The baseball season is so long that it’s easy to forget that what happens in April is important. The story of the Mets’ 2016 season centers around outstanding performances by Noah Syndergaard and the rest of a makeshift rotation during the club’s surge to the postseason in late August and September.
New York wouldn’t be in position to make that move if not for a 15-7 April in which Michael Conforto played like one of the best hitters in the National League, but all that was forgotten by the time the Mets were wallowing in mediocrity during the dog days of summer. Still, it’s important to remember that Conforto did have that wonderful month, even if it looked more like a mirage by season’s end. With Yoenis Cespedes now back in the fold, the Mets are likely to trade an outfielder or two by the end of the offseason. Whether or not they decide to keep Conforto depends on how much the front office believes in that April.
During that first month, Conforto anchored the Mets’ offense by hitting .365/.442/.676 with four home runs. While fans suspected that the sophomore slugger could be due for breakout year after his impressive rookie campaign of 2015, the degree to which he succeeded at the start of 2016 was unexpected.
And then, just as quickly as Conforto the MVP candidate had appeared, he was gone, hitting just .169/.242/.349 in May before posting even worse numbers in June. The slump got so bad that he was sent to the minors in late June and again in the middle of August. Thanks to the extended period of poor play, the once promising young outfielder will enter the 2017 campaign as a major question mark for the Mets or whichever team they trade him to.
However, there are some silver linings to what was overall a very disappointing campaign. First of all, even though Conforto’s strikeout rate spiked in May and June, he never lost the ability to draw a walk. Even during June, his worst month of the season, he still drew walks in almost eight percent of his plate appearances. When Conforto returned to the majors for September and October, he bumped his walk rate up to 17 percent for an on-base percentage of .396 over the final month.
That little September bump is another reason to be hopeful for the future when it comes to Conforto. Despite being bounced in and out of the lineup, he recorded an .817 OPS in 48 plate appearances. The 23-year-old also hit extremely well during his two stints at Las Vegas, which is perhaps evidence enough that he just needs more time to marinate in the major leagues.
Despite an incredibly exciting April, a lot of the questions we had about Conforto in March remain today. Can he hit for an entire season? Will he learn to be consistent against lefties? Will Terry Collins even give him a chance to hit lefties? Now we have a new one: Will Conforto even be on the team on Opening Day against Atlanta? Mets fans all over the world can’t wait to find out.