Michael Conforto’s struggles for the New York Mets have been well-documented. Can he rebound?Though our divan has a helical metal coil bulging from its nucleas, it’s been in the same spot for over forty annums, and has witnessed a plethora of indelible moments.
The man who has graced this couch, my father, has seen it all, especially when it comes to the New York Mets. He’s got quite an evocative memory of a baseball team for someone who grew up during an era that furnished every outlandish show on the planet, from ‘ALF’ to ‘M*A*S*H’ to ‘Night Court’.
As a consequence of this inherent fandom, I’ve implored of him to provide me with his take on everything beisbol (been berry, berry good to me) related.
So when Michael Conforto, a kid who experienced one of the most “rapid ascents to the big leagues I’ve ever seen,” got the call, I pondered what my father would make of this peculiarity.
“This kid’s going to be a star,” he said, roughly two weeks after his call-up. Oh, and one thing: I’d never heard him make such a valiant prediction before.
So what happened? Was he wrong? Is Conforto not the talent we all thought he was? Is this incessant slump never going to terminate?
To answer this question, we have to delve into Conforto’s past.
The legend of Michael Conforto begins well before his professional career, but for our purposes, we’ll pretend this journey started in Single-A.
When Sandy Alderson and his staff selected Conforto with the tenth overall pick of the 2014 MLB Draft, they thought they were getting an above-average college kid with an advanced approach at the plate and a below-average glove.
While Conforto was twenty-one when he first started competing in pro baseball, his rise to the big leagues was much swifter than most.
After batting .331 in 163 at-bats in Brooklyn (NY-Penn), he split the next season between St. Lucie (A) and Binghamton (AA), garnering at minimum a .350 on-base percentage with both.
His power-and-patience approach was paying dividends, and by July 2015, he was adorning blue and white in the big leagues.
So, what happened?
Conforto’s powerful left-handed stroke impressed team management. Coupled with an ability to be selective at the dish and a capability to drive the ball to all fields with authority, he was an intriguing candidate to play in the majors despite never appearing in a Triple-A contest.
After weeks of speculation about Michael Cuddyer’s future (marred with injuries and struggles) in left field and Michael Conforto’s future in the bigs, the Mets finally pulled the trigger and summoned their top hitting prospect from Binghamton.
The expectations at the start were measly. After all, New York had a futile offense and hitting major league pitching is hard, much harder than dominating Single-A and Double-A competition.
Conforto was shockingly effective in his first short stint in the majors, hitting a few important postseason home runs and proving invaluable for his squad despite such measly experience.
The left fielder had an über-succesful start to his sophomore campaign, ranking among the top 10 outfielders by wRC+ and leading the league in hard-hit rate.
This success prompted Owen Watson to write an article on FanGraphs entitled “Michael Conforto Is Ahead Of The Book On Him.”
Little did he know how much of a malediction that would prove to be.
It appears that opposing pitchers have updated this book.
The 23-year-old is slumping, and it’s only been expounded by his team’s problems at the plate. Over the span of sixty contests, he’s hitting a meager .229 with 59 strikeouts.
As is often the case with young players, Conforto is having to adjust to a palpable change in pitch selection. As Jeff Sullivan noted in an article for FanGraphs, he’s gone from seeing a mostly average rate of fastballs to a relatively low rate of fastballs.
Since early May, he’s witnessed a nine-percent decrease in heaters. Additionally, he’s faced more curveballs than any other hitter in the majors.
That’s one possible explanation, but here’s another.
Conforto’s kryptonite since ingressing on the big leagues has been his inability to face lefty pitching. This complication has been explicated by an increase in the number of at-bats he’s received from that side.
There’s only one thing a player in his situation can do: adjust. Whether that means working it out with Wally Backman in Vegas or Kevin Long in Flushing, something has to be done.
It’s time to figure out the books, again.