Despite a growing reputation as an “inconsistent” offensive player, Michael Conforto put up a 2019 season that further cemented his role as one of the Mets’ most reliable middle-of-the-order hitters. At just 26 years old, he is right in the prime of his career and with a (mostly) injury-free, .856 OPS season under his belt, he’s giving fans a lot to look forward to.
Overall, Conforto’s .257/.363/.494 season line showed small but consistent improvements from both his 2018 line (.243/.350/.448) and his career line (.253/.353/.481). He also put up his third straight season of a 13% walk rate and brought his strikeout rate down to a league-average 23%, the lowest mark of his career since his abbreviated 2015 debut.
Conforto continued to find success this year as a fly-ball hitter, slugging a whopping .874 on balls put in the air. His fly ball rate of 40% was his highest since 2016 and most promisingly, he was able to make that improvement without spiking his strikeout rate.
Over the past three years, since an ill-fated sophomore season that landed back in Triple-A, he has settled into this comfort zone where he goes for the launch angle without completely selling out and while he’s not likely to end up with a high batting average this way, it has been a fruitful approach overall, with offensive production more than 20% above league average each year.
As previously mentioned, the remaining ding on Conforto is the idea that, like Wright before him, his production is inconsistent, that he flames out for extended periods. And while it’s true that he didn’t top his .922 April OPS, he came quite close with a .920 in August, as he led the team from one of the worst records in the league into the thick of the pennant race. And while the season-low .731 OPS he put up in June appears to be a huge drop from those spikes, perennial MVP candidates such as Christian Yelich, Anthony Rendon, and Mookie Betts saw far bigger swings from month to month. Simply put, Conforto’s production is well within the average range for consistency, and has been for much of his career.
While his bat is clearly established, there remain issues with Conforto’s defense, something that has sapped his WAR for some time. Defensive statistics can be balky, but this season has pushed his sample size over 1000 innings at each of the outfield positions and that’s enough to start drawing some pretty clear conclusions. First and foremost: keep him out of center field! Conforto’s natural athleticism and strong arm and the team’s desperation to fill the position has resulted in his serious overexposure up the middle. He simply doesn’t have the range and he’s racked up -15 defensive runs saved to prove it.
In the corners, however, Conforto is right at home. His numbers are better in left field, in part due to a quirky debut season in which he looked like an absolute Gold Glove, but he has looked increasingly smooth in Citi Field’s funky right field where his arm can play up. The key now is to keep him there because one thing this team seems to be unable to do is to consistently put a player in position to succeed.
Ultimately, while Conforto didn’t keep up the MVP pace he set early in the season, he stayed true to the profile that has established him as one of the bright young Mets stars. Next season will be an instructive one as he looks towards his free agency at the end of 2021. Building more on the patience and power tools that have worked for him could put him in the position for a big payday, whether from the Mets or someone else. If he’s amenable to it, questionable given his status as a Boras client, he’d be a great candidate for a contract extension, something that could keep him with this team through the peak of his late 20s into his early 30s. If the gains he’s made this season continue, he may be priced out of Queens for good.