The Metropolitan: The Mets play (exhibition) baseball today

Plus, we go deep on Brandon Nimmo's defense

Good Morning,

Today we’ll do a deep dive on Brandon Nimmo’s much-discussed defense in centerfield, but we start with the news. 

Catch me up in 60(ish) seconds…

⚾️ PLAY BALL: Baseball is back! The Mets will open their Grapefruit League schedule today in Jupiter, Florida against the Miami Marlins at 1:05 PM.

🔸PITCHERS: Twenty-five-year-old Harol Gonzalez, who finished his 2019 season with an impressive run in Triple-A, will make the start for the Mets against right-hander Sandy Alcantara.

  • Since it’s the beginning of Spring Training, the Mets will trot out a long list of pitchers, which manager Luis Rojas told reporters will include Sean Reid-FoleyRyley GilliamTrevor HildenbergerStephen Tarpley and Thomas Szapucki.

🔸STARSTRUCK: Francisco Lindor is expected to be in the starting lineup, along with Pete Alonso, Brandon Nimmo, and J.D. Davis. Unfortunately, the game will not be televised by either the Mets or the Marlins. You can watch the Amazins for the first time on Tuesday (tomorrow) against the Astros at 1:10 PM on SNY.

🌴 SPRING RULES: Spring Training games through March 13 may be shortened to five- or seven-inning games based on the discretion of the clubs. The Mets and Marlins plan on playing 7-innings on Monday. Beginning March 14, games will be at least 7 innings, and the three-batter minimum rule will start to be enforced.

📬 INVITE: The Mets have added top pitching prospect J.T. Ginn as a non-roster invite to Spring Training, per Tim Healey, along with veteran catcher Caleb Joseph, bringing their total camp size to 73 players (two shy of the max). Ginn was a consensus first-round talent whom the Mets nabbed in the second round by paying first-round money.

🍎 NEW BOSS: Mets owner Steve Cohen was very visible at Clover Park over the weekend, talking to Francisco Lindor and Michael Conforto, among others. However, David Lennon of Newsday noted that he kept his distance and doesn’t appear to be intruding on baseball activities.

🏥 GETTING BETTER: Eleven months since undergoing Tommy John surgery, Noah Syndergaard threw three sliders in a bullpen session on Saturday, and pitching coach Jeremy Hefner is excited about his progression:

  • He’s doing everything he’s supposed to be doing,” Hefner told reporters over the weekend. “The work ethic is never in question with Noah. He’s one of the strongest guys in camp, and it’s going very, very well. He’s progressing as he should.”

❤️ HEALTHY: Offseason acquisition Carlos “Cookie” Carrasco arrived at Mets camp after a small delay and receiving his COVID-19 vaccine. The veteran starter is in remission from leukemia so his doctors wanted to make sure his “heart is fine” before he reported.

⚾️ NEW HIRE: Collin Hetzler announced via his Twitter account that he has been hired as the Mets’ Complex Hitting Coordinator.


Can Brandon Nimmo be a suitable centerfielder?

🧓 by Jeffrey Bellone

Some could say that playing the outfield is like flying, because when the ball is hit in the air and the only thing between it and you is blue sky and white clouds, for a moment, gravity is in disbelief. It somehow knows your speed and that you moved two steps to the left before the pitch was thrown, and it wonders if that’s enough for you to prevent the inevitable.

All things that go up must come down. And of course this is true in baseball. But when a centerfielder chases down a fly ball and catches it in mid-air, it feels like the laws of nature were somehow ignored, as if Superman has swooped in at the last second to keep the falling object from crashing to the surface.

And this is how we measure outfield defense. Which players are the best at catching the ball before it touches the ground?

For Brandon Nimmo, his movements in centerfield have more closely resembled a Sunday driver than a skilled pilot. Instead of taking the most efficient route to the ball, it’s like his internal mapping system downloaded the wrong coordinates and consequently instruct him to take two extra turns before reaching his destination, as you can see in the play below.

During his first press conference of Spring Training, Nimmo talked about his desire to improve on defense, and how the analytics motivated him to play a deeper centerfield.

