Going Deep: Captain Nimmo’s Nautilus
Brandon Nimmo came into 2018 as a prospect of modest renown and left as an object of interest with burgeoning 2019 fantasy expectations. Pundits and amateur prognosticators alike fanned themselves over his walk rate (15%, ninth among qualified hitters) and his improved ability to put balls in the seats (17 home runs in 2018, .219 ISO). While there were a few worries about the validity of his batting average and his power display continuing, most were optimistic about his potential for a 20 HR/10+ SB performance. Nimmo ranked 41st overall for mixed league outfielders, both here at Pitcher List and at Fantrax, landing in the same area as options like Austin Meadows, Andrew McCutchen, and Stephen Piscotty.
A stalled start at the dish over his first 37 games this season renews questions on whether or not Nimmo can produce enough to matter. The New York Mets outfielder has slumped to a .200/.348/.330 line with three home runs and just one steal so far. Not exactly the numbers many expected. So, what is behind Nimmo’s early season sputtering?
Nimmo is still laying off pitches and flashing Joey Votto-lite walk rates in 2019. His 16.2% walk rate currently ranks 11th overall among qualified hitters and his 19.2% O-Swing rate (also very similar to our favorite Mountie) is sixth-lowest in the league. While selectivity is typically seen as a positive attribute at the plate, Mets manager Mickey Calloway would like to see Nimmo expand the zone more: “The one thing we have talked to him about: Every now and again you have to expand the zone a little bit…you can’t leave it up to a half-inch because that is something that is going to be called most of the time.”
Calloway does have a point in that Nimmo is hyper-selective about what pitch gets the bat off of his shoulders (37.6% Swing%, sixth lowest amazing qualified hitters), though the bigger issue with Nimmo’s selectivity lies with the pitches at which he decides to offer. One big area of plate discipline looks different when you compare Nimmo’s 2018 to this season: O-Contact%.
While his O-Swing% rates in 2019 line up well with what he posted last season, he is making 15.1% less contact on pitches that he swings at outside the zone this year. Waiting on your pitch is not a bad thing unless you wait for the wrong one. Of the 30 hitters with the lowest chase rates in MLB, only Joey Gallo makes less contact (37% O-Contact). Compare that to the rates of some of the others who post similar O-Swing% rates to Nimmo:
Chasing after the wrong pitches has caused Nimmo’s strikeouts to skyrocket. His K% (31.2%, up 5.5% in 2019) and SwStr% (12.2%, up 2.7% in 2019) are posting unhealthy gains that need to be checked if he is going to produce moving forward. Poor pitch selection also means he is not making the best contact against the pitches he does go after. His average exit velocity of 86 mph reflects this, as that’s three mph lower than last season’s mark.
Another big difference from last season is how Nimmo has fared against breaking and off-speed pitches. While he had his share of struggles with offspeed offerings (.206/.239/.353), he generally handled any breaking balls thrown his way, slashing .283/.229/.566 against them with five home runs. That has not been the case in 2019. Nimmo has recorded seven total hits against those types of pitches this season, including only one in 31 plate appearances against offspeed offerings.
Despite the rough beginning, the tools that excited everyone at the end of last season remain and there are some positive changes to Nimmo’s profile that could yield good value if he can better his approach at the plate. Power-wise, he has managed to keep most of the pull-percentage gains he showed last year (42.3% in 2019, 44.7% in 2018) and has been putting more balls in the air as well (+2% in 2019).
His ground-ball rate is down 5.3% and he has raised his line-drive rate to a strong 25% level (+3.4%). His sprint speed (28.3 ft/sec) ranks among the best in the league and he is still posting strong base-running metrics despite a decrease as compared to last season (1.2 UBR in 2019, 3.2 UBR in 2018). There is enough there to be a useful fantasy option—potentially even a surprisingly valuable one in the right situation.
In order to do so, however, Brandon Nimmo must alter his current approach at the dish. He needs to lay off breaking balls and offspeed pitches that are out of the zone and instead punish those that wind up inside of it. Avoiding some of those junk pitches should improve his strikeout numbers and allow him to generate consistent quality contact as well. If he is unable to do so, opposing pitchers are going to lean on that approach the rest of the way and he may not make enough contact to consistently play in New York.
(Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire)