When looking at the Yankees playoff roster, there are about 21 spots that are locked down already and just a few that are up for grabs. One spot that could make for a good debate is the utility infielder spot, and it comes down to Ramiro Pena or Eduardo Nunez.
Pena probably has the upper hand in this battle. He’s been with the team since early last season, while Nunez has only played in 29 big league games. Nunez probably has the advantage with the bat, though.
Pena put up a lowly 79 OPS+ over 115 at bats last season and topped that with a 38 OPS+ in 147 at bats this year. Pena has quite the split, though, and isn’t that bad against righties, putting up a 128 OPS+ against them. Against lefties, he has a -5 OPS+. That’s right: a negative OPS+ against lefties.
Nunez has only gotten 47 at bats in the major leagues, but does have a respectible 88 OPS+. Those numbers stand up, though, because of his success in the minors. This season he only hit .289 with a .721 OPS, but in 2009, he was impressive with a .322 batting average and a .782 OPS.
If one had to hit in a big spot, there wouldn’t be much of a question which you would want there—Nunez. But if it were a righty, it wouldn’t necessarily make a difference.
The thing is, though, if manager Joe Girardi does his job properly, neither will really come up in a big spot where they have to hit. They will, however, be relied upon as a late inning defensive specialist or pinch runner.
When it comes to speed off the bench, that’s probably a push. Neither are burners, but both have decent speed. FanGraphs says that Nunez is the faster one, but only slightly. I don’t put a lot of stock into that, though, because of his small sample size in the major leagues.
When it comes to defense, that’s where the difference comes in, and Pena has the upper hand. He’s got a 4.0 UZR as a third baseman, a 0.9 UZR as a shortstop, and a 0.1 UZR as a second baseman. On the other hand, Nunez has a -0.3 UZR as a shortstop and a -2.3 as a third baseman (he only played one inning as a second baseman and didn’t have a ball hit to him).
As far as speed and the bat, Nunez probably has the advantage here, but the glove might be the most important thing, and Pena has the edge there.
So, who will it be? Who is your choice as the utility infielder the Yankees should go with?