Brandon Nimmo saw success for the first time in his young career in 2017, despite an unusual profile and an inconsistent role on the team. The team's outfield alignment may not have an opening for him on a regular basis but can one plus-plus tool force their hand?
Nimmo arrived in the majors with the expectation that he would get on base and he has done exactly that. Over 215 plate appearances in 2017, he put up a .379 on base percentage, which would have ranked him in the top 20 of all hitters in baseball if he qualified. A high strikeout rate held him back from a high batting average, but his 15 percent walk rate was elite and anyone getting on base that often has significant value, regardless of his other qualities.
When a young player puts up an exceptional statistic like a 15 percent walk rate, it makes it difficult to project future seasons with accuracy. ZiPS, Steamer, and PECOTA all expect a big drop off, based on the assumption that his walk rate will fall back to earth and his power will regress.
It's certainly likely that Nimmo is not the .800 OPS player he appeared to be in 2017, but a deeper dive at his plate discipline suggests that his walk rate might be more stable than modeling systems expect.
Nimmo swung at less than 20 percent of pitches out of the zone last season -- a better mark than all but two qualified batters, one of whom is Joey Votto. And while his swing rate was, correspondingly, quite low, he had a league average contact rate. Projections are based on the assumption that he's not abnormally good at pitch-recognition, but these numbers, combined with a long history of success in the minors, suggest that he might be just that.
The Mets may have hit on something special with Nimmo -- a true leadoff talent. But it's not immediately clear how he fits into their plans right now. With Michael Conforto likely sidelined for the first month of the season and Jay Bruce assured every day reps in right field, the obvious spot would be the long side of a platoon in center field with Juan Lagares. But Lagares's new swing is garnering a lot of buzz from the team, and the former Gold Glover may make it hard to pull him from the lineup.
The good news for Nimmo's playing time, although not so good for the Mets, is that both Lagares and left fielder Yoenis Cespedes have lost significant time to injuries in recent years, which increases the likelihood that they will again this year. Capable of playing all three outfield spots, Nimmo offers an unusual but effective 4th outfielder bat.
The classic lefty bat off the bench will be a power hitter, but there are many opportunities in the course of a game when you need to get a runner on or keep an inning moving. Nimmo may be one of the best options on the team to make that happen. And if his development keeps moving in the right direction, he may find himself one of the best options in baseball.
Maggie Wiggin (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Archive Posts) has been a Mets fan since birth and a MetsBlog contributor since 2013. She loves throwing hard and hitting hard and hates the DH. When baseball is out of season, she fills her days with data analysis and evaluation and patiently waits for Spring