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Strikeouts plagued Dom Nuñez in his first full big league season

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The back-up catcher supplied power but not much else

Welcome to the 2021 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2021. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

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No. 41, Dom Nuñez: -0.5 rWAR

Nearly a year ago, the Rockies decided they wanted more out of the catching position and non-tendered catcher Tony Wolters. It was a move that signaled two things: that the Rockies wanted more of an offensive impact from both of their catchers and that they believed Dom Nuñez was ready for a role at the major league level.

Now with his first full MLB season in the books, Nuñez has his work cut out for him this offseason after a challenging 2021.

Being limited to facing mostly right-handed pitchers all year, the 26-year-old from Elk Grove, California slashed .189/.293/.399 with ten home runs and 33 RBI in 2021. His power has never been in question — he continues to show that he’s always a threat to go out of the park — but he’s struggled with a high strikeout rate.

Among catchers with at least 200 plate appearances this season, Nuñez ranked third-worst in the major leagues with a 34.6 K%. If you watched any of his at-bats this year, you know it’s not because of a lack of plate discipline. In fact, among that same group of catchers just mentioned, Nuñez had the third-best walk percentage at 12.9% and the eighth-lowest O-Swing %, meaning his discipline is already amongst the best in catchers. Considering his age and experience, that’s a majorly underrated part of his game.

Instead, what jumps out at you during Nuñez’s at-bats is the swing-and-misses. He’s amongst the lowest catchers in the league in making contact in just 69.5% of his swings. He’s a fastball hitter, but when pitchers threw anything else at him, it was almost a 50/50 chance of him swinging and missing (46.4 whiff % on breaking pitches, 39.4 whiff % on off-speed). Obviously, he’s gotta find ways to put the ball in play more if he’s ever going to be a big contributor on offense.

Like a majority of the Rockies, Nuñez saw his numbers improve in the second half of the season — hitting for a quiet .816 OPS since the All-Star break. From August on, Nuñez did manage to lower that strikeout rate to 27% and saw his batting average rise to .234 in that time.

Defensively, in 622 innings behind the plate, he was worth -6 DRS. He committed three throwing errors alongside six passed balls and 30 wild pitches. He had 54 runners go on his watch with 43 of them successfully stealing a bag, meaning he caught 11 of them for a 20% caught-stealing percentage — just below the league average of 25%.

Framing wise, Nuñez was worth zero runs from extra strikes (Statcast calculates this by converting strikes to runs on a .125 run/strike basis and adjusts per park/pitcher). On pitches just outside the zone, Nuñez converted 47.1% of those non-swing pitches into called strikes. That 47% strike rate ranked him 42nd in the league and was identical to his teammate Elias Díaz.

Overall, Nuñez remained with the big league club all season mainly because there was nobody immediately behind him. This allowed him to get a first-rate education of being a major league catcher and facing major league pitching. Under Bill Schmidt’s new leadership, it’s possible he could shake things up at catcher, but either way Nuñez now enters a critical offseason in his career.