One of the only highlights of the Mets’ season thus far has been Brandon Nimmo. While the offense often struggled to do much of anything after the team’s 11-1 start, Nimmo has a .253/.373/.490 line at the break. That is good for a 139 wRC+ and 2.5 fWAR, leading the Mets in both categories.
Nimmo has been a pleasant surprise for the fans and something the Mets front office clearly did not foresee coming into the season. He started the season fighting for playing time, as he was kept in a bench role after the team brought back Jay Bruce on a three-year, $39 million contract. Nimmo’s playing time was sparse at best, as he only got any real run in the outfield after Bruce, Yoenis Cespedes, and Juan Lagares fell victim to a litany of injuries. But Nimmo took that playing time and ran with it, providing a silver lining to the season.
Nimmo’s journey from bench player to best hitter on the Mets—who’s in the top ten among all outfielders in baseball in wRC+ and top fifteen in fWAR— has been a fun one to watch, and there are some interesting things behind it.
Nimmo’s patience at the plate has always been impressive. In 2017, his first significant stint in the majors, he walked an impressive 15.3% of the time, dwarfing the league average 8.5%. He barely chased balls out of the zone, with an 18.5% O-Swing%, compared to the league average of 29.9%. And he barely swung and missed, registering a swinging strike rate of just 7.9%, almost three percentage points less than the league average.
While all of that was good, he was far from a perfect hitter. He made about league-average contact and didn’t hit the ball with much authority. He had a .158 ISO, lower than the league average of .171, and a hard-hit rate of 35%, which was a bit higher than the 31.8% league average. He was a quality hitter overall, as he hit .260/.373/.490 with a 112 wRC+, but he wasn’t the type of hitter he’sbeen this year.
Nimmo has undergone some changes this year. The patience is still there, with an 11.9% walk rate. He’s still swinging at pitches outside the strike zone below the league-average rate, but that rate is up a few points from last year. He is swinging more in general—41.7%, up from just 36.9%—which helps contribute to his 10.5% swinging strike rate, an increase from last year.
Nimmo has been much more aggressive a hitter in 2018, and while that has seen his walk rate decline and some of his batted ball rates fluctuate, it has paid off for him. He is hitting the ball with much more authority than he ever has, as he has seen his ISO rise up to .238, which is not only a big difference from 2017, but much higher than the .160 league average. He is hitting the ball harder than he did last year, with a 38.6% hard-hit rate, and pulling the ball at a much higher rate than he did before: 43.3%, compared to 32.5% the year before. On top of all of that, he is hitting the ball in the air a ton, registering a 40.8% fly ball rate. He has seemingly began to focus on pulling fly balls this year, and that has seen his power numbers increase by a large margin.
Brandon Nimmo has become a different hitter in 2018. He was an extremely patient, conservative hitter, more contact-based in the past. He used all fields and was rather successful at it. But this year, he has transformed into a fly ball hitter focused on pulling the ball, and that transformation has made him one of the better hitters in baseball so far. The Mets look like they have legitimately have something in Nimmo, and his transformation is something that should be fun to watch in the second half.