Let’s Be Patient: Michael Conforto
There’s a difference between patience and stubbornness. They say patience is a virtue. Patience, grasshopper, good things come to those who wait. It’s easy to say that we should all be a little more patient. But when it comes to the decision-making process for dynasty leagues, it sometimes feels like moves are often made from stubbornness. We see tantalizing raw skills or small sample “breakouts” and those are the only things that we remember. Why look at a strikeout rate over 30 percent when we can think about that 470-foot homer we saw crushed to dead center that one time? Patience can give us Anthony Rizzo or Gregory Polanco. Stubbornness typically gives us Domonic Brown and Jesus Montero. Ok, that might be over simplifying it, but still. I did, however, want to write about a few guys who had down years in 2016 that I think could still be really good in the future, as long as we (and in some cases their managers) can show some patience. Let’s be patient. Let’s start with Michael Conforto.
Conforto made his debut for the Mets in late July 24, 2015, a mere five days before the craziness that was the “Wilmer Flores Trade” or the “Wilmer Flores Cry-gate”, whichever you would prefer. At the time, his callup was seen somewhat as a move to appease the fan base clamoring for more offense, and to make up for the organization’s inaction before the trade deadline. Once Conforto got the call, all hell broke loose, deals fell through, and when the dust settled Yoenis Cespedes was patrolling the outfield with the Mets’ rookie. Oh, and they got Addison Reed too.
Conforto didn’t disappoint in his first stint with the big club. In his first 194 plate appearances, he hit .270/.335/.506, slugging nine home runs and scoring 30 runs. His 2.1 WAR ranked 45th among all second half hitters (Conforto was up for only 56 games), matching the total of Buster Posey and Carlos Gonzalez (Sure, WAR isn’t a fantasy stat. I just wanted to throw it out there to show how good he was). He struggled during the Mets’ run in the postseason, but the two homers he smashed during game five of the World Series (one of which was hit off of lefty Danny Duffy…foreshadowing) only fanned the flames of excitement for Conforto’s future.
Entering the 2016 season, everyone was saying the right things about Conforto and his development. A big priority for him, as a left-handed hitter, was to get better against left-handed pitching. Everyone, including the Mets’ manager Terry Collins, said that he would get the plate appearances necessary to learn on the job and try to become a hitter that wasn’t in need of a platoon partner (he got only 15 plate appearances against LHP in 2015, and was 3-14 with a walk). Conforto started the year off with a bang. Through the first month of the season he hit .326/.404/.593, with a .267 ISO. Then the wheels started to come off. In the 144 plate appearances since his hot start, he hit .154 with a .545 OPS. That’s, um, super not good. If 144 plate appearances sounds like a strange sample size, you’re right, it is, but it was used because after those trips to the plate, Conforto was sent down to Triple A.
The rest of Conforto’s 2016 season has been spent bouncing from Triple A Las Vegas to Flushing, and thus far, he hasn’t regained the clout and promise that he showed on the big league team last year. Sure Vegas is fun, but less so in the summer. And probably less so after you’ve had a taste of the big leagues as a star prospect and conquering hero. So what happened? How did we not see this coming? If a guy is that inept at hitting against lefties, shouldn’t we have known about it?
After combing through Conforto’s minor league numbers, there’s a chance his “can’t hit lefties” tag was more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than a real issue. Sure, it’s very typical for lefties (or righties for that matter) to struggle against pitchers from their same side, it’s how we have platoons after all. For Conforto, however, there wasn’t much evidence to predict that he would struggle to quite this degree. In 2014, his first taste of pro ball at Low A Brooklyn, he slashed .331/.403/.448 overall (186 plate appearances), adding a line of .324/.444/.378 against left-handed pitching (45 plate appearances). The following season, Conforto hit .264/.350/.425 against lefties in 120 plate appearances spread across High A and Double A. This season his struggles have continued against big league lefties, um, a considerable amount. In his 51 plate appearances he has five hits, good for a .106 average. There’s no way to spin it, it’s really, really bad. Still, 51 plate appearances of 329 total can hardly be considered regular at-bats. The last time Conforto received regular at-bats, regardless of the pitcher, was during his stint this season in Triple A. His time in Las Vegas yielded .422/.483/.727 in 144 trips to the plate. Of those 144 plate appearances, 47 were against left-handed pitchers. His line: .487/.553/.780.
Now, I don’t believe that Michael Conforto is a true talent 1.333 OPS guy against lefties. That said, I don’t really believe he’s the .324 OPS guy that he has been thus far in his major league career, either. Factor in the wrist injury he played through early in this season, and I might be willing to give Conforto a mulligan on 2016. He might never be an above average regular against left-handed pitching, but I’m also not sure we have enough information to know that (66 plate appearances against lefties for his career). It’s reasonable to imagine that he could do enough not to be phased out completely against all opposing lefty starters. For fantasy purposes, this is likely the lowest Conforto’s stock will ever get, which makes him a tasty option to target this offseason. With the opportunity, he should turn into the plus hit (.260-.280), plus power (20-25 homers) player that we expected heading into this season. With Alejandro De Aza coming off the books, Cespedes having the ability to opt-out at the end of the year, and with Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson only having one more year left on their respective deals, the Mets could toss the keys to Conforto very soon. He is only 23 years old, after all. Let’s be patient.
Follow Mark Barry on Twitter @hoodieandtie