7/15/15

Mets Fans Need To Get Over The Michael Conforto-To-Flushing Idea

13 comments
Michael Conforto's player card from milb.com

Why? He does not have enough playing time against good competition to make a promotion anything other than a massive unnecessary risk.

I am all about the 2015 Mets. I strongly believe that the Mets could be the most dangerous team in baseball in the playoffs given the starting pitching on the big league club. I believe the Mets should "go for it" in 2015 and turn this franchise into a winning one again. However, I will not sacrifice the future--especially when it comes to moves that have far more risk than reward.

The one move that seems to be encouraged that I am strongly opposed to is promoting Michael Conforto straight from double-A to the big league club to play left field. Could Conforto handle the big leagues at this point? Possibly. Would he struggle? Probably.

Because of a debut in Brooklyn last year instead of a higher level, Conforto does not have many at bats above A-ball. You need your prospects to have as much experience above A-ball as possible before they get to the big leagues. At this point, Michael Conforto has not faced much competition that would give him problems. There is no magic number here, but I guarantee you 160 double-A at bats and zero triple-A at bats is not enough.

"But he has been so good after the jump to double-A, what makes you think he would not be able to survive the leap to the MLB?"

He has been good. Michael Conforto has played very very well all year and especially so once reaching Binghamton and the Eastern League--the jump that often trips up even the best of prospects. However, there are concerns that you might not be able to see from watching the box score every night.

Strikeout rate:

2014: 15.6% (Brooklyn/low-A)
2015: 12.6% (St. Lucie/high-A)
2015: 20.0% (Binghamton/double-A)

Binghamton is a tough jump. It is a much better league than the levels behind it and the jump from St. Lucie to Binghamton is often condsidered a bigger one than any other level jump in the Mets system. Conforto is struggling to make the same contact he was making in A-ball. Most players do not hit better pitching as well as they hit inferior pitching. This makes sense. Conforto will need to adjust to this better pitching. He needs time to prove he can do that. He is still two levels away from the big leagues, after all.

"Okay, he struck out more. 20% still is not that bad and he is crushing it. What gives?"

His batting average does not tell the entire story.

BABIP (batting average of balls in play):

2014: .383 (.331 average)
2015: .294 (.283 average, St. Lucie stint)
2015: .387 (.312 average, Binghamton stint)

He is running a very high BABIP but has not sustained the average as well as he did last year (when he also had a very high BABIP). This will regress. A correction is coming.

Home run rate:

After hitting seven home runs in 206 at bats at St. Lucie, Conforto has hit just three in 160 at bats in Binghamton. His power has not taken a step back by overall numbers (ISO and SLG% for example) but some of that is BABIP-aided and a player like Conforto does need to contribute via the long ball to reach his ceiling. Three homers in 160 at bats projects to about 12 over the course of the season. That is Daniel Murphy power.

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Do not interpret any of the above as an indictment of Michael Conforto's skill. He is a special player who has true All-Star potential and is one of the most exciting bats to come through the farm system in a long time. He is just not ready for a jump to Triple-A yet and certainly should not be a candidate for the Mets 25-man roster.

As a loosely related tangent to this article, the more I analyze players like Conforto, the more and more I get frustrated that Las Vegas is the last stop Mets prospects have before reaching the big leagues.

Let's say Conforto adjusts to double-A and starts hitting for power and average without batted ball luck. He starts "crushing it", so to speak. The next logical step is to move him to Las Vegas, let him face pitching that is closer to what he will see in the major leagues and let him adjust to that jump in talent as well. But how? Let's say he gets there and faces Jon Gray--a bright young pitcher in the Colorado Rockies organization. Gray has a major league fastball that some scouts grade as an 80 pitch. Conforto would face him in the PCL. He'll get under a high fastball and fly it to the outfield. Instead of a teachable moment after a lazy fly ball that would send Conforto back to the dugout with something to think about, the ball will carry in the dry air of the desert all the way over the wall and Conforto will take his trip around the bases. After all, this is the league that allowed Wilfredo Tovar to have a two-homer game. Tovar wouldn't be able to hit a home run out of the field they use for the Celebrity Soft Ball game during the All-Star Game festivities much less a full professional park. Tovar hit two in the same game in Albuquerque against the Isotopes--the Rockies PCL affiliate that Jon Gray pitches for.

