Brandon Nimmo Is Nimmoing So Hard Right Now

Brandon Nimmo
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

A few years ago, no one would have believed you if you told them that Brandon Nimmo would get $162 million in free agency. That hustling guy on the Mets? How many millions? I don’t know whether it’s the try-hard-ness or the walk-heavy shape of his production, but his rise to prominence and subsequent nine-figure payday elicited more “wow he got what?” responses and raised eyebrows than any marquee free agent in recent history, save possibly Xander Bogaerts’ deal with the Padres. Well, the joke’s on those eyebrow raisers, because Nimmo is one of the best players in baseball this year, and he’s doing it by being as Nimmo as he’s ever been.

What does that mean? I’m glad you asked. For me, the core Nimmo skillset is getting on base without putting the ball in play. He might do it by walking. He might do it by wearing one on the elbow (or, let’s be realistic, elbow pad). However he handles it, though, his most consistent and bankable skill is juicing up the bases for the Mets’ bashers and boppers to drive him home.

In that sense, this season is just business as usual:

Brandon Nimmo, Free Bases by Year
Year BB% HBP% Total
2017 15.3% 0.9% 16.2%
2018 15.0% 4.1% 19.1%
2019 18.1% 2.0% 20.1%
2020 14.7% 2.7% 17.4%
2021 14.0% 1.3% 15.3%
2022 10.5% 2.4% 12.9%
2023 14.7% 1.7% 16.4%

All those free bases add up. Nimmo got a cup of coffee in the majors in 2016, but his first real playing time was in 2017. Since then, he’s seventh in baseball in on-base percentage, just behind plate discipline legend Joey Votto.

While Nimmo gets more than his fair share of HBPs, the vast majority of his non-contact prowess comes down to a superlative batting eye. Put simply, he doesn’t chase; over that same 2017-to-now window, he has the 13th-lowest chase rate in the game, in a dead heat with Mike Trout.

This year, Nimmo has taken his excellent batting eye into overdrive. As a big fan of hitters realizing they don’t need to swing so often, I’m going to enjoy walking through each of these statistics one at a time. It’s worth savoring such a delightful approach. First, Nimmo has never swung at many first pitches, even in the strike zone, and that has only accelerated this year:

First Pitch Swing Rates by Year
Year Swing% Zone Swing%
2017 22.5% 34.8%
2018 29.2% 43.4%
2019 28.0% 44.7%
2020 31.4% 50.4%
2021 29.5% 45.5%
2022 30.9% 43.4%
2023 23.3% 37.7%

When he gets ahead in the count, he never chases, though he’s willing to swing at pitches in his wheelhouse:

Ahead-in-Count Swing Rates by Year
Year Zone Swing% Chase%
2017 65.7% 12.4%
2018 60.1% 13.6%
2019 68.2% 17.0%
2020 63.8% 18.7%
2021 62.2% 9.7%
2022 59.9% 16.3%
2023 59.2% 10.5%

Even when he gets to a two-strike count, he’s been very good at laying off the bad pitches. This year, he’s become even more adept at offering at the good ones:

Two-Strike Swing Rates by Year
Year Zone Swing% Chase%
2017 81.7% 15.8%
2018 85.4% 22.4%
2019 77.8% 26.3%
2020 90.6% 19.4%
2021 89.4% 21.0%
2022 91.3% 28.9%
2023 98.1% 25.4%

Hey, why not, let’s keep going. Nimmo has seen 24 changeups outside the strike zone this year. He’s swung at exactly three. Changeups used to be an equalizer for righties facing Nimmo, but that hasn’t been the case for a few years now. He just spits on them — or, if they’re in the strike zone, punishes them. He’s running a 75% swing rate on in-zone changeups, and he’s heating up: on each of his last swings, he’s hit the ball 100 mph or more.

Oh yeah: Nimmo has a little pop, too. I know I’ve been waxing poetic about his ability to not swing, but he’s not one of those patience-and-nothing-else types. He averages 16 homers per 600 plate appearances, and his raw power is even a bit better than that, though he puts the ball on the ground too frequently to have sterling expected numbers on contact:

Contact Quality by Year
Year Maximum EV Percentile xwOBACON Percentile
2017 109.9 75 .434 86
2018 110.9 79 .405 76
2019 109.9 70 .380 54
2020 106.9 39 .381 51
2021 111.5 80 .380 57
2022 111.9 80 .361 54
2023 111.9 86 .404 69

This is just who Nimmo is. He waits you out. He’ll swing if you force him to, and he’ll even swing if you just pound the strike zone to avoid his walks. Throw him four balls, and he’ll sprint to first base like he’s being chased. That’s what he’s always done, and what he’s continuing to do right now.

