|Image from USA Today|
Posted by David Whitman at 10:00 AM
Heresy to think this, I know, but is it a bad idea?
Let’s look at it more closely. The early weeks of a season are usually littered with rain outs, colder temperatures and longer gaps between series. As a result usually pitching is ahead of hitting in those early weeks creating lower scoring games where a strong defense behind the pitcher takes on greater significance. I’m not saying that Conforto is a bad defender but I am saying the obvious-the Mets are stronger defensively with Juan Lagares in CF and Yo in LF.
Lagares is a gold glove winner. His problem has always been with the bat. He struggles against righties and is too much of a free swinger. This is his age-27 season and a crucial one. A player traditionally peaks between the ages of 27-29. Conforto is just 23. He’s an exceptional talent but is he ready to be a full-time starter? The short answer is yes. He definitely was an important factor after he was called up last season. They needed his bat. I’ll argue, however, that coming out of the gate in 2016 they need Lagares glove more.
Through his first 74 AB’s Conforto had a 1.009 OPS and a BABIP of .356. Over his next 97 trips to the plate those fell to .757 and .261. He was extremely lucky early and then his luck ran out. A swing of over 100 points in BABIP in that period of time is pretty big. But is it really surprising? Conforto was an unknown quantity in that first month and his talent took advantage of that but a combination of pitchers catching up to him and some fatigue probably setting after playing over 100 games for the first time contributed to the decline. That decline continued into the first two series of the postseason before Conforto caught fire again in the World Series vs. K.C.-cracking 2 HR’s with a 1.046 OPS. That’s impressive in any series but particularly as a rookie on the biggest stage in MLB.
There’ no arguing that he’s a special player. But there are some things he needs to work on. First and foremost, he needs to hit lefties consistently. In limited exposure last season he did not fare well. Unless they want to create a platoon player he needs regular exposure to southpaws. You don’t want to see Collins get platoon-happy with Conforto and potentially stunt his growth as a hitter against lefties. But that is exactly what could happen. The team’s plan is to start Lagares in CF .vs lefties while sliding Yo to LF.
Even if that plan changed and they did start Conforto in LF or RF .vs lefties would it be wiser to expose him to MLB-quality left-handed pitching or have him further refine his approach against portsiders for a month or so in Vegas?
That is a legitimate concern because the Mets aren’t in a position to let a young hitter like Conforto figure it out at the major league level. They are trying to repeat as NL pennant winners. If he struggles out of the gate hitting against lefthanded pitching Terry will probably simply sit him against southpaw starters. That’s not what the 23 year-old needs. He needs to start everyday and get those all important repetitions facing MLB pitching from both sides of the mound. Having him start the season in Vegas is the prudent thing to do. The Mets needed to rush him to the bigs last summer to help bolster a weak hitting LF platoon. That’s not the case now.
The Mets can afford to give him a couple of months more seasoning at AAA. With an aging Granderson and his declining range in RF they need a CF who can compensate for that and also a CF whose presence can greatly strengthen the up the middle defense. That CF is 2014 Gold Glove winner Lagares. If Lagares gets off to a slow start at the plate then call up Conforto and move Yo to CF. But if Lagares re-establishes himself as the player he was in 2014-or even superior to that-then New York has an asset to keep or trade. His value would increase a great deal on the open market. If his bat remains weak against righties then he’s your 4th OF after Conforto returns.
It comes down to this-what is more valuable to the Mets in the early going this season-Conforto’s bat or Lagares glove? I say it’s Lagares glove. Agree or disagree?