Even after an All Star-caliber 2018 season in which he batted .263/.404/.483, there was room for concern about Brandon Nimmo. He stumbled early, racking up dozens of strikeouts by mid-April, and then promptly fell off a cliff offensively and defensively as he played through a neck injury. The injury alone was alarming both in its defiance of an easily understood diagnosis as well as it’s proximity to the spinal condition that ended David Wright’s career prematurely.
For many, the fact that Nimmo returned at all this season was a pleasant surprise, with the thought of possibly producing for the team just a distant hope. But Nimmo didn’t get the memo that he was cooked and has surged back onto the Mets with a .271/.446/.646 slash line across 65 plate appearances.
Nimmo’s calling card has always been his ability to draw walks at an impressive rate and it’s something he is doing in spades this September. Indeed, he hadn’t entirely lost that ability prior to his stint on the injured list, walking in 16% of his plate appearances across April and May, but since his return, his walk rate is an astounding 22%, a mark that would lead MLB by a country mile if it held up over a full season.
Of course, the flip side of the deep at bats that make him a walks machine is that he also racks up the strikeouts and he did so at the beginning of the season nearly 30% of the time. In the second half, though, his strikeout rate is hovering just about league average at 23%. His contact rate is way up and he’s also swinging at more hittable pitches, something that haunted him throughout his early struggles.
Another positive sign from the healthy Nimmo is an enormous power surge. That may seem out of character for a player with a career .441 slugging percentage, but it’s actually exactly what you’d expect to see from a player like Nimmo with this season’s juiced baseballs. True power hitters are seeing only small bumps from the change in the balls, but players like Nimmo are seeing more and more of their doubles and fly-outs leaving the ballpark.
In light of our better understanding of the power environment of 2019, his pre-IL .323 slugging percentage looks even worse, but the complete turnaround on that suggests he’s back to making the kind of contact he has thrived on in prior years - but now every hit is flying higher and farther. A version of Brandon Nimmo capable of notching five homers in just 65 plate appearances is a potent one but even if the baseball is somewhat returned to its prior form next season, the Mets and Nimmo can be confident that he’s going to square up and make the quality contact that helps him thrive despite high strikeout totals.
On the other side of the ball, while Nimmo has never been a plus centerfielder, he seemed especially out of place in early 2019, taking poor routes and missing out on what felt like playable balls regularly. In retrospect, it’s pretty hard to run with a busted neck and his relative ease moving around the outfield is as strong an indicator as any that he’s comfortable and healthy.
A healthy Nimmo who has recaptured his trademark offensive gifts (and potentially picked up a new one courtesy of the baseball juicing) represents an enormous relief to the Mets as they approach 2020. With a crop of free agent centerfielders that could optimistically be described as “thin”, Nimmo can anchor the position for another year. He also has returned to the form of an ideal leadoff hitter which simplifies and deepens the lineup on a daily basis. His extended absence has been an important reminder of the need for depth behind him, but there’s little doubt left that the real Nimmo is finally back.