Wilmer Flores looks for the game to come back to him

Jerry EavesI used to cover North Carolina A&T basketball games. A&T is an HBCU team and a low-level Division I squad. At the time they were coached by Jerry Eaves. There could be two reasons that name sounds familiar to you. If you’re a graybeard, you might remember him as a starter for the 1980 Louisville Cardinals team which won the NCAA Championship. If you’re younger, you might be familiar with his talk radio show.

A&T didn’t get a ton of media coverage and perhaps because of that Eaves gave great quotes. If you asked him a decent question, you got a terrific response. Once I asked him why he didn’t call a timeout when his team was struggling at the start of a game. And with the confidence of a guy who had been in that situation numerous times as both a player and a coach, he said simply, “The game always comes back to you.”

Unlike the tyrant coaches, who are only happy when they pull all of the strings, Eaves wanted his guys to figure stuff out themselves on the court, especially if the trouble came early in the game. With enough possessions left before the final buzzer, he knew his guys would pull it together and go on a run. Essentially he was arguing for basketball regression.

“The game always comes back to you.”

As measured by OPS+, there is a tie for the greatest rookie season by a Hall of Famer in MLB history. Carlton Fisk (1972) and Johnny Mize (1936) had identical 162 OPS+ marks, although the way they got there was slightly different.

Fisk had a torrid start but cooled off some the last six weeks of the season. Still, his worst stretch that year was a 7-31 span. As for cold stretches, that wasn’t bad at all and by the time he had it, he had already posted a 1.003 OPS over 309 PA. Fisk was in no jeopardy of getting yanked after getting off to that start.

Meanwhile, Mize got off to a good start, too, but he hit the skids much sooner than Fisk. In late May, he posted a 6-40 span which produced a .175/.233/.350 line. Cardinal manager Frankie Frisch started Mize just once in the next 13 games. Yet he constantly got into games both as a pinch-hitter and a defensive replacement. Frisch didn’t give up on him and didn’t bury him. After that two-week stretch, Mize was a starter for the rest of the year and put up a .341/.421/.579 line over his final 298 PA.

In 1973, Fisk did not come close to enjoying the year he did in his Rookie of the Year campaign. He had several streaks where the hits just didn’t fall in, including a 9-62 stretch where he slashed .145/.172/.194 and for the year he finished with an OPS 159 points beneath what he did in his rookie season. But the Red Sox stayed with him and they were rewarded with one of the top offensive catchers in baseball.

Well, those are Hall of Famers, so maybe you’re not impressed. But just keep in mind that the guys with the greatest rookie seasons among the all-time greats went through bad stretches early in their careers and were allowed to work through them.

Now, let’s flash forward to 2015 and Michael Conforto. Everyone remembers the second game in the majors, when he had a four-hit game. What’s not so fresh in everyone’s mind is that the rookie hit .170 over his next 17 games, including a 4-33 stretch. Conforto didn’t get buried by Terry Collins after this span and went on to post 194 PA and a 132 OPS+ in his rookie season. Maybe he should have been called up earlier than he was and maybe he should have gotten more exposure to LHP in the majors than he did. But the bottom line is they didn’t give up on him after a rough patch.

Wilmer Flores was handed the club’s starting shortstop job last year. He opened the year 4-29 and in addition to hitting a buck 60, he looked pretty shaky in the field. But then he went on a span where he hit three homers in five games. Flores essentially followed this pattern the rest of the year, going stretches where he hit the middle of the ball as often as a four-year-old boy hits the middle of the toilet bowl, followed up by nice streaks.

From July 2 to the end of the year, in 230 PA, Flores posted a .300/.330/.436 line. That could be nothing but a well-timed hot streak. But even if it was, the only reason the club received it is because they didn’t give up on him. The average NL shortstop had a .686 OPS in 2015. The Mets got a .766 mark the final three months of the year from a 23 year old. Most would consider that a good thing.

The Mets went out and paid $18.75 million for two years of a guy who slashed .249/.307/.405 the last three seasons to replace Flores. This same guy had a (-30) DRS over 3,064.1 innings at short the past three seasons. A full season in the field is generally considered 1,200 innings.

