Fair warning, Yankees fans: Chris Nelson is going to be most valuable for his bat and likely not for his glove.
Based on the samples of data we have (and we’ll acknowledge they’re not large), Nelson’s defensive numbers are not good either at third base or second base. The best thing we can say about them is that they're a little bit better than Eduardo Nunez'.
Nelson was credited with -18 Defensive Runs Saved in 647 innings at third base with the Rockies last season, the worst tally in the majors. Amazingly, another Rockies third baseman (Jordan Pacheco) rated second-worst at -13.
Nelson’s issue last season was fairly simple to grasp -- he didn’t turn batted balls into outs. Baseball Info Solutions charts a stat known as “Revised Zone Rating” which looks at how often a player turns outs on balls that others at his position turn into outs more than half the time.
Nelson’s Revised Zone Rating was .638, second-worst among third basemen, and 80 points below the major-league average of .718.
In 157 innings this season, Nelson’s rating is about the same -- .640, though thus far he’s only been charged with -1 Defensive Runs Saved.
If the Yankees play Nunez and Nelson together on the left side, they may be living dangerously. Nunez, though he’s looked a little better in the field, has been charged with -6 Defensive Runs Saved and has a Revised Zone Rating at shortstop of .612 this season. The major league average at that position is .802.
The numbers aren’t better for Nelson at second base. In just under 400 career innings at that position, Nelson is credited with -12 Defensive Runs Saved. But the likelihood of Nelson playing there with the Yankees is slim to none.
Unless there are more injury issues to deal with in the future.