With star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes getting closer and closer to a return to the field, the Mets will be facing the exact same conundrum that they were facing in the beginning of the season: four outfielders for three spots.
Despite the logjam in the outfield, Michael Conforto should not fall into the odd-man-out spot that he occupied at the onset of the season. He has done more than enough to continue his run as an everyday player.
Conforto has been far and away the best player on the Mets in 2017. He’s hit .320/.412/.664 with 11 home runs and a 175 wRC+. He leads the Mets in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, wRC+, home runs, and RBIs. And he’s been one of the best players in all of baseball so far this season. His wRC+ ranks ninth among qualified hitters in baseball.
One reason for his excellent play so far has been a small but important difference in his batting stance. Here’s a home run he hit in 2016:
And here’s one that he hit this year:
Conforto’s his hand placement is totally different. Before, he had the get the bat off of his shoulder, load up his swing, and go through the ball. Now, he has cut the first step out of the equation and is attacking the ball quicker than he did in what was an inconsistent sophomore campaign last year, filled with slumps and a wrist injury.
Whatever spurned Conforto to adjust his approach has worked. This has increased his bat speed and his led to a career high in hard-hit percentage at 44.8%. In turn, he has seen his BABIP rise from a career .293 to a .355. That’s a rate that might not be sustainable, but his ability to hit the ball hard at a career-high level should keep his BABIP above his career average.
One of the other reasons Conforto is in the midst of his best major league season is his newfound ability to hit left-handed pitching. For his career, he has been to the plate 89 times against lefties and is hitting .163 with three home runs, a 30.3% strikeout rate, and a 42 wRC+. So far this season, it has been different.
In 21 plate appearances against lefties this season, his average is up to .278, and three of his five hits have been home runs. He has struck out 42.9% of the time against them, but he has managed a 14.3% walk rate and has an obscene 196 wRC+. While it has only been a lowly 21 plate appearances, and nearly half of those are strikeouts, he is still hitting lefties at a pace he never has before and deserves the chance to show that he can do so over the long haul.
On the defensive side of the game, Conforto is a little underrated. In 1,170 innings in left field, he has +10 defensive runs saved, and a 8.2 UZR. While that spot will be occupied by Cespedes for the foreseeable future, he has been successful in other spots, as well. in 47.2 innings in right field, he has +1 defensive runs saved and a 2.5 UZR. In center field, he has been right around average, with 0 defensive runs saved and a 0.8 UZR.
According to Statcast’s new catch probability metric, Conforto is 0-for-7 on five-star outs, 1-for-2 on four-star outs, 3-for-4 on three-star outs, 6-for-7 on two-star outs, and a perfect 5-for-5 on one-star outs. While this is a very new metric, it shows something that matches with both the eye test and other defensive metrics: Conforto is a solid outfielder.
Michael Conforto is important to the Mets for a magnitude of reasons. He is arguably their second-best hitter on the roster, and he is showing himself to be a cornerstone of the future. While this season has been a frustrating mess of misdiagnosed injuries and losing streaks, Conforto has been one of the best players in baseball and makes the Mets better when he is manning the outfield alongside Yoenis Cespedes and not waiting for an opportunity behind Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson.