In 2018, Brandon Nimmo was the best offensive player on the New York Mets. The former first round pick became a lineup regular for the first time in his career and broke out, posting a team-best .404 OBP and .886 OPS, while his 148 wRC+ was the second-best mark in the National League behind MVP Christian Yelich. During his impressive season, he played a career-high 140 games.
His 2019 season could have been equally special, but injuries derailed any hope that he could match the previous year’s success. It is important to note, however, that when he was healthy, Nimmo was every bit as good as he showed he could be in 2018. In fact, his September showed that his early-season struggles had much more to do with a lingering neck injury that he played through. Many people will point to his .221 batting average as a sign that he is overrated or just another “fourth outfielder”, but his on-base percentage and his wRC+ prove that he’s still as valuable in this lineup as anybody on the Mets.
The year began on a bit of a comical note for Nimmo. He missed some time early in Spring Training with what was originally thought to be food poisoning. Mickey Callaway then told reporters the food poisoning resulted from Nimmo undercooking some chicken, and plenty of jokes ensued. In the coming days, he joked that he received meat thermometers as gifts, and the Mets even promised to teach Nimmo how to properly cook chicken, but it was all moot. A few days later, it was officially revealed as a stomach bug—not food poisoning— was the culprit that forced Nimmo from camp. While a funny side note from his season, it hardly came up again once the year began in earnest.
Brandon Nimmo said he was so proud of the chicken and sweet potato he cooked Tuesday that he took a photo and sent it to his wife.— Tim Healey (@timbhealey) February 28, 2019
“I cooked it all the way through. It was white,” Nimmo said. “I didn’t have a meat thermometer, so maybe I outta invest in one of those.” pic.twitter.com/43TEeQnmmP
Nimmo slumped out of the gate, and his strikeout rate rose alarmingly. Through the team’s first twelve games, Nimmo was slashing .150/.306/.275 with just one home run, two doubles, three singles, seven walks, and an uncharacteristically-high 23 strikeouts in 50 plate appearances. After finishing 2018 with a 26.2% strikeout rate, he had a 46.0% K rate through the early part of the season. He hit his stride over the next four games, however, breaking out on April 12 with a three-hit night against the Atlanta Braves that included a home run. Over his next five games, he picked up two homers, a double, and four singles in 14 at-bats while only striking out three times and drawing five walks. He finally looked to be returning to form after some shaking off the cobwebs.
At this point, Nimmo began his year-long battle with a recurring neck injury. He exited an April 16 game with what was originally diagnosed as a “stiff neck”. He returned four days later but was very clearly affected by his latest setback. He also left the team’s April 23 game with a “left oblique twinge”, but did not miss any additional time for this injury. He toughed it out over the next month, but the recurring injury continued to be a pain in the neck for the outfielder and the team. Over the next 25 games through May 19, he posted a .171/.312/.224 slash line with a 59 wRC+. In 93 plate appearances, he drew 15 walks while striking out 22 times.
The Mets finally ordered an MRI for Nimmo and reported that he had “inflammation” and was eventually placed on the injured list retroactive to May 21. The original hope was for the 26-year-old to return within the ten days, but the club later announced that he was suffering from whiplash and a bulging disc in this neck which was more severe than originally thought, casting doubt upon his eventual return to the lineup. In mid-June, he was shut down from all baseball activities for thirty days as the team tried to address the injury and tackle it effectively.
Nimmo sat out all of June and July before finally kicking off a rehab stint on August 16 and working his way back in the lineup on September 1. All told, Nimmo missed 90 games with the injury, which seemingly hindered his abilities at the plate and resulted in a steep rise in his strikeouts combined with a decline in his walks. These points are even more evident upon seeing what the outfielder did when he returned fully healthy.
Nimmo played a majority of the team’s September games and was a key contributor down the stretch. In 26 games, he slashed .261/.430/.565 with five home runs, 14 runs scored, a 159 wRC+, and a 1.0 fWAR. In 93 plate appearances, he drew 20 walks and struck out 23 times, resulting in a 21.5% walk rate and a 24.3% strikeout rate. He finished the month ranked second among qualified National League batters in walk rate, third in on-base percentage, fifth in OPS, fifth in wRC+, and eighth in ISO (.304). Those numbers fall in line and, in some instances, exceed his stellar 2018 output, which should assuage some fears about Nimmo being nothing more than a “fourth outfielder”.
The key moment came on September 24 in a game against the Miami Marlins. The Mets were clinging to their slim playoff hopes and faced elimination with one more loss. Thanks to two Michael Conforto two-run homers, the Mets entered the eleventh inning tied with Miami. Nimmo stepped up to the plate 0-for-5 on the night but had a chance to do some damage with the bases loaded and send his team home to fight another day. In typical Nimmo fashion, he worked out a walk for the most appropriate Nimmo walk-off ever, serving as a happy moment for the happiest man in baseball.
In many ways, 2019 was a lost year for Nimmo. He played only 69 games, less than half the number he appeared in during his breakout 2018 campaign. When he was able to play in April and May, injuries hindered him and his overall play suffered as a result. However, he finished the year strong with a terrific September showing that shows that big things are still ahead for the outfielder. Expect Nimmo to have his name penciled in at the top of the lineup once again heading in 2020. If he continues to get on base at pace he did in September, he should serve as a fantastic lead-off option for the team’s new manager next season.