On the surface, Michael Conforto’s 2018 was good, but nothing special. He posted a 120 wRC+, backed by a 117 DRC+, and hit 28 home runs in 638 plate appearances. Take a peak at his splits, however, and the story is entirely different. In the first half, while still recovering from a serious shoulder injury, Conforto managed only a 101 wRC+, batted a meager .216, and posted an anemic—by his standards—.150 ISO. In the second half, he exploded for a 143 wRC+, as his stats surged across the board. His September and October were particularly encouraging, as he blasted nine home runs and ran a 165 wRC+ over his final 112 plate appearances of the season.
For some context, Conforto’s second half 143 wRC+ would have ranked fourth in the National League over a full season, trailing only Christian Yelich, Brandon Nimmo, and Paul Goldschmidt. The second half surge doesn’t seem to be a fluke, either, as Conforto’s BABIP and HR/FB rates were reasonably in line with his batted ball numbers. It’s not the first time we’ve seen that level of excellence from Conforto, as he posted similar numbers throughout 2017 before suffering the aforementioned shoulder injury late in the year.
The conclusion here is that 2019 will be an extremely exciting year for Conforto. With a fully healthy shoulder, Conforto should be one of the five best hitters in the National League, popping 30 or more home runs while playing solid defense in the corner outfield. That’s a five- or six-win player that should receive, at minimum, down-ballot MVP votes. And if Conforto has another gear in him, perhaps brought on by a fully healthy offseason and a rejuvenated supporting cast, he could wind up in the conversation for best player in the National League. FanGraphs’ Steamer and Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projection systems peg Conforto at roughly three wins, but the upside beyond that is clear. Moreover, here are some of the similar player-seasons per PECOTA: 2010 Joey Votto, 2012 Carlos Gonzalez, 2002 Lance Berkman, and 1991 Barry Bonds. Insert a Keith Hernandez ‘mmm’ noise here.
As for the team as a whole, Conforto’s effect cannot be overstated. The Mets are currently projected for 85 wins by FanGraphs and 88 wins by BP. This places them at the most critical point on the win curve, where every additional win has huge effects on their playoff probability. If Conforto is actually worth five to six wins over the course of a full season, like his second half seems to indicate, that three win bump seriously improves the Mets’ chances at making the postseason.
Conforto is perhaps the most exciting and most critical player on the 2019 Mets. If he reaches the lofty highs he’s flashed in the past, we’ll be watching both him and outfield-mate Brandon Nimmo establish themselves as homegrown stars. More importantly, the entire season could come down to Conforto producing those extra couple of wins to get the Mets over the hump. If he’s as good as I think he is, the Mets have a damn good chance of playing meaningful October baseball in 2019.