Loree ¹||R||羅力||39|
|Manny Bañuelos ²||L||邦威||14|
|J.C. Ramírez ³||R||傑斯||66|
|Henry Sosa (Injured) ⁴||R||索沙||44|
1 Thanks to Sean Kramer for making me aware of this.
2 Núñez would seem to be a better fit on a KBO team, where a batter is a more mandatory part of the foreign player system.
- This was originally part of a bigger piece analyzing all of the new foreign player additions to the league this week, but it grew so big that it didn’t make sense to include in the middle of that. I’ll post the rest soon. (will include evaluations for Evan Grills, Takano Keisuke, Esmil Rogers, and the unannounced Rakuten Monkeys arm, as well as an update for each team’s respective overall foreign player scenarios – except for the Guardians, obviously)
- CPBL Depth Charts are now available on the site! Check out the “Baseball” tab at the top of the site, or just click this. They’re manually run, so let me know if you want anything added or notice anything that needs an update. They also include my player power rankings, both positionally for hitters and for pitchers. Thanks to Rob and CPBL Stats for the English player pages that helped make this a reality.