Brandon Nimmo and the Mets’ valuation of OBP

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by

Even if you’re not on the road, it’s good to have guiding principles. Take Sandy Alderson, for instance. We know his guiding principle is that power is of utmost importance, for both hitters and pitchers. We also know that he places a lesser importance on defense. Which isn’t to say he doesn’t value it at all. We do have the five-year contract for Juan Lagares and he’s certainly not here for his offense.

But we were led to believe that one of Alderson’s guiding principles was of the importance of on-base percentage. Unfortunately, when push comes to shove, OBP has been valued on the Alderson Mets on a level much closer to defense than to power. In the past we would have blamed a team’s unwillingness to bat a high OBP guy in one of the first two spots in the order on the manager. But when the GM has stood by the manager for seven years, five of which have been losing campaigns, and nothing has been said – much less done – about fixing the issue, well, the GM at the very least has signed off on it.

Let’s look at the top two guys in the lineup during the Alderson-era Mets.

2011 – The team had Jose Reyes as its primary leadoff guy, a holdover. Reyes turned in an incredible year and had a .384 OBP. The second spot in the order was a revolving door all year long. It would have been nice to see Daniel Murphy and his .362 OBP in that spot but he was moved up and down in the lineup all year.

2012 – With Reyes gone, the leadoff spot in ’12 resembled the second spot in ’11, with Ruben Tejada and his .333 OBP getting the most time with 78 games batting first. It should be pointed out that Andres Torres, an Alderson acquisition, was the team’s Opening Day leadoff hitter. Prior to joining the Mets, Torres had a lifetime .318 OBP and he was coming off a year with a .312 mark in the category. The second spot was a revolving door, much like it was in ’11. Murphy and his .332 mark saw the most time.

2013 – Alderson acquisition Collin Cowgill got the Opening Day nod at leadoff but didn’t last long. Mid-season pickup Eric Young Jr. and his .318 OBP got the bulk of the leadoff time. Murphy logged 113 games in the second spot but had just a .319 mark. But it’s not like there were a ton of good options.

2014 – Young and his .299 OBP saw the most action at the leadoff spot, although Curtis Granderson (.326) and Lagares (.321) also saw a lot of time batting first. Murphy was the primary second hitter and he notched a .332 mark this season.

2015 – Granderson logged 138 games as the team’s leadoff hitter, easily the most games to date of anyone. He had a .364 OBP this year. Five different players saw at least 20 games batting second, led by Tejada’s 39 games. David Wright, who always ran high OBPs, batted second 24 times and given that he had just 38 starts, he spent the majority of his time in the two-hole. Wright had a .379 OBP.

2016 – Granderson began the season in the leadoff spot but was unable to duplicate his numbers from a year ago. The club brought back Reyes and he saw 60 games in the top spot. The former had a .335 OBP and the latter a .326 mark. Wright batted second when he was healthy but Asdrubal Cabrera and his .336 OBP saw the most time second.

2017 – Reyes started the year batting leadoff and was absolutely dismal. In perhaps the best move of his managerial career, Terry Collins installed Michael Conforto in the leadoff spot and the offense responded with a terrific 5.7 runs per game in the month of May. With Conforto on the DL and Granderson on the Dodgers, Collins has used Reyes and Nori Aoki in the leadoff spot. Cabrera and Reyes have gotten most of the time in the second slot of the order.

We see that the Mets haven’t had great options for the top of the order in most years here recently. Sure, there was Reyes in ’11 and Granderson in ’15 and Conforto in ’17. But whether by (bad) luck or design there just haven’t been multiple people with .350+ OBP to choose from to bat first and second. But here in the bitter end of the year, the Mets have that option and are choosing not to deploy him, which is pretty frustrating.

Brandon Nimmo has a .401 OBP and last night he batted sixth, the same spot he hit the previous game. He’s led off in just seven of his 32 starts. To be fair, he shouldn’t have been leading off before the end of August, as the Mets had an outstanding candidate in Conforto and Nimmo was establishing himself as a guy who could get on base at a regular clip.

But Conforto last led off on August 9 and played his last game on August 24. By the 24th, Nimmo had a .391 OBP. He actually did lead off the game of the 25th and went 1-3 with two walks and two runs scored. And then for some reason he batted eighth in the next game and was atop the order just one time since.

