Photo Credit: Matt West / Boston Herald
I fully expect Red Sox manager Alex Cora to have third base by committee with Rafael Devers and Eduardo Nunez sharing duties, but the defensive liability certainly exists with either.
Third base has been a special spot of defensive and offensive aggravation for a few seasons. This year Rafael Devers was supposed to solidify the position, but the reality is Devers has been somewhat of a disappointment. Hopefully just the result of youthful exposure to the majors.
Through 9/21 the two apparent contestants for the position are Devers and Eduardo Nunez. Knowing manager Alex Cora I doubt very much either will be stationed at third permanently as the Red Sox march (hopefully) to a World Series ChampioelicitWhat both have in common is gently put as lousy defense.
Nunez has 359 innings at third and a lackluster -4 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), but he does have a respectable 10.0 UZR/150. Devers has managed -11 DRS in his 959.1 innings and a -4.5 UZR/150. Devers also has contributed 23 errors to Nunez’s three. Then there is the offensive contribution.
Devers and Nunez are simply noted hackers, but what I look for is also the ability to provide crucial hits. Both have done so during the season and with some well-recognized extra base clout. A key statistic is hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP) and Nunez is hitting .250 to Devers’s .208.
An outside possibility is Brock Holt, but Holt has just 27 defensive innings at third this season and his -6.9 UZR/150 for his career does not illicit any significant confidence in being a defensive specialist. Holt, however, has exhibited some positives with his at-bats with patience and contact. Holt – a lefty – also has a career .278 average against southpaws. But Cora may view Holt far more valuable for late-inning needs.
What the quandary does represent is a missing ingredient off the Red Sox bench and that is a capable late inning defensive replacement for either Devers or Nunez. If newcomer Brandon Phillips makes the playoff roster cut I am doubtful Phillips can do that.
I fully expect Cora to implement a policy at third that may shift depending on the opponent, game situation, and who may just have a hot hand. If either Nunez or Devers goes on an offensive tear the next six or so games that could give someone a slight advantage. But what worries me is the defense. The late innings with a one-run lead I would be exceedingly nervous on any ball hit to third.