No matter what else is happening in your life — no matter how dire your circumstances seem, or how far away salvation might appear — you can at least take consolation in the fact that you are, almost certainly, not a New York Met. And yet despite yet another season nearly entirely unsullied by success or inspiration of any kind, 25 blessed souls still labor on in Flushing, and one of those souls is housed in a body named Brandon Tate Nimmo.
According to a profile of the young man published in the New York Times shortly after Nimmo was selected 13th overall in the 2011 first-year player draft, young Brandon grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, dreaming of one day becoming a bull-rider. Instead, he became a Met. In the years that followed, Brandon Nimmo turned out to be quite good at playing baseball, as was possible but not overwhelmingly probable back in 2011, and by early this spring writers at this site were calling for him to be given quite a bit more playing time this year, in 2018, than the 215 plate appearances he was allowed in 2017.
To their credit, the Mets have mostly given Nimmo a starting outfield spot this season. To Nimmo’s credit, he’s made the most of it. On the year, for example, Nimmo is slugging .503, with an ISO of .238 and 15 home runs in 413 plate appearances. All four figures are career highs, besting both the marks Nimmo set last year and, in perfect order, also the standards he set in the year before, when he made his debut in Queens as a 23-year-old. This power is especially surprising for Nimmo because, with the exception of a stint at Triple-A that forced his original call-up back in 2016, his power numbers were never anywhere close to this good at any stop in the past. My former colleague Travis Sawchick covered this subject back in June.
The good news for Nimmo is that his power surge seems to have come along by means of changes that are wholly sustainable. Last year and in 2016, Nimmo was getting beat on sliders far more often is ideal This year, he’s among the 15-best slider hitters in the National League on a rate basis. That change has come after Nimmo moved closer to the plate this offseason, closing the swing-and-miss hole that had existed low and inside in his zone and forcing pitchers to keep hittable pitches out over and away from the plate, where he can extend his arms and drive them into the gaps, rather than roll over on them and hit weak ground balls to waiting infielders.
Nimmo has paired his adjusted stance with a newly aggressive approach at the plate that’s seen his contact rate drop across the board with — one presumes — a correspondent increase in power upon contact. Nimmo’s mean exit velocity has jumped from 88.8 mph in 2017 to 90.5 this year, moving from the 77th percentile to the 85th among hitters with 100 or more batted-ball events. Last year, 37.5% of the balls he hit left the bat at more than 95 mph. This year, over a substantially larger sample, 44.7% have. We’ve talked all year about how certain players benefit more from a switch over to a fly-ball-heavy approach than others, and Nimmo appears to be firmly in the category of those who prosper.
It is possible, of course, that 2019 will bring with it some further adjustment to Nimmo’s game that re-opens the small spot low and inside that was his vulnerability in 2016 and 2017, and thereafter necessitates a change in his game that diminishes his value in one way or another. That’s what baseball is about, after all. But Nimmo has proven that he deserves the playing time to make those adjustments. Which, when combined with the Mets’ poor team performance this year, makes it all the more curious that Austin Jackson and Jose Bautista, whose combined age is 69, are still starting on the same night with some relative frequency in New York, with either Nimmo or Michael Conforto riding the bench as a result. But these are small quibbles. For the most part, Nimmo is getting what he deserves, which is a lot.
And there is time to reap more. At the time of this writing, Nimmo has not started a ballgame for the Mets since August 16th, which is when he was hit in the finger by a Ranger Suárez fastball. Expected to return tonight, he’ll try to put the finishing touches on a season that has demonstrated, quite conclusively, that he belongs at the major-league level — and in a starting role at that. The Mets have, to their credit, given him room to grow into that role this season. It’s paid off for them, and for Nimmo. The 2018 season is a lost one for the Mets. The best they can hope for is positive development for their young players. In Nimmo, they seem to have found just that.
Rian Watt is a contributor to FanGraphs based in Seattle. His work has appeared at Vice, Baseball Prospectus, The Athletic, FiveThirtyEight, and some other places too. By day, he works with communities around the world to end homelessness.