If Alderson and the Mets truly valued OBP, Nimmo would be batting first or second and not sixth. He has batted second seven times since Conforto’s season-ending injury. Yet he’s batted fifth or lower nine times since then.

In a time when wins and losses no longer hold the primary focus of the club, the final six weeks should be used to find out about guys. But instead of giving the 24-year-old, former first-round pick a shot to establish himself as a leadoff hitter, the Mets are playing a 34 year old and a 35 year old in the top two spots. And neither of those two guys are better than 50-50 to be back next season.

Reyes had his magical ’11 season but other than that, his career high in OBP is the .358 mark he put up in 2008. In the past four years and 1,973 PA, he has a .320 OBP. Aoki is better with a lifetime .350 OBP. But in addition to his age, Aoki is arbitration-eligible and he makes $5.5 million this year. Wouldn’t it be better to find out if Nimmo, a pre-arb guy, could hold down Aoki’s spot in 2018?

The way this season turned out has been a giant disappointment in 20 different ways. As terrible as it’s been, it also created the perfect storm to create value for Nimmo, a guy that you would expect the organization to have a vested interest in, seeing how he was the very first draft pick under the Alderson regime.

Two outfielders traded and two outfielders on the disabled list created a spot for Nimmo, one which any non-partial observer would conclude he’s taken advantage of entirely. Since becoming a full-time starter on August 18, Nimmo has an .827 OPS. So why is he placed in a less favorable spot for his skill set than Aoki?

This is nothing against Aoki, who was a shrewd pickup and a guy who has performed well since joining the Mets. But what Aoki does, Nimmo has done better. So why are the Mets giving preferential treatment to a guy on his third team this year and seventh overall in his six-year MLB career over their own first-round pick who’s also 11 years younger?

This may seem to you a lot of complaining for very little reason. Except that it’s a continuation of a pattern whereby a guy from outside of the organization is always seen as preferable to a guy scouted, signed and developed by the home team. It doesn’t make any sense to operate this way, unless you believe your scouts and development people are horrible. And if somehow this is the case, replace them already. It’s also another data point to show how the team really feels and values OBP.

The Nimmo pick was controversial from the start and has only been made to look worse in the ensuing years, as injuries stunted his growth and guys picked behind him went on to establish themselves as stars. You would think the organization would be thrilled with his play in the majors this year and look to cash in to whatever little extent that they could on his success.

Instead they bat his .401 OBP sixth and you never hear his praises being sung in the mainstream media or even MetsBlog. Shoot, we’ve heard more about the end of the season being an opportunity for Lagares to re-emerge as a candidate as a starter. Since Lagares returned from the DL on August 11, he has a .213/.265/.323 line in 137 PA. There just isn’t enough lipstick you can put on that particular pig – it’s just ugly.

And yet the myth that Alderson and the Mets value OBP continues.

26 comments for “Brandon Nimmo and the Mets’ valuation of OBP

  1. Jimmy P
    September 20, 2017 at 10:44 am

    Batting Nimmo 6th is insane. It ignores his major (and only) strength.

    Say what we will, the guy gets on base at a terrific rate. If he can keep it up, he could score a lot of runs. (But not in the 6-spot.)

    What’s so hard to figure out?

  2. Jimmy P
    September 20, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    Since I’m having this conversation with myself:

    I sometimes think that maybe TC is trying to teach Nimmo to be a different kind of hitter. Swing more aggressively, look to drive the ball, be an RBI guy. The same way he keeps trying — I think, maybe — to “teach” Smoker (and before him: Edgin) to become a LOOGY.

    But that would be insane, right?

    I mean, Nimmo has been this way since the day the Mets drafted him. You don’t bring him up to the majors and tell him to change. Right? Of course not.

    So then I”m left with the original thought. It’s just insane. Doesn’t want to disrupt Reyes, etc.

    Oh, sigh. I want games to only last 8 innings and seasons to end as soon as possible.

    • September 20, 2017 at 12:38 pm

      My opinion is that TC is managing in a way that he believes is going to maximize wins for the team. And he sees Reyes and Aoki as hot and as veterans they get the prime spots in the batting order.