I wish I had something more interesting to say than “this is just who Brandon Nimmo is.” I wish that he had made some sweeping change that turned him from good to great overnight. Heck, I wish he’d made some sweeping change that had little net effect but was interesting. That’s not the story here, though. The story is that waiting for your pitch and trying to clobber it is a pretty good plan.

If you’re a skeptic, you might rightly point out that Nimmo is running a surely unsustainable .372 BABIP so far this year. You’d be right. I might point out in turn, however, that given how hard he’s hitting the ball — his 51.9% hard-hit rate is the best of his career and in the 92nd percentile across baseball — Statcast thinks he should be slugging .466 so far this season based on the quality of his contact. That extra-base pop more than compensates for the lost singles you can expect to see as the year rolls on; as such, his wOBA and xwOBA are almost exactly identical, just with lucky singles swapping for unlucky hard-hit outs.

You might think that Nimmo is doing one spectacularly important thing better this year: striking out less frequently. That’s true, undoubtedly; his 13.8% strikeout rate is a career low. But I don’t expect that to last; he’s actually making less contact this year than last and has a higher swinging-strike rate despite swinging less frequently. It’s too early in the year to believe small changes in someone’s strikeout rate. Let’s put it this way: over the past three years, he’s struck out 18.5% of the time. Every projection system we host thinks he’ll strike out between 17% and 17.7% of the time the rest of the year. In other words, the strikeout rate improvement is probably real but quite small in magnitude.

In the past, the main thing holding Nimmo back from star-level value was availability. I know I spent a while talking about how his contract surprised people, but the fact of the matter is that he’s been excellent when healthy throughout his career. In 2,368 plate appearances before this year, he’s compiled 17.9 WAR, a 4.5 WAR/600 PA pace. In other words, he’s played like a perennial All Star when he’s on the field. The problem is that he’s eclipsed 600 PAs only once, thanks to early-career platooning and then injury issues.

I won’t pretend to be a health expert, but I’m willing to bet on Nimmo being mostly healthy this year. Why? Because that one full season of his career was 2022, and because he’s been healthy to start 2023. That’s a good trend, to say the least, and the further the Mets get away from the old regime, the more their snakebitten history with injuries normalizes. I’m not saying Nimmo is a lock to stay healthy all year, but he doesn’t seem more injury prone than any random 30-year-old-hitter to me.

To reiterate a theme one more time: nothing Nimmo is doing this year is particularly revolutionary. He gets on base. He hits for enough power to keep people honest. He plays good defense; since the start of 2021, he’s tied for 10th among centerfielders in OAA, Statcast’s defensive metric. This is who Nimmo has been for years at this point, as surprising as that might sound.

When you put it that way, maybe what he’s doing right now is less shocking than it first seems. He’s near the top of the leaderboards because that’s the kind of hitter he is: one of the best 25 or so in baseball. He’s not burning unsustainably bright. He didn’t need to make a wholesale change to his game to go from exploitable to unstoppable. He’s just being himself, the same Nimmo he’s always been. Not everyone at the top of a leaderboard on May 2 is there because of some new hot thing; sometimes, the players there are just good.





Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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Ostensibly Ridiculousmember
10 months ago

I wanted so bad for the White Sox to overpay for him…

sadtrombonemember
10 months ago

I’m not sure the Mets were going to let him go. But this is a good example of the difference between paying for a difference maker like Nimmo and throwing away money on mid-level free agents like Benintendi. Who do you think is happier right now with their outfield signings, the Mets or the White Sox?

Ostensibly Ridiculousmember
10 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Exactly.

It’s like flying to an important work conference and spending $750 for a middle seat on a flight that leaves at 2am, transfers 3 times, has an overnight layover, charges for snacks, and then loses your luggage.
While insisting that $1,000 was too much for first class on a direct, non-stop 10am flight.

But Reinsdorf will call Cohen stupid and bad at business.

O'Kieboomermember
10 months ago

Tell me you haven’t booked a flight recently without doing so explicitly…

cartermember
10 months ago
Reply to  O'Kieboomer

Could of said “Tell me you haven’t booked a flight recently without doing so ostensibly”

dezremember
10 months ago
Reply to  carter

While we’re being pedantic, could “have” said…