Looking For Value? Finding Nimmo

Assessing why Brandon Nimmo is an underrated fantasy asset

“Underrated” and “overrated” are often overused terms, and in an age of information with so many people doing wonderful work to highlight the sport (look no further than our writing team at Pitcher List), it feels a little ridiculous to argue about a player’s overrated or underrated skill set. This is especially true of it being harder to find that one skillset that no one else is talking about.  Nevertheless, it can still happen that certain players are slightly overlooked or the other way around. One player who comes to mind when having these conversations is the Mets’ Brandon Nimmo.

Before we get to why Nimmo is in the discussion for underrated status despite being around for a while now (he debuted in 2016), I’d like to emphasize some points Scot Chu made in the latest edition of his Hacks and Jacks podcast. Nothing that has happened yet in the 2024 season should drive massive reactions one way or the other, and if something has, it’s only because it came well within our expected range of outcomes. Random example: Garrett Crochet looks quite intriguing, but while it wasn’t likely that he’d put it together to this extent, we knew this was a possibility given the quality of his stuff. Disappointing stretches by the likes of Aaron Judge, Rafael Devers, Francisco Lindor, Corbin Carroll, and Julio Rodriguez; none of that will last. Across 50 or so plate appearances, even the top hitters in the sport can go through lousy stretches, and the opposite holds true as well.

With that in mind, getting a baseline for a player’s expectations helps us to understand how he’s rated by the general baseball population. Researching and doing prep work for drafts over the offseason, I remember looking at Scott Chu’s Top-300 hitters that came out in February. Nimmo ranked 69th overall, right in the midst of fellow outfielders Teoscar Hernández, Jorge Soler, George Springer, and Seiya Suzuki, all formidable players in their own rights.

This wasn’t an aggressive ranking by any means. After all, Nimmo finished last season in the top 70 for hitters. If anything, one might argue it was rather conservative, accounting for the injury history and relatively recent nature of his increased power that the lefty-hitter showcased in 2023. Yet, even I as a noted Nimmo Stan, couldn’t help but feel a little funny about seeing him with those names. Possibly because he was often available in drafts far later than the players mentioned, something backed by his ADP at NFBC. From January 1st until the end of the draft season, Nimmo was the 43rd outfielder selected according to ADP, sitting at 186.52, with Masataka Yoshida and Christopher Morel as the two ahead of him and Daulton Varsho and Steven Kwan the two behind.

Now that we’ve established the player we think Nimmo is and the player that he was drafted as, it’s time to address Nimmo’s skill set and why he was a bargain.

There are merits in all sorts of approaches, but as you might be able to tell by who this article is being written about, I’m a big fan of hit tool for a rather simple reason. It brings forth a justified sense of reliability with a player. So much of what we do while drafting is managing risk. While there are other types of risk, such as injury, the notion of relative trust in what you’re going to get from a bat is key.

For instance, Lane Thomas, Esteury Ruiz, and Christopher Morel were all players selected ahead of Nimmo according to ADP. While they could all theoretically have better campaigns if everything clicks, the range of outcomes is far wider based on what we can project out of following their whole careers.

With Mookie Betts becoming an infielder full-time, do you know how many outfielders in the NL have a higher career wRC+ than Brandon Nimmo’s 133 mark since 2016? The answer is two, and they’re named Fernando Tatis Jr. and Ronald Acuña Jr. This isn’t necessarily a statement that Nimmo is a player at the caliber of those two, but it underscores the point that there is a baked in reliability with Nimmo at the plate. He’re a guy that’s going to go hit.

That being said, there are a few things working against Nimmo to diminish his value and land his ADP where it did. My two cents on it is that the perception of these things, long-established in the market as massive red flags, have outweighed their actual significance when it comes to Nimmo.

First off, the injury factor. Especially in the earlier years of his career, Nimmo missed significant time, but one can just as easily paint a rather positive picture with the more recent outlook. Since 2020, Nimmo has played three full seasons, only missing real time in 2021 when he played in 92 games. Now, 2020 was a shortened year, but he played about as much as he could, and this is a man (due to hitting leadoff) with over 1300 PA since 2023. As of right now, I struggle with the notion of devaluing Nimmo all that much due to injury concerns. Other than Marcus Semien and a couple of other players, most major-leaguers miss time at one point or another, and the Mets hitter has earned some trust with his ability to stay on the field in recent campaigns.

The second thing is the power (or lack thereof), and here is where we get to the good stuff. Nimmo has never been that big of a fantasy guy because he hadn’t ever hit for much power, and he didn’t balance that out by stealing bases, despite always registering good sprint speeds across his career. He just does not run, and it is something that’s been regime-proof during his time in New York. Whatever the reason since he debuted, he just doesn’t attempt to steal bases, despite being one of the more consistent leadoff bats in the game. The power, however, is where he showed improvements last season, ones that could very well be sustained moving forward and not just represent an abnormality in his career.

Nimmo hit 24 balls out of the ballpark in 2023, boasting his highest ISO (.192) since 2020. And the homer mark shattered his career high of 17, which came back in 2018. For context, in 2022, Nimmo managed only 16 homers. The Mets’ leadoff bat started to put the ball in the air more often without sacrificing much of his other assets, finishing the year with a 32.2% flyball rate, capping a gradual increase from the 27.8% mark he had in 2022 and 24.9% in 2021. It’s too early to make a precise assessment of whether the elevated flyball rate will stick (it was a shift that didn’t sacrifice much elsewhere in his offensive profile, as he had a 130 wRC+ in 2023). However, even if it does not, it is quite fair to expect Nimmo to hover around 20 homers in a year.

Forgetting the injury aspect for a second, how much of a gap is there in the player profile between Bryan Reynolds and Brandon Nimmo? Is it the possibility of those 10 steals? Is it the lineup? How about the possibility of six more homers, or something close to it? These are all marginal advantages from two hitters that exist, at worst, on the same playing field, yet there is a Grand Canyon-sized gap in perceived value between the two. As of now, it’s a market inefficiency that can be taken advantage of, and a hitter that will just continue plugging away.

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