Coming into 2019, we were expecting great things from Michael Conforto, based on his draft stats and what he had shown in varying lengths in previous seasons. In 2018, Conforto was coming back off a shoulder injury and was unimpressive early in the year. But after the All-Star break he put up an .895 OPS. Many, if not most of us, were expecting something close to that number over a full season here in 2019.
And early in the year, that’s what we were getting. Up until May 16, Conforto was being the offensive force we all anticipating. He had a .926 OPS and was forming part of a great one-two punch with Pete Alonso. But then the gift that keeps giving decided to share more misery. Robinson Cano collided with Conforto, giving him a concussion and sending Conforto to the IL.
Fortunately, it turned out to be a short stint, as Conforto returned to the lineup on May 26. But from that point to today, Conforto has turned in a .737 OPS in 200 PA. That’s essentially one-third of the season where he’s been a considerably-below-average offensive performer. The average NL right fielder has an .829 OPS so far this year.
Somewhat interestingly, we see that the average NL center fielder has a .726 OPS so far. Everything we’ve considered about moving Conforto to center field has been all about getting Juan Lagares and his balsa wood bat out of the lineup. Could it be that a contributing factor has been to get the new-level Conforto into a position where his bat doesn’t look so anemic?
My guess is that didn’t enter into the equation at all, that it’s nothing more than an interesting coincidence. What’s beginning to feel not so coincidental is how this is the fourth straight year where we’ve expected big things from Conforto and haven’t gotten them over a full season. It’s understood that players have peaks and valleys throughout the year. But can you really call it a valley when it’s lasted one-third of the season? And shouldn’t we really be talking more about the “why” in this particular case?
Back in the 1970s, we didn’t really hear about concussions in baseball. They were mostly reserved for football and they really weren’t considered too bad. If a guy got a concussion in the first half and missed a series, you’d figure he’d be back in the second half and not worry too much about it. But we know a whole lot more about concussions now and their seriousness has leaped several levels in our consciousness.
In fact, sports have “concussion protocols,” that players have to pass in order to be allowed back on the playing field. Conforto obviously passed those protocols. But while many people are explaining his poor start last year to rushing back from the shoulder injury the previous season, no one seems to be saying that this lousy 200-PA stretch is from rushing back from a concussion. And those explanations last year were not something applied retroactively. Rather, it was a debated topic early in the year – did the Mets rush Conforto back to soon?
Seems to me we should be having those same discussions right now in 2019 about his concussion.