ConfortoJust shy of the trade deadline last year, amidst offensive struggles that led to comparisons to the historically bad 1962 team, the Mets called up their top outfield prospect Michael Conforto. It was an attempt to resuscitate a lineup decimated by injuries and plagued by poor performance, but it seemed to be a move they were extremely hesitant to make. This regime, of course, is extremely methodical in how they choose to move their prospects through the system with rare exceptions. Conforto was certainly one of those exceptions.

As the deadline approached, the team was floundering offensively while trying to keep pace with an under-performing Nationals team atop the National League East. The calls for reinforcements started weeks earlier, with the key name on fans’ and the media’s lips being Conforto. The 22-year-old, literally about a year removed from playing ball at Oregon State, was blazing a trail through the Mets’ farm system destroying baseballs. He made the jump to AA in less than a year, where his stellar performance had him banging on the major league door. The outcry was loud, his performance demanded it, and the timing was on point. It was the perfect storm of events, and the team called him up on July 24th.

Conforto hit the ground running, with some hiccups here and there, but all told he put forth a stellar rookie performance. In just 56 games he slashed .270/.335/.506 with a wOBA of .359 and an wRC+ of 134. That placed him firmly as one of the team’s top offensive performers and most valuable contributors in just over a third of a season. Of Mets hitters with less than 60 games played for the team, his 2.1 fWAR placed him second only behind the monster half of Yoenis Cespedes.

There’s nothing in his numbers that suggests that this was any kind of fluke, either. His walk (8.8%) and strikeout (20.1%) rates were about average and could be in line for further, if slight, improvement in those areas. His line drive rate (22.6%) was slightly above league average, as was his fly ball rate (38.7%), while his ground ball rate (38.7%) was below. A high-end fly ball rate (40+%) is indicative of a power hitter, while a high ground ball rate (50%+) is indicative of a contact hitter. In terms of plate discipline, he was better than average at laying off of pitches outside of the zone (O-Swing 24.3%). His contact rates were also generally average both in the strike zone (87.2%) and in general (79.1%).

Conforto’s percentages show that he fell comfortably “in the middle,” as it were, and his actual results in 2015 reflected that: a player with a solid average, good plate discipline, and good pop. The overall package points to the overall profile of a player the scouting reports suggested Conforto could become: a strong middle-of-the-order presence with 20-25 home runs and the ability to get on base at a high rate. He’s essentially the perfect hitter in terms of what the Mets organization has established as their philosophy during the Sandy Alderson regime, which is power and patience.

Now, we’re talking about 56 games here. It’s a very small sample, but it’s very encouraging to see Conforto get so close to the player he was expected to be in his very first exposure to the majors. His second year will be very telling as he’ll need to make adjustments to the adjustments pitchers make to him on his second go-round.

One of the main questions heading into the 2016 season is playing time. Terry Collins went out of his way to sit Conforto against lefties which, arguably, ended up putting the team in a rough spot in the playoffs. Just as the case was in 2015 after the team acquired Cespedes, it remains to be seen if Conforto or Juan Lagares loses playing time to him. In 2015 it was Lagares that lost the most playing time to Cespedes, and in 2016 chances are that it plays out the same way. Unless, of course, Conforto runs into some kind of sophomore slump.

It will be exciting to see what strides Conforto makes in 2016 considering he had no major trouble as a rookie in getting close to what many deemed his ideal outcome. Does that mean he can, once he gets more experience under his belt, perform at a level higher than even his most positive scouting reports predicted? Possibly, but he’ll need the playing time to do it.

9 comments on “Michael Conforto profiles perfectly for the Mets

  • MattyMets

    Nice post, Rob. Inwonder how high the ceiling is for this kid. Could he blossom into a perennial all-star, cornerstone player? I’m excited to see him develop.

    • Rob Rogan

      Thanks, Matt! Yeah, it’ll be exciting to see how he handles his second year.

  • Brian Joura

    And yet they’re saying he has to earn the right to play every day. Does Neil Walker have to earn that right? I just hope he doesn’t get off to a slow start.

    • Rob Rogan

      The slow start may be a concern in terms of his playing time, right. Especially with the likes of Cespedes, Lagares, and De Aza all on the roster as well. Guess we’ll see how much leash Collins gives him before turning things over to his veterans…

  • Name

    While thinking of potential comps for Conforto stats-wise, Khris Davis came to mind. First cup of coffee in ~60 games was a monster.
    Next season, tailed off considerably. Still everyday player worthy, but nothing special.

    I think the stat to watch for will be BB%. Khris Davis struggled in his second season because his BB% plummeted to 5.8%, mostly likely because he was chasing pitches. He was routinely double digits in the minors. Conforto was a 8.8% last year and i think he’ll need to keep it above 7% to have a decent season

    • Rob Rogan

      Nice comp, Name. The walk rate will be something to keep an eye on, for sure. Conforto did tend to strike out at a lower rate than Davis in the minors, though, so hopefully that is an indication that he can keep himself from getting too chase happy when pitchers make the adjustments. Of course Davis had many more seasons in the minors than Conforto and a bigger sample, but worth noting.

  • DaMetsman in Washington State

    There is no problem or shame in playing Conforto primarily against right-handed pitching in his first full season. It will give him beefed up numbers, but it will also stifle his development. If he plays against all righties and Lagares against all southpaws, there is no doubt offensive stats will elevate for the Mets outfield and overall lineup. Based on what we all witnessed, and the numbers Rob so eloquently presents, there is every reason to bat Conforto in the three hole, behind Wright and in front of Cespedes. That type of lineup construction puts the three best on-base guys (who possess a little speed) at the top of the lineup, will make Conforto a dangerous presence and deliver consistent RBIs for Cespedes and Duda. If Terry buries Conforto in the seven hole, he will lose some protection and his high OBP will lead to less runs than if he hits 3rd. Terry owes it to Conforto and the team to maximize each Conforto AB. That can only happen from the three hole. By and by, David Wright is now a better two hole hitter due to some loss of power and his always compelling OBP. Here is what I believe is the ideal Mets lineup barring injury: (1) Granderson LF, (2) Wright 3B, (3)Conforto LF/Lagares CF, (4) Cespedes CF/LF, (5) Duda 1B, (6) d’Arnaud C, (7) Walker/Flores 2B, (8) Cabrera SS. In the lineup that faces left-handed pitching, d’Arnaud and Flores can be moved up in the order and Lagares can bat in the seven hole. If Grandy can do what he did in 2015, Wright can play 130 games and Walker and Cabrera have similar campaigns to last season, the Mets will have a potent offense indeed. Most importantly, it is their best lineup since 2006-2008 and can pickup the 3-2 and 4-3 wins the young pitching studs deserve.

    • Matty Mets

      DeMetsMan – very thoughtful and nice assessment IMO. Would you let deGrom bat 8th when he pitches? I like the balance of righties, lefties, switch hitters and deep bench. Wish we had some speed.

  • James Newman

    Nice post Rob! I love Michael Conforto, and love his hitting abilities. Without a doubt, he is going to be a contributor for many years to come, but it is important that the Mets do not rely too much on him. Let’s see what a full year of playing time can bring.

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