Anyone who’s ever read this site will never confuse me as a fan of Flores. An upgrade at SS made perfect sense for the 2016 Mets. But the Mets didn’t get that. Instead they spent money to stand still. Some will argue that this increases their depth and it does. But the Mets paid starter money to improve their depth. And the depth now includes a backup corner infielder who doesn’t have a strong, accurate arm from third and who hasn’t played a game at 1B in the majors. But hey, maybe Flores looked great in those 20 minor league games over three seasons he played the position in the bush leagues.

The only way to realistically spin this as a good move is if the injury he suffered in winter ball is much more serious than they’ve let on. When it happened, it was described as a non-displaced ankle fracture and the typical recovery for a non-athlete for that injury is 6-12 weeks. Flores was going to have more time than that to recover. And let’s not pretend that Flores’ game depended on his speed.

We all know that past results don’t always predict future performance. Maybe Flores’ ankle injury somehow saps his power and he doesn’t come close to what he did in the last three months of the year. Maybe Cabrera hits like it’s 2011 again. Shoot, in the second half of last year, Cabrera had a .916 OPS. Maybe he corrected a flaw.

Or maybe the game just game back to him. May Flores get that same shot.

10 comments for “Wilmer Flores looks for the game to come back to him

  1. Joe Gomes
    December 26, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    I just don’t understand how the Mets operate. First, they let Murphy go in order to get cheaper /younger / faster at the position by using Herrera. Then they trade for Walker because now Herrera isn’t ready?

    Then they bring Cabrera who last year was worse than Flores and pay him 18M+. So instead of getting cheaper, they get more expensive with about the same kind of players that were already in-house.

    Walker and Cabrera will cost the Mets around 20M, plus 7M for Colon. I don’t get it and when you add 6M for de Aza, it makes even less sense. Basically 33M for players they already had enough off.

    How many 2B do the Mets need? Flores, Tejada, Reynolds and others.

    All this idiots needed to do was keep the team together for the next couple of years while the pitching is cheap and great. Full year of Conforto, Matz and Blevings, Montero and Mejia coming back along with Cespedes and Murphy.

    Cespedes probably will make 20M per year and Murphy 12M. Thats 32M

    They could have kept the same team while spending the same money.

    Sandy is a genius in his own mind.

  2. Name
    December 26, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    Just wanted to point this out.

    as 2b: 68 PA, 891 OPS
    as ss: 198 PA, 597 OPS

    as 2b: 133 PA, 800 OPS
    as ss: 373 PA, 668 OPS

    as ss after 7/2: 108PA, 667 OPS

    More than just a coincidence? Second year a row it’s happened.

    For what it’s worth, Cabrera stats at just SS go up to 730 OPS in the last 3 years. If you don’t include 2015, it’s 705 OPS

    Looking at those numbers, i don’t think it’s a lateral move, it’s a big upgrade. Not as big but a modest upgrade if Cabrera reverts back to 2013-2014

  3. Chris F
    December 26, 2015 at 8:44 pm
    • Jack Strawb
      December 27, 2015 at 9:09 am

      Not me. Or fangraphs. Which I’ll take over your sports section of the newspaper all day, every day.

      “Thing is, it’s no guarantee Cabrera is any better at the plate than Wilmer Flores — Steamer’s 2016 projections actually prefer Flores — and it might be a stretch to consider Cabrera a shortstop anyway.”


      • Chris F
        December 27, 2015 at 1:06 pm

        I’ll take the comments from actual teammates like Longoria over fangraphs.

    • Metsense
      December 27, 2015 at 9:11 am

      Thanks for the link Chris.
      Cabrera in his worst years is equivalent to Flojada in their best years. He is a switch hitter, only 30 years old, and consistently averages 15 home runs a year. He is defensively weak SS but he makes the the routine play (97.3 %) better than Flores (94.9 %) and equal to Tejada (97.0 %). Cabrera is an upgrade in a limited shortstop market at a reasonable salary and contract length.
      Flores should get plenty of opportunities semi- platooning with Walker at second, getting at bats during Wright’s rest days and getting a start every two weeks to rest Cabrera.He is still young and may not of reached his potential. His power and 95 OPS+ makes him a valuable bench piece.
      Tejada is the odd man out and should be moved.