      I feel like Nimmo is only playing because Collins doesn’t have another option. And Nimmo’s place in the order is determined solely by who else is in the lineup, rather than any skill he brings to the table.

      So, I agree with your original point – it’s insane.

    • Rae
      September 21, 2017 at 2:39 am

      Nimmo should be batting 2nd. The tandem of a Rosario then Nimmo batting order in the 1 and 2 slots just makes sense. Remember, this is the Mets we are talking about, and they very rarely, if ever, make sense. If a healthy Cespedes bats in the 3 hole with a recovering, and also healthy Conforto batting 4th this looks like a decent starting lineup to me. I have either Flores or T.J. Rivera batting 5th with either Cabrera or Phillip Evans batting 6th, and playing 3B. I think Nimmo and Lagares share CF duties with Nimmo being the primary CFer. Conforto stays in RF and Cespedes remains in left. My other outfield backup is Aoki as the dude bats above 270 without much power but he, like Nimmo, gets on base. That has become a lost art in the MLB in 2017. Smith bats 7th with either Plawecki, Nido or Maizeka batting 8th. d’Arnaud has got to be traded as we all know he just can’t throw any runners out. I’d stick with Plawecki, have Nido backing up until Maizeka is ready for the MLB. I love that Maizeka is a left bat with power and the ability to hit for average. This catching duo might just be what the Mets need. Then again, we are talking about the Mets who have so many ways of F__king things up.

  3. Pete from NJ
    September 20, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    I wasn’t going to comment simply because everything written above is right on point.

    Of course Nimmo takes what seems like too may call 3rd strikes but he’s the future while Aoiki sure can slap hits buts seems too expensive as a back up plan(for Conforto) and lefty pinch hitter. Add a very weak arm and done.

    Brian I know Travis Traijeron is not on your favorite list but I prefer seeing him and the rest of the 51s play in Queens.

    Obviously TC is being loyal to his veterans. They have relationships and TC goes down with the ship with them.

  4. Eraff
    September 20, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    I believe Nimmo will become more selectively aggressive…if he’s going to be more than a 4th/5th outfielder.

  5. Pete In Iowa
    September 20, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    From what little I’ve seen, Nimmo is a good player. Comparing him to Lagares, it is not even close. Sure, Lagares is a better fielder, but Nimmo is an adequate defender and a much. much. much better hitter. To not have him hitting at the top of the order in these completely meaningless games at the expense of Reyes and Aoki is not only insane, but completely unforgivable.
    What’s all this crap about the $7 – $8 million Aoki would get being too high a price for a fourth (or fifth) outfielder?? If you profess to be a competitive club, that price these days is not out of line to put a professional hitter and professional defender (which he has certainly shown himself to be in his small, but growing, sample size with the Mets) on your club — no matter if he doesn’t start. It’s called depth and that is the price to pay for quality depth.

  6. Eraff
    September 20, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    I would not tender Aoki at 7 million…I would entertain bringing him back at attractive terms if he emerges as a fit against their other roster changes

    • Rae
      September 21, 2017 at 2:51 am

      Aoki is worth 7 mil cuz he gets on base and will hit somewhere between 270-to-280. Remember, he is a bench player. I know he does not have a great arm nor is he great in the field but he has a little bit of speed, can steal a bag on occasion, and the Mets having a bench player that is able to get on base really should work for the team.

      • Jimmy P
        September 21, 2017 at 7:49 am

        Mets just shed Granderson’s annual $15 million per year contract. They should be looking to spend in that area for an everyday outfielder. Wasting $7 million on Aoki — who is a waiver wire guy — would be a luxury this team can’t afford. Bruce made $13 million this season, another contract shed, and the market was tepid on him last winter. Cain might be a fit.

        Settling on Aoki would be a statement that the team is not trying.

  7. Chris F
    September 20, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    I find it hard to get excited about a one dimensional player, whose dimension is base on balls. He not much of a hitter, and defensively he is ahead of Flores but will regularly be beat. He has an arm comparable to Granny. So what to do with him? He is a liability in CF, and has pretty low potential to be a hitting corner OF. If he plays RF, it puts one of our real hitters (Conforto) in CF, where he does not belong because of the difficulty of the position in the field. If you put Nimmo in CF, you get someone who is not a gifted defensive player in charge of Cespedes and Conforto. I dont like that at all. This is another case of the square peg round hole players we have.

