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.