John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
When the 2019 season began, it appeared pitchers had found an up-and-in hole in Brandon Nimmo's swing about the size of Wyoming, his native state, and they pounded away at it to the tune of 26 strikeouts in his first 61 plate appearances of the season.
At which point he crashed into the fence in Atlanta on April 14th, causing a neck injury that also messed with his swing and eventually forced him to the sidelines for four months.
Yet somehow Nimmo managed to save his year by returning in time to have a superb September, helping to convince the Mets that he, and not Starling Marte, is the answer to their seemingly unending search for an everyday center fielder.
Upon his return Nimmo incorporated a new leg kick, at the suggestion of Chili Davis, and the timing mechanism helped him stop chasing those up-and-in fastballs, while restoring his trademark plate discipline and helping him flash more power than he'd shown previously.
Indeed, a .430 on-base percentage and a .995 OPS in that final month last season were as impressive as Nimmo's early-season numbers were discouraging.
All of which led the Mets to say no to the opportunity to trade Nimmo, and a top prospect, to the Pirates for Marte, a better center fielder and an impact hitter, as reflected in his total of 117 extra-base hits the last two seasons.
Was it the right call? There's clearly a case to be made on either side, so I polled five scouts/executives in search of a consensus and some insight into what they project for Nimmo in the next few years.
The results are mixed, with three votes for keeping Nimmo to two for making the trade. The two votes for Marte were based on the belief that his combination of offense and defense would improve the Mets' chances of winning immediately, in the two years before he can become a free agent.
"Marte is just a really good all-around player," one scout said.
On the other hand, the three votes for Nimmo were based partly on context: he can't be a free agent for three more seasons, and as an arbitration-eligible player earning $2.2 million this year, Nimmo will cost a lot less than the $11 million a year Marte is owed the next two seasons.
But there's also an X-factor to Nimmo as well, with evaluators believing there is still growth potential in his game, as he turns 27 in March, unlike that of the 31-year old Marte.
"I think the Mets were smart to keep him," one exec from a rival NL East team said. "He's a bit of a late bloomer, he's had only one full season in the big leagues, but he's also proven he has outstanding plate discipline that makes him one of the better on-base guys in the league.
"He might have been pressing a bit to get off to a good start last season, swinging at pitches he usually takes, and then trying to play through the neck injury.
"But look at his numbers when he's been healthy. Even if he's not a natural in center, he doesn't always get a great jump on the ball. I'd say he's adequate there and as a center fielder who's going to give you a .400 on-base percentage with some speed and some pop, he brings a lot of value."
Indeed, in Nimmo's one full season in the big leagues, playing 140 games in 2018, he put up an impressive .886 OPS that included a .404 on-base percentage.
By comparison, Marte's highest OPS in his career was .845, a number he put up last year. The difference is that his on-base percentage was only .345 because he doesn't walk nearly as much as Nimmo.
"The on-base number is obviously important but how important is based on how it fits into the big picture for a team," one scout said.
"Nimmo is valuable to the Mets because they can put enough offense around him to take advantage of his on-base skills, whether he hits leadoff or down in the order.
"And I have to say he got my attention by what he did coming back last September after being out for so long. I don't know if the leg kick will have a lasting effect, but he looked pretty locked in. And the Mets weren't playing out the string. He stepped in and helped them in that Wild-Card race."
In fact, Nimmo had an immediate impact, drawing six walks in his first four games back in early September, five of them in a three-game series against the Nationals, to go with a home run and a double in 11 plate appearances as the Mets took two of three in D.C.
He went on to hit .261 in September, with a .430 on-base percentage and a .565 slugging percentage, adding up to that eye-popping .995 OPS over 26 games.
"It's hard to say if he just ran into a hot streak or that last month was a sign he's still making strides as a hitter," a second scout said. "But for me it's enough to be really curious about what he does next.
"That's why I wouldn't have traded him for Marte. The salary and the extra year of control are part of it, but if I'm the Mets I'm really excited to think he might have another level to go to as a hitter."