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What’s eating Brandon Nimmo?

2018’s breakout star is mired in a nasty slump to start the 2019 season.

MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

One of the brightest of the few bright spots of last season, Brandon Nimmo entered 2019 with sky-high expectations. But after a perfectly cromulent spring, he has seemingly hit a brick wall. Small sample size is the name of the game this time of year, but there’s plenty worth exploring behind his brutal .087/.276/.087 line.

Nimmo has always been prone to the strikeout. He takes deep at-bats, the personal embodiment of the Alderson Era emphasis on waiting for the right pitch for solid contact. His 27% career strikeout rate is above league average, though not to the extent of a Chris Davis or Joey Gallo. And he has always bolstered his middling batting average with an elite walk rate, making him one of the best in the league at getting on base.

But this year, the strikeouts have exploded for Nimmo with a major league-leading 14 in just 30 plate appearances. And this is more than just the whims of early season numbers and tough pitching matchups, his approach at the plate has suddenly and tangibly deteriorated.

Always an exceptionally selective hitter, Nimmo’s swing rate has jumped significantly last season. Still below league average, this swing rate would not on its own be a concern, except that his contact rate, previously just around league average, has plummeted by over 20%, an effect seen both on in-zone and out-of-zone pitches. As a result, he is carrying a 21% swinging strike rate, up from less than 10% last year.

To make matters even worse—yes, it does get worse—when Nimmo is making contact, a seemingly rarer and rarer feat, he’s putting it all in the air, which is the opposite of how the doubles-power, high-BABIP hitter usually thrives.

To throw poor Nimmo a bone, he’s walking like crazy with a 17% walk rate that’s the best of his career so far. But it would be ideal if the coaches and Nimmo start tackling this problem before it gets in his head.

So what exactly is the problem? It probably isn’t injury, as it’s more than just a question of how well he is swinging the bat. Rather, it’s about when he is choosing to swing it. Some have theorized a vision issue which, would make sense except for the rapid onset—still, someone get that guy to an optometrist just to be safe. A more likely culprit is something mechanical. A lot of Mets have been tinkering with their swings since last season and Nimmo seemed to have a particular focus on power this spring, which may have affected his rhythm.

The good news is that a simple mechanical problem generally has a simple mechanical fix and no one on the Mets side, especially the ever-optimistic Nimmo, has concerns about the long term. Nor should they, as a permanent case of the yips for a batter is a rare occurrence and Nimmo has done plenty to demonstrate that his unusual skill set is quite legitimate and repeatable. The key is to get him there, hopefully before his other teammates come back to earth offensively.