Perception and reality for Brandon Nimmo and the Mets

Brandon Nimmo has a perception problem. And since we all know that perception dictates reality, well, you can see how this might be an issue. The perception is that he was a bust of a draft pick who doesn’t do anything really well. While he might be just fine as a fourth outfielder, he’s not good enough to play center field on a regular basis and neither the bat nor glove are all that special in an outfield corner. In part – not totally – this led the Mets to sign right fielder Jay Bruce to a 3-year contract in the offseason.

The Mets have Bruce for three more years, Yoenis Cespedes for three more years and Michael Conforto for five more seasons. Plus they’re paying a lot of money to Juan Lagares to be a backup. Lagares is a Gold Glove caliber defender in center, too, giving him a trump card that Nimmo simply doesn’t have. Plus Lagares looked to re-work his offensive game in the offseason and it would be wise to see if that can produce any positive results. A player with his defensive chops who could provide … something … on offense would be nice to see.

So where does that leave Nimmo?

A fourth outfielder plays more than you think. With the injury woes of Cespedes and Conforto, a fourth outfielder on the 21st Century Mets may play more than a fourth OFer on another team. Back in the offseason prior to 2014, a study was done on games played for Mets OFers over a 10-year span. The average in that period was the fourth OFer making 59 starts. But if both Lagares and Nimmo have a claim to be the fourth outfielder – what then?

The easy answer is to let Lagares and Nimmo fight it out while Conforto is on the shelf to start 2018. But the latest is that Conforto will be back by May 1 and there are even suggestions that he’s ahead of schedule. But if it is May 1, that leaves 28 games to evaluate the duo, to see who should have the leg up for the fourth OF spot.

The old adage is not to trust stats from April or September. But the easy answer has the Mets using some sub section of 28 games in April to do that with Nimmo. So, why are those 28 games more valuable than the last 28 games of 2017? And even if you believe that the caliber of players on the field in April is exponentially better than what’s on the field in September, is that still the sample size you want to use?

When is it enough games?

We saw something along these same lines with Daniel Murphy back in 2015. Everyone remembers how he went wild in both the NLDS and NLCS that year. What gets lost in that shuffle is how well he did before that, too. In his last 59 games of the regular season, Murphy had a .297/.323/.522 line in 248 PA. And before you say that was a giant September propping up his numbers in July and August, Murphy had an .844 OPS from the beginning of that streak through August 31.

Murphy was a free agent following the 2015 season and the Mets let him leave, not willing to meet his demands for a multi-year deal. In his first six years with the Mets, Murphy had a .752 OPS in 3,000+ PA. Then he went on his season-ending tear. Since joining the Nationals, Murphy has a .956 OPS in 1,175 PA.

Now the point of this is not to rip the Mets for letting Murphy leave. The point is that something changed and the Mets didn’t give that enough weight, in part because the sample size wasn’t big enough. Is it possible that Nimmo is at the point where the sample size is big enough that we can say something has changed here, too?

It’s important to note that there’s no magic line of demarcation, one where a sample size crosses over to be “big enough.” Knowing that, let’s look a little deeper at Nimmo. Injuries slowed Nimmo’s development in the minors. In 2015, he put up a combined .734 OPS over three stops, including 112 PA in Las Vegas.

In 444 PA in Vegas in 2016, Nimmo put up a .352/.423/.541 line.

The following year, Nimmo was set to break camp with the Mets but injuries again crept up and forced him to miss the start of the year. And maybe he came back too soon because when he did return, he was terrible. In his first 180 PA with Las Vegas in 2017, Nimmo posted a .223/.361/.378 line. Now, you can say the hits weren’t falling in but he was also down considerably in the power department, too.

Because of needs at the MLB level, Nimmo found himself back in the majors despite his lack of production in Triple-A. But he bounced back and forth between the two levels and it was hard to see that everything was coming together for him.

Starting with the Mets on 6/19, here are Nimmo’s stats:

232 PA .262/.381/.408

Now, these include numbers from a brief stint in the minors, too. But the vast majority (214 PA) were in the majors and he actually put up better slugging numbers in the majors. And now he’s followed that up with 29 PA in Spring Training where he has a 1.298 OPS.

