After missing the majority of last season with a neck injury, Brandon Nimmo is ready to regain his role at the top of the order in 2020.
Heading into this season, the New York Mets are still debating which player should hit at the top of their batting order this spring.
While a decision doesn’t need to be made right now, first-year manager Luis Rojas will likely select a full-time leadoff hitter before the end of spring training.
Prior to the 2019 campaign, Brandon Nimmo served as the primary leadoff hitter for the Mets. Since the 26-year-old outfielder was limited to just 69 games last season, Jeff McNeil was shifted into that role within their lineup.
For a short period, Amed Rosario was also placed in the leadoff position for 38 games while McNeil recovered from a hamstring strain back in August of last season. Although, the Mets’ shortstop is expected to resume his role at the bottom of the order this season.
So, that leaves just Nimmo and McNeil to battle against each other for the spot at the top of the lineup. Both hitters are certainly deserving of the job, but there’s only one player who’ll benefit the most from batting leadoff in 2020.
Without question, Nimmo is better suited to hit at the top of the order than McNeil. Over the last two seasons, no player on the Mets has generated a higher OBP (.395) or a better walk rate (16.0%) than Nimmo.
During that same time frame, the 6-foot-3 center fielder has created a .400 wOBA, .369 xwOBA and an 18.7% walk rate against fastballs. In addition, he’s also generated a .353 wOBA, .303 xwOBA and a 7.9% walk rate against breaking balls.
As for McNeil, he’s produced a measly 6.0% walk rate and a .383 OBP since the 2018 season. In particular, the 27-year-old has recorded a .368 wOBA, .347 xwOBA, 7.0% walk rate against heaters and a .401 wOBA, .353 xwOBA, 3.5% walk rate against breaking balls over the past two seasons.
Based on these results, it’s clear that Nimmo has been able to get on base significantly more than McNeil in each of the last two campaigns.
With Nimmo as the leadoff hitter, the Mets would almost always have someone on base in front of the middle of their order. As a result, New York would be able to improve off of their 13th-best run total (791) throughout the majors from the 2019 season.
Despite his 26.7% strikeout rate since 2018, Nimmo has chased fewer pitches outside of the strike zone than McNeil, which further proves that he’s the best player qualified to hit in the leadoff position.
Over his last 789 plate appearances, Nimmo has generated the eighth-lowest o-swing rate (19.8%) among all hitters with at least 500 plate appearances. In comparison, McNeil has created a 39.8% o-swing rate over the last two seasons, which is ranked as the 28th-highest throughout the entire major leagues.
Furthermore, McNeil has also recorded a higher chase rate against fastballs, breaking balls and offspeed pitches than Nimmo since the 2018 campaign.
During his previous 815 plate appearances, the Mets third baseman has produced a 30.0% chase rate against heaters (17.7% higher than Nimmo’s rate), 38.3% rate against breaking balls (16.8% higher) and a 46.9% rate against offspeed pitches (23.3% higher).
Ideally, most teams prefer a leadoff hitter who doesn’t chase many pitches outside of the strike zone. So, even though Nimmo has recorded a higher strikeout rate than McNeil since 2018, he should be able to offset those strikeout totals with his high OBP and walk rate this season.
With Nimmo batting first, McNeil would be more suited to hit behind him in the No. 2 spot. Based on his impressive .214 ISO, .337 BABIP and .531 SLG from last season, the left-handed batter would be able to drive in a lot more runs if he were hitting second.
If McNeil’s able to replicate his extra-base power in 2020, Nimmo should be given a lot of opportunities to score from just first base as his sprint speed of 28.5 ft/s ranked in the 84th percentile last season. As a result, the Mets would likely be able to further increase their run production from the leadoff position this season, as they finished tied for the eleventh-most runs in that category throughout the majors in 2019.
Since the Mets were extremely successful with McNeil batting first last season, he could easily replace Nimmo in that spot on days where he needs to rest or if he requires an IL stint at some point during this season as well.
Last season, the Mets were tied for the tenth-lowest overall walk rate (8.2%) and they generated the tenth-lowest walk rate (7.6%) in the leadoff spot among all 30 teams in the league. So, adding Nimmo (who’s carried a 16.0% walk rate since 2018) to the top of the Mets’ lineup in 2020, could prevent it from becoming stagnant at times throughout this season.
In fact, Nimmo shouldn’t have any issues becoming one of the best leadoff hitters throughout the entire major leagues in 2020, just as long as he’s able to stay healthy throughout the summer.