Diatribe about the uselessness of the PCL for developing talent aside, Conforto needs much more time in the minors before he is ready to face the Scherzers and Kershaws of the world. I do not recommend that time come in Las Vegas, but the rest of the season in Binghamton would do him well. Let him face some nasty top prospects in the Eastern League. Let him learn more about the game and get needed reps against good competition. Then, when the rosters expand, give him a shot. But only if he has demonstrated the ability we need to see from him in double-A. Otherwise, you risk throwing an unready player into a pennant race (a guy can dream, right?) which can have damaging effects on both player psyche as well as overall tool/skill development.

As far as left field for 2015 is concerned, hope that Michael Cuddyer can remember why he is getting paid millions of dollars or, if you are dead set on a prospect taking over, hope that Brandon Nimmo is ready. To me, he is further along in the development process than Conforto. I would rather both have the next couple months at double-A.

This is not the popular opinion. Then again, when do I ever cater to that? Let me know what you think in the comments.

13 comments:

ZachBoyer said...

Stephen,

Why do you think Nimmo is further along in his development than Conforto? You're the first person I've heard say that.

"… does not have enough playing time against good competition to make a promotion anything other than a massive unnecessary risk"—can you explain to me why this is a risk?

Most people say that the only risk is that it will scar him mentally and he'll never recover if he fails. But isn't the real risk that it will start his clock sooner? That it will push him closer to his free agency year? So from a FO perspective, they'd want to bring him up when he's absolutely ready so they can maximize his worth? Correct me if I'm wrong on any of this. I legitimately don't know because nobody ever mentions that part of it.

If so, I tend to agree with you.

Ernest Dove said...

I agree.
Can't compare him to kris bryant because he hit like a thousand homers in the minors, and he already got ABs at AA and AAA level I believe before his call up.

Woulda coulda shoulda but if Conforto went directly to Savannah after getting drafted. With call up to lucie last year. And then started april 2015 in Bingo and was still all the while hitting over .300 with high OBP, it might have made things more interesting.

Stephen Guilbert said...

Zach,

Good questions. As far as Nimmo goes, he has over 500 at bats at double-A already and as I say in the article, I see little value of putting any of our top prospects in Vegas. Given that he's had a season's worth of time at double-A, if we're going to promote one of the two, I'd rather the guy with more experience against better pitching. Also, he has had far more organizational time (yes, Nimmo comes from Wyoming and Conforto a good D1 college program) which means something to me too. Nimmo has had three more years of learning baseball under the umbrella the organization has set up for players to develop. If you trust the ability for our farm system to teach proper baseball, then Nimmo is probably a bit more ready.

The risk is that Conforto will get demolished by upper level pitching and develop bad habits to compensate. Then it means more minor league time to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it, player psyche problems and stunted development. I just don't see the risk there. If Conforto were legitimately crushing it in double-A (without the statistical holes I point out above), I might think this is simply a superior player who is ready for the top competition in the world. He has shown that even double-A pitching is tripping him up a bit. I need to see him adjust and then dominate and THEN maybe he can get a promotion.

It's my opinion. But the stats support that he has not been the hitter most people thing he has been in double-A. That worries me. Take that and extrapolate that ten fold if you move him up to the bigs and you get a player who does nothing to help the major league club and potentially hurts his development. In that scenario there is literally zero reward and a plenty harm.

ZachBoyer said...

Stephen,

Thanks for the response. And point(s) taken.

But so his "clock starting" isn't even a factor in management's decision? Or is that now how it works?

Stephen Guilbert said...