So, we have 444 PA in Triple-A in 2016 where he hit at a good clip and once he shook off the rust in 2017, he was good too. Now he’s hitting again in Spring Training. We’re up to 705 PA counting these three stints. Now, to be fair, there are problems with all of these stints and we’re conveniently leaving off the beginning of 2017 as he was rounding back into form.

Let’s not overstate the case – by no means is it a slam dunk that Nimmo is a good MLB starter, much less a star. But there are reasons for guarded optimism and there are reasons to want to see him get more of a shot.

Nimmo has a lifetime .387 OBP in 2,502 PA in the minors and has a .367 mark in the category in 295 PA with the Mets. At this point, it doesn’t seem to be a huge stretch to say that he’s an asset in this department. Last year, the Mets as a team had a .320 OBP. If you don’t want to bat Conforto leadoff because you think he would be more valuable hitting lower in the order, it’s quite likely that Nimmo is your next best option.

If your calling card is power and you go on a hot streak, it’s really easy for everyone to see and get excited about. If someone cracks 7 HR in 27 games, we’ll know it. However, it’s not as apparent with an OBP hot streak, especially if walks play a big role. Too many people still look at AVG first and if Nimmo has a .381 OBP but with a .261 AVG when Conforto comes back – will that be enough to get him consistent playing time going forward?

It really should be.

There’s hope that with a new manager in the dugout that performance will be judged differently and that more weight will be given to the here and now rather than what happened three years ago in a different organization. When healthy, Nimmo’s done what he can to show that he can be an asset in terms of getting on base. And his power is not embarrassing and might even be improving.

Nimmo needs to continue his hot hitting here in the Grapefruit League and he needs that to carry over while Conforto is sidelined in April. This is his time to change the perception about him. And it would be nice if the organization lived up to the perception that exists that it values OBP. Because right now that’s nowhere close to reality.

20 comments for “Perception and reality for Brandon Nimmo and the Mets

  1. Remember1969
    March 10, 2018 at 11:28 am

    Great article Brian.

    Wow. .this encapsulates a lot of thoughts I have about this team including many are conflicting with others. I have not been a ‘play Nimmo over anyone else’ proponent, but on the other hand, I always root for the #1 picks – there has to be something there for them to be drafted that high, right? I have come around to the idea that he really needs to get 400 – 500 at-bats this year. I completely agree that not including him in a trade to Pittsburgh for Harrison was the right move.

    With that said, I was not opposed to the Jay Bruce signing, but it does create some issues here. I have been a Lagares fan for a long time and keep hoping the bat will come around, but the way I see things now is that Nimmo should be the 3.5th outfielder and Lagares be the 5th outfielder. I was never a fan of moving players around on the field, but if Nimmo can play all three outfield positions, I can see him getting almost full time playing – he is the swing guy that spells each of the starters one day a week or even one day for every 5. I see a very good player now that fits the leadoff role that has been missing – my fearless prognostication is that he will lead the team in runs scored, despite the fact that he is not a true starter. Some people on the boards have been tossing around the ‘can he wear a first baseman’s mitt?’ question and I guess I would jump on that bandwagon as well. I think it would be worth a shot – probably even better than Bruce being 3rd on the depth chart there. (Heck, how about second base? 😉 ).

    But yes, I believe Brandon Nimmo has earned a spot and should be playing a lot this year. He (at least partially) solves that OBP problem at the top of the order that has plagued the team for a while now.

    As a follow-up question/discussion. . is there another player, past or present, that we might expect Brandon Nimmo to parallel with? I am not quite sure how to do that research . .any thoughts? Kevin McReynolds without quite as much power and a few more smiles?

    • March 10, 2018 at 4:24 pm

      Thanks for the kind words.

      It’s hard to make comparisons with Nimmo because he has so little playing time in the majors. But you have to make it age-based, which I think eliminates McReynolds, as he was 27 when he joined the Mets. Besides, he was much more of a power guy than an OBP guy.

      While he had significantly more playing time with the Mets at age 23/24 but a guy who matches up pretty well with what Nimmo did on a raw OBP/SLG scale is Ken Singleton.

      KS – 600 PA .369/.387 111 OPS+
      BN – 295 PA .367/.392 104 OPS+

      Singleton went on to draw MVP support in 7 different seasons, finishing 2nd in 1979.

