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Wilmer Flores destroyed lefties in best-hitting season of his career

Flores was one of baseball’s best hitters against left-handed pitching in 2016.

New York Mets v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Coming into the 2016 season, Wilmer Flores had a little less on his plate than he had a year earlier. Rather than trying to hack it at shortstop on an everyday basis, Flores figured into the Mets’ plans as a utility infielder this year. That meant he had to learn how to play first base, but after being thrown into the fire at shortstop in 2015 and handling it better than most people expected, spending some time at first didn’t quite seem like a monumental task.

Despite the Mets’ acquisitions of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera, it was clear from the start of the year that Flores would get plenty of opportunities to play. With David Wright’s back a question mark—before the neck issue that ended his season had arisen—and Flores’s strong numbers against left-handed pitching the previous season, he wasn’t going to be the last man on the bench. By season’s end, it turned out that he made 335 plate appearances.

Flores would have played more, too, if not for a couple of injuries. In mid-May, he suffered a hamstring injury that landed him on the disabled list. He returned at the end of that month and remained healthy through early September, but his season came to an end in a series of bad decisions during a Mets loss to the Braves on September 10.

With the game tied at three in the top of the eighth inning, Flores hit a two-out double against lefty Ian Krol. Terry Collins didn’t pinch run for him, an infamous moment in the manager’s season after he admitted he was caught up in pitching changes and forgot to run for Flores. So when T.J. Rivera followed up that double with a single, Flores—one of the slowest baserunners in the game—was sent home by third base coach Tim Teufel. The throw from right field beat Flores pretty easily, even though it was a bit up the third base line, and Flores made the final bad decision by sliding head-first into home plate. The Mets kept hoping for Flores’s return to the field, but he never did and underwent wrist surgery shortly after the season ended.

But the double Flores hit against a left-handed pitcher was just one example of his success against left-handed pitching. Flores hit an outstanding .340/.383/.710 with 11 home runs in 107 plate appearances against lefties in the 2016 season. Among hitters who made at least 100 such plate appearances, Flores ranked first in baseball with a 192 wRC+. It’s tough to read too much into single-season splits, but Flores hit .310/.355/.600 against left-handed pitchers in 2015. Whether or not he’s quite this good against them hasn’t quite been determined yet, but Flores clearly knows a thing or two about facing opposite-handed pitchers.

2016 vs. LHP (min. 100 PA)

Wilmer Flores .340 .383 .710 192
Martin Prado .424 .500 .568 187
Yasmany Tomas .364 .423 .690 186
Hanley Ramirez .346 .420 .677 186
Yoenis Cespedes .341 .457 .624 183
Brandon Guyer .333 .461 .553 181
Paul Goldschmidt .352 .494 .576 179
Kris Bryant .314 .419 .641 176
Jayson Werth .322 .411 .620 172
Nelson Cruz .293 .376 .644 171
Mike Trout .326 .437 .550 170

Unfortunately, Flores was below average against right-handed pitchers. He hit .232/.289/.353 with 5 home runs and a 75 wRC+ in 228 plate appearances, which left him with a .267/.319/.469 line, 16 home runs, and a 112 wRC+ in total. That’s still Flores’s best single-season production to date.

Despite the success he had at the plate, Flores’s 2016 season won’t rank atop his best seasons by WAR, whichever version of it you prefer, because of his defense. While we know that defensive metrics can be unreliable in small samples, Flores only played fractions of a full season’s worth of innings at each of the four infield positions. He spent the most time and fared the worst in the metrics at third base. As a result, he ended the year with 0.5 fWAR and 0.3 bWAR.

Going into next season, Flores figures to play the same role he did this year, perhaps with more regular time at second base if the Mets don’t bring back Neil Walker or acquire and everyday player at the position this winter. At the very least, he should start every time the Mets play a left-handed starting pitcher, regardless of his defense. Whether or not he ever figures it out against right-handed pitching will be the deciding factor if he’s ever to have a full-on breakout season. But even if nothing changes, the 25-year-old can be a useful contributor on a contending team.