On top of his defensive prowess, Mike Zunino brings the potential for a home run with every swing. While he strikes out so much that Adam Dunn would be like, “Woh, he strikes out too much.” The hope remains that he can make enough tweaks to hit above .200.
In seven Major League seasons, Zunino has exactly one season with an average higher than .214. He has three seasons with an average under .200. His CAREER batting average is .202. His career on-base percentage (.271) is just high enough to be a “pretty good” batting average.
When it comes to Zunino, his defense is the appeal. It is like in the classic movie, Brother Solomon, when John Solomon (Will Arnett) explains to his date (Jenna Fischer) “your face makes up for your body.”
In this case, Zunino’s defense is her face, and his offense is her body. Really, the character was an idiot and this is in no way a commentary on anyone’s body, especially Jenna Fischer’s. However, the movie is one of the greatest of all time. It often goes overlooked, similar to the value that Mike Zunino brings to a baseball team.
So what’s the upside? That one year: 2017. Zunino hit .251/.331/.509 with 25 HRs and 64 RBIs in just 387 ABs. He posted a 3.4 WAR that season. Despite all the years of horrid offense, he only has two career seasons of a negative WAR, and they were close (-.1 and 0.7) to breaking even.
Another reason for optimism is his exit velocity last season. Zunino saw a small dip, but he still averaged a very respectable 88.4 mph. He’s still got pop, he just needs to make a little (a LOT) more contact. After re-signing with the Rays, Zunino immediately made contact with Tampa’s hitting coach, Chad Mottala, and presumably begged and pleaded with him to begin work on his swing, like yesterday!
With a renewed focus on his swing, and a full season of familiarity with the Rays’ talented pitching staff under his belt, they believe that Zunino can return to form as a serviceable hitter.