Anyone who follows the Mets minor league system knows Brandon Nimmo hasn’t had it easy. Along with all the buzz that comes with being a top pick of a New York team, the early successes of fellow 2011 first rounder Jose Fernandez has only brought more intense scrutiny to the young outfielder. Last season, everything compounded into a disappointing season with Savannah, where he hit .273/.397/.359 on the year, with far less power than expected.
Nimmo began the season on an absolute tear, batting .392/.489/.527 through his first 90 plate appearances. Then, a hand injury put him on the shelf. Initially, it was only supposed to be a week, but a week turned into a month before Nimmo was finally able to set foot on the field again. Once back, Nimmo struggled… badly. He hit .228/.343/.305 through July. The walks were there, but not much else. For over a month after he came back, Nimmo had to wear two layers of tape on his hand, which set of a wave of mechanical glitches in his swing. Last August, Toby Hyde of Mets Minor League Blog talked to Nimmo and his coaches about the issue, writing:
When Nimmo returned from the disabled list, it appeared as though he did not trust his hands. This led to a cascade where he started landing with his front foot too close to home plate in his stride. By July, he was working to correct it.
Gnats manager Luis Rojas explains, “What he was doing, striding too close, and it was causing him to get locked middle-in and inside. Now, he’s more fluid with his hips going through the zone and keeping his bat longer.”
Nimmo feels the difference, “I was getting into a little bit of a bad habit of closing myself off. And I still do a little bit. But by shortening my step a little bit more, it keeps me a little bit more even at the plate. The more even I can be, the better I can get to the outside pitch, the better I can get to the inside pitch.”
According to Mets’ Hitting Coordinator Lamar Johnson, “The next step for him is just to get a consistent swing. Right now, he’s showing that swing sometimes, but he’s gotta get it a little more consistent and that’s the maturity part of it.“
Nimmo became a dead pull hitter, not only hitting less but also striking out at an absurd rate. It would be August until Nimmo would finally turn it around. In August and September, Nimmo hit .315/.468/.398. That’s still not a lot of power, but for a left-handed hitter in Savannah who is as raw as the scouts say he is, that’s not bad. Power develops late, and with Nimmo having missed significant time in high school due to injury, the home runs may come later for him than for most.
Understanding the scope of the injury Nimmo suffered last year is crucial to putting his numbers in context. Sure, his struggles can partially be attributed to being a lefty playing half of his games in Savannah, but there was likely more than that. Rojas said Nimmo was “striding too close,” which was “causing him to get locked middle-in and inside.” That’s a nightmare for a hitter and will drive players with even the best plate discipline and pitch recognition skills into a slump. Looking at where Nimmo was hitting the ball in May through July versus how he has hit in August and this season, it’s clear the injury if not hurt for months after, affected his mechanics. Obviously we don’t have much video evidence on the minor league side, but we are now getting much more data than we used to from the minor leagues. Here is a comparison of Nimmo’s spray chart from May-July with that of last August.
If anything, when Nimmo was heating up, he was hitting the ball just as much the other way as he was pulling it. Coincidence? Can this be attributed to a small sample size? Check out this year’s chart.
I’m certainly no apologist for any Mets prospect, but those who labeled Nimmo a bust last year were sorely misguided. Yes, Nimmo was off the disabled list, but you can’t look past an ongoing side effect of the injury as nothing. The Mets drafted Nimmo with the expectation that he could hit to all fields, which he has done with flying colors when healthy. This year is no hot streak for Nimmo. This isn’t a fluke. Nimmo’s strikeouts have plummeted and he’s hitting the ball the other way with authority. This is the real Brandon Nimmo.
*Hit charts courtesy of MLBFarm