      • James Preller
        December 27, 2015 at 10:58 am

        In fairness, no one yet knows what Flores’ best years will look like. He’s likely 3-4 years away from hitting his ceiling.

        That said, I think Cabrera is an upgrade; and I like Flores in a super utility role.

        It all comes down to the allocation of resources, a question of whether this marginal upgrade at SS gives the Mets the most bang for the buck.

  4. TexasGusCC
    December 27, 2015 at 3:53 am

    Brian, I admit to having the pom poms out when it comes to the kids, but within reason. When we saw the Baxters, Ankiels, Youngs, the Abreus of the baseball getting at bats rather than the kids, my blood of boiled. It boiled because I understood that old farts like Collins felt he invented baseball and would crap on the young player simply because that player didn’t hav a voic, while the veteran was “respected” but in essence I believed feared becaus Collins couldn’t control him (see Niese, Harvey, Kelly Johnson playing DH in the World Series and batting eighth while Lagares sat on the bench and Cespedes played centerfield).

    I realize that Flores is not a SS, but the problem is that Tejada absolutely sucks, so Flores at least has potential to offer. I have no problem with either middle infield transaction but I do expect Flores to get about 400 plate appearances. Look at this way: If Wright sits just once a week, that’s 26 games or about 100 PA’s. Throw in injuries to other infielders or even Wright, double switches, platoons, rests, and pinch hitting and I think 400 PA’s is a minimum expectation for Flores.

    However, Flores needs to do his share, too. That all or nothing uppercut swing that doesn’t use his lower body at all is not what we want to see. He needs to drive it using his legs and level that swing out. Honestly, I don’t remember it being that blatant when he first came up. I remember that he sprained his ankle going into third base at Dodger stadium legging out a triple into right center. Where has that gone? The real detriment to Flores is Terry Collins. As Joe Gomes calls him “the imbecile in the dugout”, he will give all the playing time scraps to Tejada, especially when a crappy pitcher is on the hill. Tejada has to go and take his limited upside and lack of potential with him. I’d prefer to see Reynolds or Rivera up anyway because the guy I really wanted, Tovar, is with another organization. Tovar had a weak bat, but had good speed, a great glove and a lefty bat. Now maybe T. J. Rivera and his offensive potential are the best fit but he is also a righty.

  5. AJ
    December 27, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    Nice article Brian, I enjoyed reading it. Flores is a puzzle to me. I remember going to see him play for Savannah in the SAL, because I had heard about the Mets signing this 16-year old they had high hopes for, and now a year or 2 later here he was in my neck of the woods. He was not particularly impressive that game. He didn’t play well, but that can happen to any player on any given day. More to the point, he did not look like a player to keep an eye on. He looked like a big ungainly kid and not much like an athlete. Well, I’m no scout and I know that, so I figured there was something about him that trained eyes could see and casual fans like me couldn’t. When he finally made it to the big league club I had almost forgotten about him and watched with interest to see if he made a better impression. He didn’t, and generally hasn’t. Every now and then he has looked good for a stretch, and I enjoyed the late summer trade/no trade tearry-eyed hero storyline as much as any Mets fan, but so far Wilmer has never shown himself to be more than a utility infielder who can hit a little. Maybe that’s who he is or maybe there’s something more that still hasn’t fully developed, but the window of opportunity for Wilmer to prove out whatever the scouts saw in him when he was just kid would appear to be slowly closing.

  6. Herb G
    December 27, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    I am absolutely fine with signing Cabrera and making Wilmer a utility super-sub. He will get at least 400 ABs, spelling David at 3B, Lucas at 1B, as well as time at SS and supplying pop off the bench late in games. His best role going forward with the Mets is probably in that role. By the time Cabrera’s contract runs out, Rosario is our SS. Herrera will probably be our 2B when Walker departs. So Flores is basically Wright’s insurance policy while providing a good offensive force on he bench. Meanwhile, we have a good switch hitter with some pop in the 5 or 6 spot in the lineup.

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