I don't think so. Unless you leave him in the minors until the summer of 2016, his arbitration clock is going to start.

Then again, the Mets have done some sketchy things to players when it comes to service time so you might be right.

Thomas Brennan said...

Stephen, I read an article recently where Nimmo said Conforto has light tower power, and the players say the noise off his bat sounds different. Kind of like Piazza to me.

His homers are not the only indicator, and a guy who can stunbas3balls will have a higher BABIP, I'd think, since the balls he hits hard will get past fielders faster than the average hitter. Lastly, he said he feels he is ready, but until called up will work hard.

I'd call him up, personally.

Stephen Guilbert said...

The problem, Thomas, is that none of what you said is quantifiable.

- Every young player wants to get called up.
- What is Nimmo going to say...that he isn't ready?
- Fans want the new blood even if it's not the right thing for the player or the organization.

Sure, some players can run a higher BABIP but

1.) He didn't do that in Single-A this year and
2.) His K% spiked as well.

Both are indicators he's more outmatched than not and a high BABIP tells me it's luck and not a player owning a league.

The problem with fans is that we're people and people are biased. Stats are an output. Stats are useful because they can tell the story behind what our eyes see and even what some lesser numbers might suggest. That's why we look at them and analyze them.

There is no analytical piece of evidence that suggests to me that Conforto is in any way ready to face major league pitching.

Ernest Dove said...

I was lucky enough to have seen Conforto play 3 times in st lucie.
Was there for his 3 hit spring training game. And two games in A ball, including the night before his promotion.
He obviously knows what he's doing with a bat. Yes there is a LOUD sound when consistently makes contact on sweet spot of bat. And he can go dead center and opposite field no problem.
But I just dont know that he can simply show up at citi field, bat 7th/8th (terry is still manager last I checked) and immediately produce solid numbers.

Thomas Brennan said...

Good points, Ernest and Stephen. I too think if he were called up, he'd struggle. Question is, how much? If he wants to get called up...time to go on a real tear and prove it.

As you'll see tomorrow in my 10 o'clock, I am not treating MC unduly well in it.

Stephen Guilbert said...

Thomas I would love to see Conforto in this lineup and producing. I do think he's a major league bat. I do think he's a future star. Every move--be it a trade, promotion, or a DFA--has a risk and has a reward. At this juncture, I see more risk than reward when it comes to promoting Conforto straight to the bigs from double-A after just 160 at bats. It is an opinion, nothing more.

I typically write about negative things and I am wrong plenty of times. I hope I'm wrong here. If the Mets call him up, I obviously hope he because an instant star. I just see few ways that happens.

Looking forward to your 10:00 AM, Thomas.

IBfromWhitePlains said...

The K rate is a matter of concern. There seems to be a prevailing notion that a high BABIP is more luck than anything else
and it's bound to drop signicantly when the luck runs out. Maybe so,
but I'm reluctant to jump to the same conclusion about this stat.
I wonder if that's the case with guys like Olerud, Gwynn, Matty Alou etc with tremendous bat control and the ability to hit the holes. A great hitter's BABIP reflects his skills, not so much his luck.
Who knows, maybe Comforto is one of those rare talents. Sure hope so.

David Gawkowski said...

Looks like maybe you could be wrong. Only 2 games, but the swing and approach are better than Nimmo. He reminds me of Murph in '08 and a little bit of Votto in there too.

Stephen Guilbert said...

Every one of the metrics I point to in the article improved in the 11 days since I posted this. When I heard of the promotion, I was less worried than I previously was.

However, despite Conforto's good game tonight, I still do not think it was the best move. It very much seemed like an "appease the fan base" move. Could Conforto do what Miguel Sano is doing? Sure. But the point of the piece is that the risk outweighs the reward and I stand by that...even if he had another 4-4 night. Or five.

That being said, I really really like his swing. It's mighty long, though. I'm amazed he didn't strike out more in the minors and I expect him to be a high K guy in the bigs. Just be ready for that.

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