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Michael Conforto should get more starts against lefties this year

The young Mets left fielder might be ready to face same-handed pitchers regularly.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It's the eternal bugbear of player development: Do you get a guy out of his comfort zone so he can play a more well-rounded game in the long term, or do you play to his strengths so you can get maximum value from him in the short term? When it comes to Mets left fielder Michael Conforto, it would appear that manager Terry Collins is siding with the latter. Conforto not only batted against a left-handed pitcher on Tuesday night, but he did so in the cleanup spot. He went 1-for-3 aganst Reds left-hander Brandon Finnegan. The page might be turning on Conforto's platoon splits.

Conforto, a left-handed slugger, has taken the vast majority of his plate appearances against right-handed pitching since being called up to the big leagues in the middle of last season. Despite the small sample size, the numbers would seem to demonstrate that such platooning was the right call. Conforto has posted a 155 wRC+ in 241 plate appearances against righties but only a 61 wRC+ in 26 plate appearances against southpaws. His walk rate against righties is 10.4 percent. Against lefties, it's 3.8 percent, and his isolated power stands at .000, which means he's yet to get an extra-base hit against a lefty.

Those trends seem poised to change. Conforto has reached in four of his 11 plate appearances against lefties in 2016, with two RBIs to boot. His strikeout rate is down, he's brought that figure against lefties from 39 in 2015 up to 90. Cue the obligatory small sample size warning.

His spray charts against lefties are promising, too. They show a hitter who's getting the ball in the air and knocking it to all fields, instead of pulling a bunch of grounders. From Statcast:

2015

2016

Most importantly, however, Conforto wants to improve those platoon splits, as he told Newsday that he spent the offseason working hard.

Collins seems prepared to reward the hard work. Conforto has already tallied 11 plate appearances against lefties this season. In 2015, he only made 15 total plate appearances against lefties in total. Yoenis Cespedes's injury might have forced Collins's hand a bit and made him start Juan Lagares and Conforto on Tuesday, but Collins admitted to Newsday that Conforto might have started regardless, with Curtis Granderson getting the night off instead.

If Conforto is going to develop into an everyday player in the majors, he'll have to learn to hit lefties. He's so unbelievably good against righties, however, that the temptation to platoon him is strong. Both Conforto and Collins seem to be acutely aware of this, and both want to emphasize development over results. Some early signs indicate that it might pay off, and Conforto will undoubtedly face a lot more southpaws as the season progresses. Once we have a larger sample size to work with, we can properly judge if Conforto has earned Collins's trust in that department.