    • Jimmy P
      September 20, 2017 at 5:03 pm

      I mostly agree with this — and can’t disagree — but he has demonstrated an uncanny knack for getting on base. At the top of the order, with a decent middle, he could be an interesting player. An .800 OPS doesn’t seem impossible, given a little time.

      And before we go to the comparable, I don’t think there have been many players like him. And while I have doubts about his approach — and wonder if he’ll continue to get walks — I’m a little impressed with what he’s done. I think he has a slim margin where he makes it, but that margin, for me at least, has gotten a little wider this past month. It’s possible.

      As for boring, oh hell yes.

    • September 21, 2017 at 9:54 am

      I think there’s plenty of room defensively between Lagares and Flores. Just because a player isn’t as good defensively as Lagares – it doesn’t make Flores the next comp. Nimmo is a fine corner OF who can play CF if needed.

      I have no problem with Conforto playing CF the next couple of years. He says he likes playing center and the numbers in his brief sample match the eye test – he catches everything he gets to. I’d say his fielding in CF in 2017 > Asdrubal Cabrera’s fielding at SS in 2016.

      His arm is not as good as Lagares. It’s better than Granderson’s. Again, there’s a middle ground between these two players.

      No matter who plays CF, they don’t direct Cespedes. Every CF has deferred on balls in the gap to Cespedes, including Lagares.

      • Jimmy P
        September 21, 2017 at 10:24 am

        The Kipnis experiment in CF with the Indians is worth keeping an eye on.

        Indians were kind of forced into this solution.

        While I’ve long been a “defense matters” advocate, the game has shifted to an extreme. We’re seeing fewer balls in play, more “true outcomes.”

        I think it’s one of those deals where it works well . . . until it suddenly doesn’t work — epically, horribly — on a single play. The bean counters will have to do the math on that one. The core fact is that a CFer in today’s game has less to do than ever before.

        But!

        • September 21, 2017 at 10:45 am

          To me the point where defense matters is by being able to convert the plays that should be made. That’s why Flores kills me. I don’t care that he doesn’t have elite range. But when a pitcher gets a guy to hit a grounder within a step or two of the fielder, we need that fielder to reach the ball, make the throw and convert the out, preferably without the 1B having to perform gymnastics. Asdrubal Cabrera in 2016 is the poster boy for this. He made all of the plays he was able to reach.

          I think the Mets have that level of OF defense without having to utilize Lagares as a full-time guy. They absolutely did not have it in the infield in 2017. I think Rosario will be a huge upgrade. I’d like to see guys at 2B and 3B who can fit this bill. Is either Cabrera or Reyes that type? I’m pretty sure Reyes is not that at 3B. He might be at 2B. I could see Cabrera being that guy again once removed from SS. But he’s never been my favorite guy, so I certainly wouldn’t be heartbroken if the Mets went in another direction.

      • TexasGusCC
        September 21, 2017 at 10:44 pm

        Jimmy and Brian, I will answer both in one post, but I won’t debate every detail as opinions always vary.

        Jimmy, I’ll go straight to my point about the OBP difference between Vlad and Duda. A middle of the order hitter that has a .100 point increase in OBP would be great if he was hitting .300. However, seeing a .243 lifetime average tells me he wasn’t the run producer the Mets had been content with, but they were because of the walk stat. Vlad was a HoF talent that swung the bat and only had a .061 difference between avg. and OBP. You guys can tell me all about the teams and leaders in walks, but if they cannot get lots of hits, they won’t win. Waiting to collect four walks to score a run doesn’t even work in T-Ball.

        Brian, I would begrudgingly take that from Nimmo as a place setter, but not a middle of the order guy. Problem with the Mets, is they don’t mind it from anyone. But, I completely agree that whenever the fat pitch comes, the hitter should hammer it.

        • September 21, 2017 at 11:39 pm

          Just because TC is batting Nimmo in power positions doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Any team should be happy to add a .370 OBP guy to their lineup. A .370 OBP would be tied for the 28th-best mark in the majors among qualified hitters.

