Start with a noodle-scratcher: Elvis Andrus (28) is younger than Eduardo Nunez (29)! Both of them had career years in 2016, but Andrus has four times the number of Major League Baseball plate appearances as has Núñez. Prior to now, they have lived peacefully, independent of one another. Such times are gone. These are dark days. In this week’s Tale of the Tape, Andrus and Núñez fight to the fantasy death. Pray for them.
Andrus hit .302 last season, making it the only among this duo’s 16 combined campaigns that one of them topped 300. Andrus’s career average is .274, Núñez’s is .273, and while Núñez figures to start at third for the Giants, Andrus will start at shortstop for the Rangers, seemingly until the end of time, even if that’s not until, like, January 2020. Last year’s season represented the upper bound of BA for both of them, but if they both were to hit .300 in a twin miracle, there’s a great chance Andrus would do it over 100 more plate appearances. This is a double-edged sword, of course; if Andrus is bad, you’re stuck with him for those 100 PA. But you want any sword in this fight. Advantage: Andrus
Núñez isn’t a huge fan of the free pass. His career OBP is .314, which is not very good, though he did set a career high with 29 walks last season in his first full-ish season in the bigs (after seven years!). Andrus’ career OBP is .335, though it’s a little deceiving. With the exception of last year’s .362 he hasn’t topped .328 since 2012. That’s not great, but it’s two points lower than Núñez’s career high. So yeah. I’m going Elvis. Advantage: Andrus
Núñez clubbed a career-high 16 homers last year between Minnesota and San Francisco, and it smells something of bullshit. Prior to that he hadn’t topped five in a year, albeit largely due to playing time issues, and maybe he’s really gonna do it this year. He can definitely be penciled in for 10 homers if he gets 500 AB, and he’s still the winner here, because Mr. Play-Every-Day down in Texas also set a career high last year, with a not-whopping eight bombs. It’s entirely possible Andrus beats out Núñez, but the latter’s ceiling is considerably higher, even in A(merican)T(elephone) & T(elegraph) Park. Advantage: Núñez
The Rangers are going to score, and Andrus puts up consistent-enough RBI numbers to be useful. Núñez set his career high with 67 last year, less than Andrews, and his prorated numbers from previous seasons would put near or past Andrews if he just got the at-bats, but while the ceiling is a little higher, the floor is lower, and Andrus’ floor is solid. Advantage: Andrus
Núñez has speed to burn, but it hasn’t manifested itself in the tally; even during last year’s breakout he put up fewer runs than Andrus, who had his own big slash line, and in 100 fewer PA than normal. Put him back at a full year and he’s as good a bet to win this category as any. Advantage: Andrus
Here’s where things get interesting. Núñez stole 40 bags last season, which is very good, and better than Andrus’ 24. Andrus has never fallen under 20 for his career, which is also very good, but Núñez’ great year last year and the spectre of more playing time pushes his ceiling way up back toward his 2016 output. We will come back to this category. Advantage: Núñez
Andrus missed time early in 2013 with a tattoo injury and had some groin problems last year but other than that has barely missed a game in his increasingly solid career. Núñez had some hamstring problems at the end of last season, but given Andrus’ resilience he was a loser here from the get-go. Advantage: Andrus
Any sales pitch for Núñez goes through upside, and while I’m not as high on him as others, I’d love to see him play a full season. There’s something there, but I’m not sure we’ve seen enough of it to get carried away. While I see a path where Andrus actually progresses as a hitter as he ages, the known unknown here is Núñez’s true upside, and the win is his simply because it exists in any sort of real quantity. Advantage: Núñez
I didn’t expect to be taking Andrus in this matchup, but here we are. In the end, the confirmation came from steals. In other head-to-head matchups, Núñez’s advantage would be of asymmetric value, but Andrus does plenty enough to dull it on a year-to-year basis. I was already leaning to Andrus before that, but it seals the deal. There’s something in the long-term learning curve of the legitimate every day player that I believe in more than I believe in Núñez’s half-season in Minnesota. When you put it that way, I think this one’s easy. For Núñez’s sake, I hope I’m wrong.
And the winner is… Elvis Andrus.