It’s no secret that Wilmer Flores is a fan favorite. If he wasn’t before 2015’s failed trade and everything that followed, he certainly is by now, with a contingent clamoring for “Everyday Wilmer” in hopes of seeing what their he could really do with consistent playing time. In deference to being open and honest, I am one of those Wilmaniacs. That being said, it looks like there was some truth behind wanting Flores to play every day, and he’s shown it in 2018.
Since June 18, Flores has started all but four games, and he’s appeared in all but one. The biggest improvement has been his on-base percentage, which through August 21 is at a career-high .331. While that on-base percentage is just 17th among first basemen with 300 plate appearances, his 9.2 percent strikeout rate is the best by a wide margin—no one else is below 10 percent. In fact, among all players with at least 300 plate appearances, not just first basemen, Flores has the third-lowest strikeout percentage in all of baseball, trailing only Andrelton Simmons and Michael Brantley.
While he’s never really struck out too much—his highest rate of 14.9 percent came last season—he’s managed to still cut down, which is always a plus. On top of that, he has increased his walk rate up to 7.9 percent. While this is one of the lowest of all first baseman with at least 300 plate appearances, the fact that it is rising could be the product of getting regular plate appearances. You hear a lot about players “pressing” and “doing too much” when they are fighting for a roster spot or playing time. While those nebulous terms might not be quantifiable, they usually show themselves in a lack of patience at the plate. Now that Flores doesn’t have to worry too much about that, maybe it is leading to an uptick in walks.
A number you could point at as lacking for Flores this year is his slugging, which is down to .449 after a career-high .488 last season. However, he may be the victim of a little bit of unluckiness, as his HR/FB rate has cratered to just 7.6 percent, after being at 13.6 percent last year (and, interestingly enough, the year before). While part of that is due to a jump in infield fly ball rates—to 16.6 percent this year after being 10.6 percent last year—you could still expect some positive regression over this last chunk of the season that could get him close to the same number. That being said, the infield fly ball rate is definitely an issue in its own right.
However, looking at his slugging numbers since he became the every day guy at first, they are much better. In the 48 games he’s played in since, his slugging is all the way up to .472, with eight home runs and 15 doubles, and all without sacrificing his on-base percentage, as he also drew 14 walks to 21 strikeouts.
Steady at-bats for Flores have also served to squash the belief that he needs to be platooned. In fact, he is posting reverse splits this year, with better numbers across the board against righties than lefties after spending most of his career feasting on lefties. Again, it goes back to reps.
Part of the reason Wilmaniacs clamor for Everyday Wilmer is because we’ve seen what he looks like, albeit sometimes in small sample sizes.
In 2015, Flores started 126 games as a 24 year-old. He hit 16 home runs while primarily playing shortstop, which was the first time a lot of Mets fans got the sense he could be the real deal. Not to mention, this was obviously the crying on the field year, and the “crushing the Nationals’ hopes and dreams with a walk-off homer” year. He faded in the postseason, but he was promising.
In 2016, the Mets brought in Asdrubal Caberea, which kicked Flores off of short, and he ended up playing 51 games at third—and in 103 games overall—while the Mets tried to figure out life without David Wright. With his playing time cut down—only 78 of those appearances were starts—his growth followed suit. However, you still saw glimpses when he played more. From May 29 to the All-Star Break, Flores appeared in 39 games, making 32 starts. He hit .288/.344/.517 with seven home runs and six doubles.
In 2017, Flores’s starts went up a little bit, to 80. However, the most starts in a row he had was only 25, and even then he fully sat out some games. But even over that 25-game span you got a glimpse of Everyday Wilmer, as he hit .268/.299/.485 with four home runs, seven doubles, and a triple. The on-base percentage is not very good—as mentioned above, he set his career-high in strikeout rate last season—but he never got into much of a rhythm last year at all thanks to being constantly yanked around in the lineup.
Obviously, Flores is not without his flaws. For one thing, he is much slower than maybe he even knows. And his defense at first base this season has been suspect at best, game-changingly bad at worst. But he’s shown what he can do with the bat when he has legit playing time, which is at the very least a useful player with solid power.
It’s certainly possible that Flores gets squeezed out of the lineup again soon, whether it be the imminent (or at least, should-be-imminent) arrival of Peter Alonso or the return of Jay Bruce to first or rumors about Yoenis Cespedes playing first whenever he comes back. However, it’s also worth remembering that Flores is only freshly 27, and with players breaking out late in their careers becoming a more common occurrence, he looks like another candidate to do so, whether he is with the Mets or otherwise.
While I would prefer it to happen in the blue and orange, I’m a Wilmaniac, and would be happy to see him succeed anywhere.