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Fire & Ice: Popping the Cutch

Fire – Brandon Nimmo

Brandon Nimmo has long been a fan favorite simply because of his name. “Finding Nimmo” was the name of about 50% of all fantasy teams a couple years back. However, after the initial novelty wore off, owners realized there isn’t a ton to love. Nimmo had just six homers and two steals over an even 100 games between 2016-17. Trying to get category juice out of Nimmo was like trying to juice a banana. Don’t think about that too much. His primary calling card was there already, however — a .367 on-base percentage.

Still, you aren’t going to attract a lot of fantasy attention merely getting on base. We need more, especially in standard mixed leagues. Well, more is what we’re getting so far in 2018 — the 25-year-old has turned heads in his first 44 games, swiping five bags and matching that with five homers as well. That comes out to around an 18/18 pace over the course of a full season, and paired with a .279/.429/.521 triple slash, well… that’s a heck of a player. But can he sustain this pace and become a true breakout?

The stolen bases feel a little fluky. The most he’s ever stolen in a season is 14, combined between High-A and Double-A way back in 2014. He’s not a burner, with a sprint speed of 28.3 ft/sec per Baseball Savant, ranking him 81st in MLB. That’s enough to steal some bags, but a large part of successful steal attempts is technique. I also consider stolen bases a “want-to” stat, meaning if you are actively looking to steal you can overachieve in that category with less than elite foot speed. Just for example, some other players with similar sprint speeds are AJ Pollock (9 SB), Jean Segura (12 SB), and Mookie Betts (13 SB). I’d still more safely expect another 5-7 steals the rest of the way, but if he is really making it a point to be more aggressive on the bases, he could finish closer to 15-20 by the end of the year.

The other peculiar aspect of his early season surge is his .261 ISO. Over Nimmo’s 2016-17 stretch, his ISO was a meager .128 with a 33% hard contact rate. Has he found a new level of power? Let us consult a fancy chart.

This is pretty incredible. Stop me if you’ve heard this recently, but he’s putting the ball in the air more and pulling it for power. The best part  is that Nimmo is not selling out for power — his strikeout rate is actually way down! In 2017 he was just under a 28% K%, and this year he’s trimmed that down to a cool 22%. His contact and whiff rates are actually pretty close to being in line with what he’s done historically, though, so there will probably be some regression closer to 25%. Even if/when that comes, that’s no biggie in this day and age.

Nimmo is hitting .279 thanks to a .342 BABIP, which will be hard to maintain. While the hard contact is way up, helping his BABIP case, fly balls that don’t leave the yard are usually easy out. He’s also popping up a ton at 21%, and if that continues his BABIP and average will come down in a huge way. He may wind up as more of a .250 hitter than .280, but my goodness that OBP is still going to be huge with as many walks as he draws. That makes Nimmo a potential three category star as the Mets leadoff hitter, or four in an OBP league. He still has a long way to go against lefties (48wRC+, 39% K%) and may (read: should) be a platoon hitter in the short-term, but he should be owned in all but the very shallowest of formats.

Ice – Andrew McCutchen

It was a tough offseason for Andrew McCutchen as the Pirates dealt him to the West Coast to play for the Giants. It has also been a tough start to the regular season for Cutch as he is hitting just .246 with three homers through 53 games. Not all is lost since he has at least given you four steals already, but it’s been a bummer to own Cutch overall. Is the 31-year-old toast, or should you keep the faith?

Let’s diagnose this power outage. Just last year McCutchen put up a .207 ISO, yet this year it’s down to .133. Could it really be that hard to hit in AT&T? Well, it’s no picnic, but his outlook is promising. He has increased his hard contact from an above-average-but-won’t-set-your-pants-on-fire 35% in 2017 to an oh-my-holy-poop-I-need-new-breeches 49% this season. How has he been rewarded? With a paltry 5.7% HR/FB% which is less than half of his career average. What a screw job.

McCutchen’s 23% strikeout rate is the highest of his career. That said, it’s not egregious. His contact is only down slightly overall, and he’s making up for any downturn in contact ability with increased patience. His 18.4% chase rate is the 5th best mark in baseball, feeding into that 14% BB%. It’s also weird to see a .246 average on a .321 BABIP when you consider the obscene hard contact rate. I’d expect the average to climb as the season rolls on. If you roll that in with the expected power outcome, you get a scrumptious .379 xwOBA compared to his current .326 wOBA. For some context, a .379 wOBA would rank 20th in all of MLB right now.

The Giants lineup quite simply doesn’t have a ton to offer, so you’re probably taking a loss if you expected 170 R+RBI this year. The RBI will tick up when the homers finally start to come, though, so at least there’s that. Cutch makes for a solid low-key buy-low (I really felt like my hyphen key needed some love today), and if you have him I would hold tight for the brighter days on the horizon.

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