New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto‘s breakout campaign in 2017 was the result of him going against MLB’s current hitting trend.
Major League Baseball is an ever-changing landscape of new tactics followed by necessary adjustments. One of the recent crazes around the league is the ‘Fly Ball Revolution,’ which includes things like exit velocities and launch angles.
Former Mets Justin Turner and Daniel Murphy are poster children for this fly ball movement, due to the inherent value they represent over ground balls.
Josh Donaldson this year on @MLBNetwork "Any hitting coach that teaches to hit top half,tell him that I dont get paid for groundballs"
— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) October 10, 2016
Former American League MVP Josh Donaldson has even publicly lambasted hitting methodologies that do not emphasize hitting the ball in the air for home runs or doubles.
“If you’re 10 years old and your coach says to get on top of the ball,” Donaldson said, per the Washington Post, “tell them no. Because in the big leagues these things that they call groundballs are outs. They don’t pay you for groundballs. They pay you for doubles. They pay you for homers.”
Hitters like Donaldson, Murphy, and Turner that have succeeded using uppercut swings and have brought the topic to center stage. Turner’s reasoning for adopting the approach has more to do with surviving in the big leagues than padding his stats.
“You can’t slug by hitting balls on the ground,” Turner said. “You have to get the ball in the air if you want to slug, and guys who slug stick around, and guys who don’t, don’t.”
But then there’s Michael Conforto, who just keeps hitting ground balls and line drives while employing a pure, level swing.
This approach works for Conforto. You might even say that it’s the reason he had such a successful 2017 season.
In 2016, Conforto’s swing was out of whack. He was attempting to pull the ball 42.7 percent of the time, a much higher clip than he did in 2017 (32.4 percent).
Conforto was also hitting the ball in the air much more in 2016 than he did this past season. He hit fly balls at a 45 percent clip in 2016, which even outpaced the likes of Turner (40 percent) and Donaldson (40.6 percent).
But as Turner (47.8 percent) and Donaldson (42.3 percent0 saw their fly ball percentages climb in 2017, Conforto’s declined drastically to 37.8 percent.
That means that Conforto went from hitting the ball on the ground or on a line 55 percent of the time in 2016, to 62.2 percent of the time in 2017.
This reduction in fly balls allowed Conforto to spray the ball to all fields much more effectively than a hitter like Donaldson, who pulls the ball nearly 50 percent of the time.
When a hitter like Conforto can hit to all fields, it allows for more consistent hard contact (40.8 percent hard-contract rate for his career) when compared to a hitter like Donaldson (35 percent for his career), who has more of a propensity to roll over soft groundballs due to his tendency to pull.
Let’s take a moment to marvel at Conforto’s beautiful swing.
2 years ago, Michael Conforto brought the greatest swing to the majors :,) pic.twitter.com/zEgwZ3ZQWh
— belle 🙂 (@confortoarmy) July 24, 2017
A swing like that is special, which is why the Mets have a star on their hands. Yes, players like Turner, Murphy, and Donaldson are great hitters.
But, just because they are successful hitting fly balls, and a large portion of baseball has bought into this hitting philosophy doesn’t mean that Conforto has to.
He’s shown that he is a much more effective hitter when he hits fewer fly balls and uses the entire field.
It’s still early in his career and his shoulder injury will do him no favors, but Conforto has a chance to be one of MLB’s elite hitters if he continues to go against the trend.