  8. JIMO
    September 20, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    I like what I’ve seen of Nimmo. I think there is a spot for him on the 2018 roster. I think that’s the best we can do. Hopefully, TC is gone next year and we get a slightly different managerial mind-set. If Nimmo gets a roster spot and earns playing time based on his performance, I’m ok with that.

    I like Aoki too as roster depth.

  9. Steve Semeraro
    September 20, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    It’s funny how people can adopt a view of a player and ignore statistics. If you project Nimmo’s stats over a full season you get 30 doubles & 15-20 home runs. Not exactly the punch and judy hitter that people make him out to be. He’s also been a 300+ hitter in the minors and could grow into that in the majors, particularly as a platoon player. He’s also fast and his outfield defense has been fine. He’d be a better center field then Conforto. Platooning Nimmo and Largares in center would not be a bad option.

  10. Metsense
    September 20, 2017 at 11:06 pm

    Brandon Nimmo has an elite batting eye and at 24 already knows the strike zone, He was second in the PCL in batting with a 352 BA in 2016. He has all of 248 major league.at bats and is just a babe who is learning how to hit major league pitching . He should become a better hitter with more experience and currently has an above average OPS for a right fielder. The Mets should be grooming him because at this point they have nothing to lose and so much to gain.. He should be leading off and the fact that he doesn’t is the managers mistake. It just doesn’t make sense.

  11. TexasGusCC
    September 21, 2017 at 12:22 am

    I’m glad to hear Brian point out how our youth gets screwed due to lack of respect for our own organization. It’s an old story that goes back to signing Rick Ankiel when the worst team in baseball cut him after he had a 50% strikeout rate and promising him a starting job. Problem is Alderson promises all these free agents playing time. Did it with Chris Young; did it with Bobby Abreu; did it with Asdrubal Cabrera.

    As a statistic, OBP is good if used correctly. By definition, a walk is a passive result and relies on the pitcher making a mistake. That to me, is not a winning attitude, it’s a losing attitude. In sports, teams win by being fundamentally sound, opportunistically aggressive, and smart. Unfortunately, only the smart applies to the Mets, but that may be a biased opinion.

    For example, Lucas Duda having a .340 career OBP is close to Vladimir Guerrero’s .379. But, their production is more than .039 points apart, it may have been .539 points because Duda is not a run producer. Teams win by out scoring the other team. How can they out score them if they insist on waiting for the other team to give it to them?

    It may be the fault in OBP’s mentality that has made Alderson call it “pitch hunting”, which we’ve heard over and over. It’s good for certain batting spots to be OBP focused, but those middle guys have to do damage. It would be great to have two .400 OBP guys in the top two spots, but after that, the boys need to be hitters.

    The Nationals strength is all their guys hit for a high average and power; a pitcher’s nightmare. Remember what the Dodgers did to the Mets in LA? Remember the walks? Um, I sure don’t. I remember lots and lots of hits, homeruns galore, stolen bases… just a complete butt kicking. By the time it was over, the Mets wanted to hide and Dodgers were just swinging away and laughing.

    • Jimmy P
      September 21, 2017 at 8:21 am

      I think there’s a lot of confusion in this comment. Some things correct, other parts wildly wrong.

      1st paragraph: Yes, fine, except I wouldn’t fit Cabrera into the category of guys like Ankiel and Abreu, who were waiver guys. They were given a shot, not really “promised” much. Mets signed Cabrera to a 2-year contract with an option for a 3rd. The intention was always for him to play.

      2nd paragraph: No, not exactly, that’s a “definition” that doesn’t really exist. Clearly the pitcher has the ultimate control over whether a hitter walks or not, but obviously hitters can strongly influence the situation. We see this with hitters who walk a lot, consistently, and those who don’t. To a real extent, walks are “earned” and are often a result of approach and plate discipline. It’s a complicated dance between pitcher and batter. See: Nimmo, Brandon. Or: Baseball, MLB. It’s wildly inconsistent (and nonsensical) to champion teams that are, in your words, “opportunistically aggressive” and then slam the Mets for “pitch hunting.”

      I think you severely underestimate the difference from a .340 OBP and a .380 OBP. Those are not even close. Guerrero is a HoF talent. It’s just a weird comparison to me, one that doesn’t hold up or add value to your point. I mean, sure, it’s great to have a hitter like Vlad. Did his winning approach ever see a WS game?