  2. Eraff
    March 10, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    Good Teams have Good Players on the Bench, so I don’t worry about a crowd in front of Nimmo.

    Young Hitters who can control the count have a very good shot at becoming good hitters…. Nimmo has a shot at improving.

    He’s been Guilty by Association since this Regime made him their first #1 Pick. He’s also guilty of not being an instant Star….it’s too easy to pick out the guys who were drafted after him, and then concluding that He’s a failed pick—- your recent Draft Series is a great intro to Draft Reality for people who conclude that a 24 year old prospect is a Failure.

  3. Chris F
    March 10, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    Nimmo deserves more time based on his play. At the very least I would maximize the splits and give the LHP Abs to Lags and most of RHP ABs to Nimmo.

    When Conforto gets back, then its really just bench guys fighting it our for the days off and injuries.

  4. TJ
    March 10, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    No doubt school is still out on Nimmo. Without detailed research, it does strike me that there have been many MLB OF that did not excel at any individual part of the game, but provided dependability and professional play when called upon. Any team can use a guy like that.

  5. Mike Walczak
    March 10, 2018 at 11:24 pm

    Maybe the comparable player is Gregg Jefferies. If Nimmo can get on base and steal a few more bases, he would be my choice over Lagares.

    Let’s say Lagares gets the ball in the air with his new approach. He still probably won’t be a good OBP guy, so he wouldn’t be a good leadoff hitter.

    The Mets need a leadoff hitter, so let’s hope that Nimmo pans out.

    • Eraff
      March 11, 2018 at 8:27 am

      Yesterday: Lagares chases a Fastball over his shoulders on a 2-1 count. The 2-2 Pitch is a Victim Curveball low and outside— He turned an RBI Opportunity and a Hitter’s count into a K.

      It’s only one ab…but we’re going on 2000 ab’s here. If the Elevated swing makes him a big power guy, it may make up for the fact that he doesn’t have a Strike Zone. That’s the thing that has stopped him.

      • Rae
        March 12, 2018 at 9:32 am

        Lagares can’t hit, and he does not run as well as Nimmo runs. What is more interesting is Kevin Kaczmarski has better defensive statistics than Lagares does. So they do have a guy in the minors that has much more speed than Lagares who catches the ball, and throws it as well or actually better than Lagares throws. Give Kacz some more minor league seasoning, and bring him up when an OF injury occurs. Which we all know will happen as Lagares is prone to injury, and Nimmo had a collapsed lung which can come back to plague him but lets hope it never returns. If by the trade deadline the Mets are not in contention than they need to trade Lagares. Kacz will be cheaper, and might hit for a higher average but he does lack power but we know he can catch and throw the ball plus he has real good speed. The Mets might be able to get a decent pitching prospect for Lagares so I think by the trade deadline Lagares will be traded.

        • March 12, 2018 at 10:17 am

          It’s hard to judge minor league defensive numbers.

          Having said that, a healthy Juan Lagares is a Gold Glove-caliber defensive player. I find it next to impossible to believe that Kaczmarski is better than him in the field.

          The Mets brought in two Triple-A OFers, one who is noted for his defensive play, which I think is an indication of what they feel about Kaczmarski’s ability to be a suitable mid-season replacement.

  6. Mike Walczak
    March 10, 2018 at 11:27 pm

    In 1770 career plate appearances, Lagares has a .297 OBP. Ouch

  7. Metictated
    March 10, 2018 at 11:52 pm

    Ya know the enthusiasm and sheer willpower can turn an average ballplayer into a star or at least an excellent one….Nimmo certainly has physical skills and even more so, a trained batting eye…he can run a fair bit, and he appears to wants it bad…so that determination in every cell of his body may decide his future..especially given that when one is naturally happy; G-d smiles on that soul !

  8. Steevy
    March 11, 2018 at 11:24 am

    Nimmo impressed me more than the crown jewels of the farm system last year(Rosario and Smith).I was very pleased when they declined to trade him in the offseason.

