Finding Nimmo: Projecting the Newest Met

Michael Conforto was supposed to be one of the Mets’ top run producers this year. After storming through the minors last year, the 2014 draftee wound up being a crucial part of his team’s run to the World Series last year. The year 2016 hasn’t been as kind to him, however, which prompted the Mets to send him back to the minor leagues. In his place, they called up another young outfielder: Brandon Nimmo.

If you feel you’ve been hearing about Nimmo for a while, it’s probably because you have. The Mets drafted Nimmo in the first round out of high school way back in 2011: a time long, long ago, when Mike Trout was still in the minors and Matt Kemp was in the midst of an eight-win season. Although he’s been around awhile, Nimmo turned just 23 in March, making him younger than Conforto.

Based on his early performances in the Mets’ system, Nimmo looked like something of a bust. He hit just .259/.382/.374 over roughly 300 games the low minors from 2011 to -13, and then proceeded to hit a miserable .202/.306/.238 in the Arizona Fall League. Most concerning of all, he was striking out in over one-fourth of his trips to the plate.

But once the calendar turned to 2014, Nimmo began living up to his first-round draft pedigree. He broke out in a big way when he slashed .322/.448/.458 in his half-season in High-A. He came back to earth a bit following a promotion to Double-A, but still managed to put up solid numbers across the board, all while keeping his strikeout rate under 20%.

His solid but unspectacular numbers earned him a forecast of 4.0 WAR over his first six years in the bigs heading into the year, good for #76 on KATOH’s pre-season top 100 list. KATOH wasn’t crazy about pre-2016 Nimmo, but still regarded him as a sure-fire big leaguer who remained young enough to break out.

Nimmo’s hit a strong .331/.413/.514 in Triple-A this year, but those numbers have been fueled largely by a .394 BABIP rather than a combination of power and contact. This, along with the fact that Nimmo’s played entirely in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, cause KATOH to temper its expectations. Adding his 2016 numbers to the mix, Nimmo’s projection dips to 3.0 WAR over the next six seasons. That’s fourth-outfielder territory.

To put some faces to Nimmo’s statistical profile, let’s go ahead and generate some statistical comps for the former 13th overall pick. I calculated a weighted Mahalanobis Distance between Nimmo’s Triple-A numbers since the start of 2015 and every season at those levels since 1990 in which an outfielder recorded at least 400 plate appearances. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues.

Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun.

Brandon Nimmo’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Proj.WAR Actual.WAR
1 Bernie Williams 2.1 25.8
2 Jon Saffer 2.7 0.0
3 Gregor Blanco 3.3 7.4
4 Alex Romero 1.5 0.0
5 Luis Mercedes 1.9 0.0
6 John Barnes 2.0 0.0
7 Bernard Gilkey 2.2 19.4
8 Julio Borbon 2.0 1.2
9 Tike Redman 1.9 2.9
10 Brent Brede 1.8 0.2

Nimmo is an interesting prospect who figures to make for a useful big leaguer. But he looks more and more like a future part-time player the further his breakout 2014 campaign moves into the rearview mirror. Nimmo does a little bit of everything, and therefore has no major weaknesses. But his merely OK contact and power numbers don’t bode well for his future at the plate.

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Spa City
7 years ago

When I wrote essentially the same thing in a comment to a recent article (“Danny Valencia: Future Met”), I received roughly 700 “down-votes” (give or take a few hundred). Presumably there are a lot of Nimmo fans who are also FanGraphs members, so you might get a bit of backlash in the comments section.

7 years ago
Reply to  Spa City

No, you were downvoted because you focused on the BABIP, which is what the author also did.

His BABIP is high because he doesn’t hit HRs. He has a history of having high BABIPs in the minors. (.401 in 2014 at High A, .343 in 2015 at AA and the aforementioned .389 at AAA this season).

I’m not expecting him to hit .350, but his BB rate is elite, he doesn’t strike out that much, he plays solid defense (so the scouting report say). I still don’t think that makes him a 4 OF.

And furthermore, I didn’t hear anything about that on a guy like Yelich, who in the minors put up BABIPs of .373, .397 and .346 before getting called up. But, like Nimmo, Yelich has an elite BB rate, doesn’t K a lot, and hits the ball to all fields. And Nimmo is a year younger than Yelich, who plays mediocre defense in CF. And yes, Yelich does hit more HRs and 2B, but you don’t just magically put up high BABIPs for 3 seasons.

OddBall Herrera
7 years ago
Reply to  mrmaddness

I think there is a fair point to be made that you need to treat prospects who BABIP and OBP their way to success in the minors, particularly in hitter friendly environments, with a degree of skepticism.

It’s not that they *never* keep it up in the majors, it’s just that it frequently plays out that pitchers can attack them because they don’t have the power to punish stuff in the zone, so the OBP dries up, and the quality of defenses/shifts/pitching makes it harder to run those absurd BABIP numbers.

In Yelich you are citing a best case scenario – that’s not so much a counter argument to skepticism about Nimmo as much as it is a glimmer of hope for him.

7 years ago

Isn’t it established that one of the most likely stats to carry over from the minors is walk rate?

They found that a 23 year old (which Nimmo happens to be) with a BB% of 10-13%, at the MLB level were most likely to have a BB$ at the MLB level of between 7-10%. His 16% at age 22 correlates even higher than that.

7 years ago
Reply to  Spa City

id trade him for valencia this second.