      Paragraph 4: Okay, sure. “The boys need to be hitters.” Most of the OBP leaders tend to be those “boys” in the middle. Also, not sure you realize how rare it is for any top of the order guy to have a .400 OBP.

      Paragraph 5: I just looked it up. The Dodgers lead all of baseball in walks! So think about how wrong you are about that. The Mets are 16th, right in the middle. In OBP, Mets are 20th. In Runs, Mets are 18th. Most studies show a close correspondence with OBP and Runs Scored. Mets lead NL in HRS, for example (6th overall).

      Conclusion: Walks are not the enemy. You are titling against windmills. But, definitely, you are right: teams need BA, XBH, HR, too. In real baseball, batters who do damage — hit for power — tend to earn walks. I can’t blame the organization’s hitting philosophy for what’s going on these days. It’s a talent problem that manifests itself in countless categories.

    • September 21, 2017 at 10:13 am

      JP covered most of my objections to your post. One thing I want to add is that the ideal offensive strategy is to look for a pitch you can drive and do damage once you get that pitch. If the first pitch is a cripple fastball, by all means swing away! No one should be concerned about swinging at a fat pitch because it will eliminate your chance to get a walk.

      The other part is to not swing at pitches that aren’t strikes. How many times did we lament at Ike Davis swinging at pitches a foot or more out of the strike zone?

      If you go up there looking for a pitch to drive while also being conscious of only swinging at strikes, the end result will be some walks. And while not as preferable as a double in the gap, it’s far, far, far better than making an out by swinging at pitches out of the strike zone.

      We can argue if Nimmo is being aggressive enough. Since he became a full-time player on 8/25, he has a .271/.402/.447 line. Yes, the hits are falling in. But he also has a .176 ISO. For a guy who’s calling card is OBP, an ISO that high is a terrific thing. Of course it’s a small sample of just 107 PA.

      Let me ask you a question. If the Mets went into 2018 with Nimmo as a starting OF and over a full season he put up a .250/.370/.400 line — would you be happy with that? That’s essentially a league average OF for minimum wage, allowing the team to allocate resources elsewhere.

      I’d sign up for that.

      • Jimmy P
        September 21, 2017 at 10:36 am

        Yes, I’d take it. Particularly if he batted 1st or 2nd in the order. Where, obviously, he must bat. The value is in the OBP.

        A real shame he couldn’t stick in CF.

        He has surprised me.

        One other side note: The cliche has always been about “protection” in the lineup, with the focus entirely on who is batting behind someone. But I’ve come to believe in the reverse. That is, the biggest impact on how you pitch to a batter is the situation on the basepaths.

        For example: I’d bat Conforto 3rd and Cespedes 4th, so I’ll configure it that way. Runner on first (Nimmo), one out, Conforto at the plate. Pitcher has to deal with him. Two outs, no one on base, totally different situation.

        Interestingly, or ironically, the best thing about Nimmo walking is that it helps achieve the desired result of Conforto and Cespedes not walking. In caps, “not.”

        We want a guy who walks so our better hitters won’t be walked!

        What a game, baseball.

        I remember figuring all this out while watching Barry Bonds. There were times you had to pitch to him, and it was always dependent upon the situation when he stepped up to the plate — never on who was after him in the lineup.

        • September 26, 2017 at 1:40 pm

          Somehow I missed this when you first wrote it. I agree wholeheartedly and it’s just too bad that we don’t have the opportunity to see this dynamic in action right now with the C & C boys both on the shelf.

  12. Eraff
    September 21, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    I like Nimmo a little bit…and I don’t see it as such a major leap or change that he would become situationally oportunistic while remaining cautious and selective as a hitter. I believe it will be a very natural growth pattern.

    I’ve always been interested in his “good eye for balls and strikes”, versus his high K rate. I am guessing that his contact gets “Bigger and Better” as he becomes more situational/opportunistic.

    I’m not a Major fan of assuming a Nimmo/Lagares Platoon….but I believe Nimmo makes for a great 4/5 OF option…maybe an earned platoon. Give me Jay B….and Nims/Lego as 4/5….I can like that.

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