If the season ended today, the National League MVP might just be… Brandon Nimmo?
Through Sunday’s play, Nimmo was tied for the Major League lead in fWAR, with 1.6. He was tied for second in bWAR, with 1.7, and was the only player in the Top 3 on both lists. He’s been even better than he was last year, when Nimmo performed so well that the Mets felt comfortable giving him an eight-year, $162 million contract to keep him a Met through 2030.
“We’ll keep riding the wave and understanding that baseball’s hard,” Nimmo said. “There will be ups and downs. But right now, it’s going pretty well.”
How, though, has Nimmo done it? Over the past four seasons, the former first-round Draft pick has demonstrated marked improvement in four different areas:
Back in 2020, Nimmo was growing frustrated with the Catch-22 of trying to hit southpaws. Nimmo understood he would never receive regular playing time versus lefties if he didn’t improve against them. He also knew he would not improve without regular opportunities.
So Nimmo and Michael Conforto lobbied then-general manager Brodie Van Wagenen to hire a left-handed batting practice pitcher. Wagenen agreed to promote Rafael Fernandez, a longtime Mets farmhand and Minor League hitting coach who threw lefty. Quickly, Nimmo developed a routine of bringing Fernandez into the cage before games and having him throw as hard as he could, like a real pitcher would.
“We were like, ‘If we can’t practice it, we can’t get better at it,’” Nimmo said. “Raffy’s been here ever since.”
The results have been stark. Here are Nimmo’s career numbers against left-handed pitchers:
3.29 plate appearances per strikeout
5.16 plate appearances per strikeout
Beyond the production, Nimmo’s improvements against lefties have allowed him to remain in the lineup almost every day, which has factored into his evolution as a player.
Around that same time, Nimmo was searching for a way to translate his natural athleticism into better center-field defense. Always a relatively fast runner, Nimmo struggled to track balls behind him. So on a tip from the Mets’ analytics team, he began setting up about a dozen feet deeper than he did earlier in his career. He would have less real estate to traverse on balls over his head, while using his natural speed to catch up to line drives in front of him.
It’s worked exactly as designed. Once again, the improvement has been clear, as measured by Nimmo’s Outs Above Average in center field:
Following Sunday’s series finale in San Francisco, Nimmo walked through the clubhouse with heavy wraps on both knees -- part of the maintenance required after successfully diving for so many balls in the outfield. The Mets were comfortable enough with Nimmo’s defense that they chose him as the starter last year despite signing a more accomplished center fielder in Starling Marte. He’s since become even stronger at the position.
Part of Nimmo’s defensive improvement stems from the fact that he hasn’t always been quite this fleet. Three years ago, Nimmo altered his daily workout routine, performing cardio work before hitting the weight room, then spending more time on leg day. In 2020, Nimmo ranked in the 77th percentile of big leaguers in sprint speed. This year, he’s in the 88th.
Despite that, Nimmo remains reticent to steal bases. He has been injured on the basepaths in the past (more on that later), and he doesn’t want to risk being caught stealing given the quality of hitters behind him in the lineup.
Mostly, Nimmo utilizes his speed by going first-to-third, first-to-home and second-to-home with regularity. But he understands the opportunities created by Major League Baseball’s rule changes, including larger bases and limits on pitcher step-offs and throwovers. Already this season, Nimmo has matched his 2022 stolen base total with three. While Nimmo isn’t likely to run enough to steal 30-plus bags, it’s reasonable to think he will blow past his career high of nine if he stays healthy. Rather than be a volume base stealer, Nimmo intends to swipe as many bases as he can without being caught.
In Nimmo’s eyes, nothing is more important than this, particularly given how much time he lost earlier in his career to hamstring, neck and finger injuries. One of the more analytically conscious players in the Mets’ clubhouse, Nimmo is aware of how many miles he runs during games (about two, on average), his daily risk for soft tissue injuries, his sleep and nutritional habits, and other such details.
Spring Training provided a notable example when Nimmo skipped the first two weeks of Grapefruit League games to stay fresh. Last year, when the MLB lockout forced him into that habit, he responded with a career-high 151 games. He hopes repeating it will allow him to remain healthy all summer.
“There’s just not a ton of center fielders who stay out there for 150-plus games and do it for multiple seasons,” Nimmo said. “I want to be one of those guys.”