Michael Conforto and the elephant in the room

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.

11 comments for “Michael Conforto and the elephant in the room

  1. Mike Walczak
    July 21, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    Conforto has been fairly consistent with his performance over the seasons. He is a decent, not great player, a Markakis type. Cant expect him to hit .300 and drive in 100 runs. Nice player to have in RF with a real center fielder in center.

    I dont think it is the concussion. He struggles against offspeed pitches, especially out of the zone.

  2. Eraff
    July 21, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    Conforto reminds me somewhat of Anthony Rendon…. his early career always seemed to be missing the production that you expected from Rendon

    Can’t complain too much about a 26 yr old with a mid 800 ops…. especially when you’re teased with upside

    I’m not giving up on Conforto… I’d like him to look like he wants to hit 45 doubles and 25 homers, rather than trying to hit 45 homers

  3. Peter Hyatt
    July 21, 2019 at 3:51 pm

    Who claimed Cano couldn’t hit lefties?

  4. Michael
    July 21, 2019 at 8:50 pm

    For a 10th overall pick, Conforto’s .250 career BA (.212 against LHP) and a strikeout rate of almost 25% leave a lot to be desired.
    And you don’t have to go back to the 70s to see how lightly baseball treated concussions. Beltran missed only 4 games after his horrific collision with Cameron in 2005.

  5. Blair M. Schirmer
    July 22, 2019 at 4:12 am

    “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.”

    —Why, for god’s sake? He’s a 3 win corner OFer. Fandom doesn’t require you to pretend that the “varying lengths” where he was a poor hitter and clumsy defender did not exist or that he doesn’t have a curious injury still hanging over him.

    Conforto projected to 3 wins this year and that’s where he’s headed. One problem he has is that he’s on the Mets. Look how they played him to start the year despite his injury history. The buffoons played him in 42 straight.
    After he came back from the IL they’ve played him in 47 straight. They’re playing him into the ground. The Mets are fools. Even with his good 1/4 season to start the year, this kind of nonsense always takes a toll–and the Mets do it year after year after year. They always do it. The Wilpons think they’re being cheated, somehow, if a starter sits or if the higher-paid player doesn’t get more playing time than the lesser-paid player.

    It’s too bad their players and their players’ agents haven’t figured out how to force time off.

    • July 22, 2019 at 9:30 am

      Why? Because he was a 3-win player last year when he was borderline useless for half the year and a 4.4 fWAR total in 2017 when he played in just 109 games. An extremely reasonable expectation for a healthy 26 year old would be significantly more than a 3-win player.

      And while Steamer projected a 3.1 fWAR and ZiPS a 3.5 mark, right now he’s on a pace for 2.7 fWAR – and that’s assuming he can get back somewhat to the guy he was the first seven weeks before the concussion.

      • Blair M. Schirmer
        July 22, 2019 at 6:50 pm

        You’ve made my point, Brian. Every major projection system had Conforto as a 3 win player who, in what is hardly a coincidence and in no small part is due to his difficulty staying healthy, is on track for around 3 wins in 2019.

        “An extremely reasonable expectation for a healthy 26 year old would be significantly more than a 3-win player.”

        –Except Conforto’s *not* a healthy 26 year old. He has big problems staying in the lineup. He’s had major injuries. He is continuing to struggle with health. What you wrote is no different than asserting that “if Chris Carter didn’t K 200 times a year, he’d be an MVP-caliber player, therefore he’s an MVP-caliber player.” Carter has stretches where he puts the bat on the ball–but it doesn’t mean that’s the player he really is.

        “If Conforto was healthy…,” except he’s not healthy. Why would you project him as if he was? To extend the comparison, why would anyone project Chris Carter as if he possessed great bat control? Using Carter as a parallel works well here because it makes obvious how inapt the claim is, that we can project Conforto as if he was a very different kind of player (healthy) from the player he actually is (often unhealthy).

        Health is a skill or asset little different than controlling the strike zone. Wishing health or bat control was there won’t make it so. Nor will projecting Conforto as if he didn’t go into the long slumps he’s prone to. Every player’s a great player if you only look at his peak. Doesn’t mean we should do that, though.

        • July 22, 2019 at 7:46 pm

          Once you write something, the audience is free to take it in whatever direction they choose. That’s part of the game – and if you can’t accept that, then maybe writing isn’t for you.

          This piece is about concussions. You took it in a direction I didn’t want it to go. And it’s my fault because I then engaged with you. I’ll try to do better in the future.

          If you want to talk about Conforto and his concussion, I’m happy to participate in that. If you want to talk about projections, that’s fine, but there won’t be any more follow up on this concussion piece from me.

          Glad you’re reading and I hope you comment on more articles in the future.

          • Blair M. Schirmer
            July 22, 2019 at 10:40 pm

            It’s abundantly clear you’re thoroughly confused about both the nature of writing and the nature of communication. In addition, your inability to understand and accept (let alone sensibly reply to) reasoned disagreement bespeaks someone for whom writing is obviously not what they ought to be doing–certainly not professionally.

            You don’t even understand what it is you wrote: “This piece is about concussions,” you now want to claim, yet you went in numerous other directions including misstating Conforto’s projections and talking about Lagares’ weak bat in the context of addressing the Mets’ OF problems. That you now want to pretend you didn’t is deeply strange.

            Keep in mind this conversation isn’t just in your head, Brian–it’s visible to all, and it’s clear you’re now fumbling, distorting, and misspeaking from a deep sense of embarrassment. In future, at least, try to avoid the passive aggressive responses. They’re profoundly unbecoming. Cheers.

  6. MattyMets
    July 22, 2019 at 1:26 pm

    Visions of Ryan Church. Good to point this out. He seems off at the plate.

  7. July 23, 2019 at 7:06 am

    So much stat BS metrics today !
    It’s mostly useless info in my opinion. Each pitcher is different, each situation is different, in addition to all the new defensive alignments and switches.
    I wonder if any of these ‘stat junkies’ ever played the game ??
    With Conforto,he will finish year something like .270 / 25 HR /75 RBI and above avg defensively.What the hell is wrong w/ that ?
    What would it cost for Mets to go get a guy that provides that level of production ? $20M per year at today’s rate ?
    Wish they would stop talking Conforto as disappointing and as trade bait. There are many other roster options to do that with, to put it mildly.
    Conforto is a building block.Compromise elsewhere !

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