Bryce Harper has the star power, but New York Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo can give the team in Flushing just as much production at a fraction of the cost.
On initial inspection, these two 2018 seasons don’t look too dissimilar: one outfielder hit .249 with a .393 OBP; the other – a member of the New York Mets – went .263/.404. Both had an extra-base hit every ten plate appearances with the first outfielder slugging .496 for an OPS of .889; the other: .483/.886. The first outfielder struck out once every 4.1 plate appearances; the other: once every 3.8.
According to Baseball Reference, the first outfielder had a 4.2 oWAR in 2018 while the Met earned a 5.1 oWAR even though he made 160 fewer plate appearances. Both will be 26 years old throughout their 2019 regular seasons.
Now for the differences. According to Baseball Reference, the first outfielder compiled a -3.2 dWAR in 2018, which was the second worst for any player at any position in MLB. The other admittedly wasn’t stellar at -1.0. However, the first one will earn an average salary of slightly over $25 million for the next 13 years; the other will make $598,285 in 2019. The first player is Bryce Harper; the second player is Brandon Nimmo. If I’m Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen, why would I have any interest in Harper? I already have a similar ballplayer in Nimmo.
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Outrageous you say? To a certain degree, yes. Brandon Nimmo has 830 career plate appearances as he enters his second full season. Bryce Harper will be entering his eighth year. However, Harper has only achieved Nimmo’s 5.1 oWAR in one season: his 22-year-old campaign (2015) when he led the National League with a 9.1 oWAR.
And last year’s dWAR was staggeringly bad. Only new teammate Rhys Hoskins (-3.6) had a worse dWAR stat in 2018. For those that think this was an outlier, it was. However, Harper hasn’t achieved a positive dWAR since 2015 (+0.4), producing subsequent dWARs of -0.9, 0.0, and -3.2 – eye-opening considering his arm strength and speed. This tells a GM that he was either playing to not get injured, playing through an injury and didn’t make it public, didn’t care, or the -26 defensive runs saved last year was truly an aberration.
Based on the 15 or so games I saw him play last year, I will choose door #3: poor attitude. Whether or not my assessment of his approach to defense is correct, one thing is for sure: a repeat performance is not going to help a Phillies team whose defense was wretched in 2018, finishing dead last in the majors with a team dWAR of -13.3. (It should be noted the Mets were second worst at -9.2.)
Even if there was a budget for Harper, the new GM already has a 26-year-old who put up slightly better stats in 2018 and will cost the Mets 2% of Harper’s cash hit ($20 million signing bonus plus $10 million base salary versus $598,285 for Nimmo) in 2019. And there is little doubt concerning Nimmo’s effort as his unbridled pleasure playing the game – he’s the only player in baseball who’s excited when he gets hit by a pitch – is sure to be a positive influence on his teammates once again.
Yes, Harper has hit a home run every 18 ABs for his career while Nimmo hit one every 25.5 ABs during his 2018 season. And Harper will surely hit home runs at even a greater clip in Citizens Bank Park, but Nimmo out-tripled Harper 8 to 0 in 2018, which again points to Harper’s hustle or lack thereof. If he played through injuries, it can be excused. Otherwise, how does a player with above average speed not produce one triple in 695 plate appearances?
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Nimmo may slide back in 2019 as pitchers adjust. His strikeout frequency is high for an otherwise ideal leadoff hitter, but from this fan’s perspective, I’d rather see Nimmo in the outfield over Harper. Van Wagenen is wise to deploy the Mets’ budget elsewhere.