The end of Michael Conforto’s 2017 season and the beginning of his 2018 season are closely intertwined. Conforto broke out in a big way in 2017, putting in the best season of his career, hitting .279/.384/.555 with a whopping 146 wRC+. It did not end well, as a horrific and freak shoulder injury finished his season prematurely—and cast a ray of doubt on the beginning of 2018.
Lo and behold, Conforto began this year with the Mets, and for the most part, the first half of the season was not pretty. He wasn’t a bad hitter, but he just wasn’t the hitter he was before the injury. Conforto hit just .216/.344/.366, with a .150 ISO and a 99 wRC+. If he hadn’t walked at an impressive rate (15.3%), he would have been an absolute black hole in the lineup rather than just being right around average.
His contact and batted ball rates were rather alarming, as well. Conforto had a 33.5% hard-hit rate, a far cry from his 41.6% rate last year. He also hit the ball on the ground a lot (43.3%), which is something he never really did, as his ground ball rate peaked at 38.7% in 2015. Conforto was simply a different hitter in the first half of 2018. He still had the very good eye he always possessed, but he hit the ball with such little authority, something that almost certainly calls back to his shoulder injury.
It could have been a multitude of things. He could’ve been rushed back, and the shoulder was either still hurting him or just didn’t have the strength it did before the injury. It could have also been something Conforto had to get over mentally—that injury was such a freak occurrence on the most routine of things a baseball player can do that it could cause anyone to worry it would happen again.
The start of Conforto’s second half, however, has been a lot like his 2017, and that is something to get excited about. The sample size in the second half of the season is obviously a lot smaller than the first half, but there are still a lot of encouraging signs in his game the past few weeks.
Conforto is hitting a robust .308/.378/.523 with a .215 ISO and a 143 wRC+. His walk rate has dropped quite a bit (9.5%), but he is more than making up for it with his overall production. He is making much better contact, which is why he has improved so much. His hard-hit rate jumped to 47.9% in the second half, and he’s limited his soft-hit rate to just 10.4%. He is not hitting that many fly balls (29.2%), but he is hitting a ton of line drives (35.4%) and keeping the ball off the ground (35.4%).
As the slugging percentage, ISO, and hard-hit rates show, Conforto is hitting the ball with authority, which is a stark turnaround from the first half. Those numbers are also rather close to his 2017 numbers, as well—he had a .555 slugging percentage, .276 ISO, and the aforementioned 41.6% hard-hit rate. The types of contact has been a little different—he is hitting more line drives and less fly balls than he did in his breakout campaign—but he has been a lot closer to his great 2017 level of production.
The 2018 season has been a tough one for the Mets, and Michael Conforto has been a part of that. But there are quite a few reasons to pay attention down the stretch, and he is one of them. It’s a small sample, but Conforto is looking a lot like his 2017 self. Not only is a full-strength Michael Conforto fun to watch, but he’s vitally important to the team’s success in 2019 and beyond.