  9. Pete In Iowa
    March 12, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    Thanks for the highly informative piece Brian.
    In my mind, if we’re strictly talking about who the 4th OF should be, it’s over. Nimmo is a far better all-around player than Lagares ever will be. While Lagares is a better defender, Nimmo is a far, far, far better hitter and certainly seems to be at least adequate with the glove.
    From what limited AB’s I’ve seen from Lagares this spring — flailing wildly at pitches which are never in the strike zone — he is no different — if not worse — than he has shown in his five seasons. If there is a magic genie in his “new swing” it’s still in the bottle and I don’t see much hope for its release anytime soon.
    Nimmo is a ball player. Period.

  10. Metsense
    March 12, 2018 at 4:47 pm

    Brandon Nimmo is a good player and he has seized his opportunity to force a platoon with Lagares. His high OBP is perfect for the top of the order. Lagares is an elite defender with a career OPS of 714 vs LHP which is good enough to justify his share of the platoon. When Conforto gets back it should put a lot of pressure on Adrian Gonzales starting spot. Gonzales needs to be better than the Nimmo/Lagares platoon or Bruce would then become the first baseman.

    • Name
      March 12, 2018 at 5:13 pm

      Lagares splits against LHP have been .604 OPS and .650 OPS the last 2 years.

      He has an option remaining. If he predictably doesn’t hit during Conforto’s absence, i’d send him back to AAA once Conforto returns as a hail mary attempt on his career.

      • March 12, 2018 at 5:21 pm

        I hadn’t considered this previously but this may be a really good idea. Lagares needs to play and see if the new swing can produce meaningful results. His best chance at PT is in the minors. Could be a win-win situation.

  11. Chris F
    March 12, 2018 at 5:18 pm

    Outside the Mets echo chamber, it sounds a little different. Ex-GM Jim Bowden had this to say in The Athletic today:

    “Nimmo still doesn’t have enough power or speed to be an everyday player in the major leagues. His best fit is as a fourth or fifth outfielder who can play all three positions.”

    I find this quite interesting as it is easy to *like what we see* here in March, and even has me softening a little on Nimmo as a bench guy.

    He concluded with: “However well he performs or doesn’t in spring training won’t change his short- or long-term role with the Mets.”

    I find this interesting too. SA did not want to give up Nimmo in a trade this off season, so would that be a reasonable conclusion for Bowden to make, if the FO only views Nimmo as a bench guy?

    Sure, Bowden is loud and very self sure, and can get big things wrong (like calling Puig the next Mickey Mantle, and on the trade of Scott Feldman for Arietta and Strope he called Arietta and Strope pretty much nothing good), but I wonder about the Nimmo evaluation.

    • March 12, 2018 at 5:54 pm

      You can justify the Bowden conclusion because the Mets have 3 OF locked up long term that right now rank ahead of Nimmo. I think a healthy Cespedes and a healthy Conforto are both clearly better. Bruce? Eh, I’m not so sure. I’m not down on Bruce and you can certainly argue that with the loss of Duda, Granderson and Walker that they need his lefty power. It’s just that Nimmo’s ability to get on base is pretty valuable, too.

      On the list of things needed for a successful ballplayer, speed wouldn’t rank very high for me. I mean, sure, I’d prefer a guy who could run really fast. But I have no doubt that if Brandon Nimmo would get the same 2,180 PA in the majors that Billy Hamilton has received, he’d have a significantly higher wOBA than Hamilton’s .280 mark.

      Do you believe Nimmo can post a high OBP over a full season’s worth of playing time? Last year in 215 PA, he had a .379 OBP and a .348 wOBA. That’s the same wOBA that Christian Yelich did and a lot of people think he’s a star.

      • TJ
        March 12, 2018 at 10:31 pm

        It will be quite interesting to see how things shake out if and when Conforto returns at 100% health and 2017 form. Yelich could be a stretch but even if Nimmo is a Yelich-lite that is still a valuable asset, especially on a team lacking high OBP top of the order bats.

      • Eraff
        March 13, 2018 at 8:44 am

        Yelich has gone as high as 859 ops w a 483 Slugging in 2016… He was an 807 ops last year w 439 Slugging– that’s not so different than Nimmo.

        Yelich has more than survive-pable L/R splits. I hate to assume based on a short menue, but LH Pitchers buried Nimmo last year at a 530 ops…less than 50 Plate appearances. Tyhe Minor Leagie Splits point at a more even distribution, so maybe the sporadic appearances versus LH hurt him

        24…still time for him to grow beyond what he Is or Has been.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: