Posted by Thomas Brennan at 12:00 PM
Tom Brennan - IS WILMER FLORES ON THE CUSP?
Wilmer Flores encounters a lot of impatience involving his fielding and hitting from many in the Mets blogosphere. So I wanted to think about that a bit and share some thoughts.
First, Wilmer is, as I write this, 23 years and 289 days old. In major league terms, that is still very young. And he has 513 plate appearances under his belt already. Mr. Flores debuted on his 22nd birthday. Comparison can be helpful, so let's look at 4 current and former Mets.
By comparison, Jeff Kent was 24 years and 36 days old when he made his major league debut. Lucas Duda? 24 years, 210 days old when he first stepped into a major league batters box. Travis d'Arnaud? 24 years, 188 days. Edgardo Alfonso? An early achiever at 21 years, 169 days.
Wilmer has played at a position he is not ideally suited for, at SS, similar to what Duda went through in his stint in left field. It affected Duda's offense, my guess it also affects Wilmer's.
But how did these other 4 guys start out, and how did that compare with their performance a few years into their careers?
Well, d'Arnaud has not played that long, but comparisons and conclusions can still be drawn.
Flores, in his short career so far in his 22nd thru 24th years of young life, has hit .240, with a .276 OB%, and .373 slug %. As a 24 year old, his slug % is .419, as a 22 year old in 95 at bats it was .295, so he is clearly improving. And a team-leading 7 dingers.
Jeff Kent, with 377 career homers and 1,518 RBIs, started his career briefly with Toronto, and was traded to the Mets in his rookie year in 1992 during that season. He had 305 at bats, 11 homers, 50 RBIs, hit .239. Nice RBIs, but otherwise nothing special.
In 1993 -1996, as a 25-28 year old, Kent substantially improved. The following 9 years, he averaged 110 RBIs. Mets were not patient enough, and missed what would have been their best offensive player ever.
Lucas Duda struggled with insecurity as a young arrival being used in an uncomfortable fielding position. He weathered a lot of criticism. He had some real hitting droughts. Was sent back to the minors. Patience on the fans' part was quite limited. Fans wanted him gone, Ike, Ike, he's our man, etc.
Then a funny thing happened. Duda won out over Ike last spring, got to play at 1B, turns out he fields darned well.
He also at the same time felt he belonged, and adjusted and improved. Especially since June 2014. Since then, he has hit .278 in 517 ABs, 34 doubles, 29 homers, 88 RBIs in a little over 140 starts.
I believe that, like Jeff Kent, we've yet to see the best of Duda. I believe he is on the verge of true stardom as perhaps one of the most feared hitters in the game. Better than what we are seeing today. But if fans had their way prior to early 2014, he'd have been traded in a heartbeat.
Travis d'Arnaud struggled mightily upon his arrival, .202 in 99 at bats as a 24 year old, then sub-.200 in his first few months as a 25 year old. A brief exile to the minors was just the tonic for d'Arnaud, who hit substantially better upon his return in the second half of 2014.
As a 26 year old, he started extremely well until a misplaced fastball disabled him after 11 games this year. He did not have to worry too much about fan impatience, considering the Mets had no starting catching alternatives in 2014, so in that respect, less pressure than Flores faces today.
Edgardo Alfonso, in the absence of Jeff Kent, was a fine Met 2B and 3B. His first 2 years, he outshone Flores somewhat, averaging .268, but with a slug % of only about .360. Just 8 homers in 763 at bats. Another punch-and- Judy Mets hitter, or so it seemed.
His next 2 years, his slug % averaged .430. Nice. Patience is good.
Then at 25 and 26, in 1999 and 2000, that jumped to .520, with 52 homers and 202 RBIs in 308 games, hitting .313. He was never able to regain that extremely high level in later years, but did well enough the next 5 years.
Back to Wilmer. Please carefully consider the growth patterns of the other 4 guys. All got much better in their mid 20's, following their break in period. Wilmer has the added pressure of playing the one position in the infield he is least apt to do well at.
My conclusion? Wilmer's hide is getting tougher. His confidence is growing. Be patient, because I think we've only seen early Wilmer. I think offensively, Flores is about to improve, and in a year or so, really show how darned good a hitter he really is.
So like a St Louis Cardinal fan, who love to cheer and hate to boo, I will cheer him, and patiently await a guy who (whether at SS, 2B, or 3B) will emulate the offensive growth patterns of Kent, Duda, and Alfonso. In the rest of 2015, he will hit well. In 2016, I'd not be surprised to see a .280 average, 25 homers, and a .500 slugging %.
If you agree, be patient. And cheer him on, when he does well and especially when he struggles. He'll just get better faster if we do.
So what do you think, folks? Patience is a virtue.