“I think early on in the season (in 2020), I think honestly I was playing too shallow,” he said. “And so that was keeping me from catching a lot of balls I think the metrics would say are very catchable balls. That was something we tried to improve on at the end. There was definitely a couple of balls that I just screwed up on. And in 60 games, that’s gonna be highlighted. You’re not gonna have the longevity to make that up.”

When Nimmo says “very catchable balls,” this isn’t just anecdotal. Statcast is able to calculate catch probability by considering a fielder’s starting position and speed relative to the distance and hang time of the ball put in play. We can see this visualized in the graphic below. Based on Nimmo’s speed and positioning, he should be able to catch all of the balls hit in the upper region of the graph boxed off in black.

This also shows us how often Nimmo misplayed a “catchable” ball that was not recorded as an error. Focusing on fly balls to centerfield with at least a 60% catch probability, we find Nimmo let four such plays turn into trouble last season. If we expand the filter to 35% catch probability, he let ten turn into hits. To put that number into perspective, Jackie Bradley Jr., who had more opportunities in center last season, only let two such fly balls land in the outfield grass.

Nimmo not only misses on the routine plays, but he fails to make up for it with the occasional spectacular grab.

As I mentioned in the beginning, playing the outfield is a race against gravity. Brandon Nimmo has above average speed, so with proper positioning, he should be able to reach a fair share of fly balls.

After watching dozens of videos of Nimmo’s defense in centerfield, I found that his biggest problem was exactly what he identified through the metrics. When balls are hit over his head, he can get discombobulated in deciding which direction to turn on his way to the ball. You can see that again here.

By playing a deeper centerfield, the play unfolds in front of him. Instead of needing to worry about which direction to turn his body when running back on the ball, he can focus on perfecting his first step so shallow plays don’t turn into annoying base hits, as he did in this September game when he started to play closer to the wall.

However, that doesn’t completely solve the problem either. Watch on this play how Nimmo turns a short pop-up into an adventure.

There’s still a lot of work to do for Nimmo to become a suitable centerfielder. But while several players have recently voiced their frustration with analytics taking over the game, in focusing on defense it is one area where following the data might be the difference between a player like Nimmo maximizing his ability to defend his position — and thus potentially earn more money in the future — versus losing at-bats because he is such a liability on the field.

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⚾️ Former Met Andres Gimenez went 2-2 and hit an RBI triple in Cleveland’s 5-1 win in their Cactus League opener on Sunday.

⚾️ Third baseman Hunter Dozier signed a four-year, $25 million contract extension with the Kansas City Royals, per Jeff Passan.

⚾️ The Braves have signed manager Brian Snitker to a contract extension through 2023, with a club option for 2024.


🔗 Sam McWilliams could be hidden gem for Mets' bullpen, by Tim Healey, Newsday: “Sam McWilliams didn’t know what to expect when he became a free agent at the start of the offseason, but he and his agent had a strategy: Make sure teams knew who he had become…So he and his representative offered the relevant information to clubs. They had Trackman reports — spin rate and other modern metrics teams have come to value.”

🔗 Mets prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong set to begin pro journey, by Greg Joyce, NY Post: In a regular year, Crow-Armstrong would have made his pro debut last summer. Instead, after COVID-19 wiped out the minor league season, he spent the months following the draft working out — in the gym six days a week to get his body stronger for his new full-time job and hitting in the batting cage five to seven days a week, he said.”

🔗 Five years after death of beloved Mets PR guru, Shannon Forde is remembered by Jay Horwitz, NY Daily News: “Shannon was a trailblazer for women in public relations in baseball and for that matter in all sports. When I hired her in 1994 as an intern from St. John’s, I knew I had a keeper. She was smart, knew how to keep score, was a dedicated Mets fan and she just bowled me over with her enthusiasm.”

And we leave you with this heartwarming video of Orioles’ slugger Trey Mancini receiving a standing ovation after his return from cancer.

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And please check out our newsletter about the Knicks, too.