Posted by Reese Kaplan at 8:00 AM
I probably get into more debates about this one player on the roster than any other as people are as divided about him as they are about Trump and Hillary. There are some who think he can do no right and others who think he’s doing whatever’s asked, often better than the alternatives, but gets no respect. The truth is probably somewhere in between but given the challenge of scoring runs with the current rash of slumps and injuries, it puzzles me sometimes when I see the manager choose inferior alternatives like Ty Kelly and soon Kelly Johnson to take ABs away from someone whose potential is much higher.
As many of you who have read my columns in the past know, I’m a big advocate of numbers as they are the accepted metric the game uses to evaluate players. To wit, Wilmer Flores last year in 483 ABs delivered 16 HRs, 59 RBIs and batted .263. Extrapolate that over a full season and you have 20 HRs and 72 RBIs if his ABs increased by about 20% to represent a full time role. Bear in mind these numbers were delivered while being pressured to play one of the most demanding positions on the diamond at shortstop while under the microscope on every single play.
For whatever reason, from Sandy Alderson, Terry Collins on down, it seems whatever the man does with the bat isn’t good enough. At 3B or 2B he’s obviously less of a liability in the field, but everyone seems to be in a hurry to push him into a supersub role as if the starter alternatives are capable of delivering the same offensive production. As an example, in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015 you got less out of David Wright. Granted the last season was lost due to injury, but the fact is he’s performing at a level close to the man people not too long ago were advocating being on the path to Cooperstown.
Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I’m not advocating that if both were healthy Flores should start over Wright. What I am saying is that when these numbers come from Wright, they’re accepted, but when they come from Flores they’re not considered good enough. I know some will be quick to say, what about defense? However, anyone who saw Wright attempt to field his position and throw over the past few years will probably hold his tongue.
No, the comparison that comes to mind for me is not Wright, but a second baseman who never seemed to fit in by the name of Jeff Kent. He was similarly regarded as a guy who could hit but couldn’t field at an acceptable level. In 1993 he hit 21 HRs, 81 RBIs and hit .270. The following year they gave him inexplicably fewer ABs yet he still managed a respectable 14/68/.292. In his third and final full NY Mets season he produced 12/55/.284. The following season he was traded mid-year in the attempt to upgrade the team with an over-the-hill Carlos Baerga. Kent then went onto have an All-Star career and even earned 15% of the requisite votes to go to the Hall of Fame. How many people would have preferred having Kent man 2B for the team during that period in the club’s history rather than Baerga, Roberto Alomar, Miguel Cairo, Jose Valentin and Luis Castillo?
Fast forward to 2016 and again you have a former shortstop moved off the position for defensive shortcomings who has demonstrated both a good eye and home run power, yet there are many already advocating he be relegated to a dedicated platoon player who only sees the light of day against lefties. Others are advocating the acquisition of other also-ran players in the latter stages of their careers who statistically provide less and cost significantly more.
Personally, I’d like to see what the guy is capable of doing if penciled into the lineup nearly every day. Maybe his future is as a trade chip. Maybe it is supersub. Maybe it is starter. Right now you don’t know. What you do know is that he’s demonstrated higher batting averages and more power than the likes of Matt Reynolds, Ty Kelly and even Kelly Johnson who twice eclipsed 20 HRs at ages 28 and 29. We’ll never know if the 24 year old Flores could do that if he’s glued to the bench. Furthermore, Johnson is a career .250 hitter whereas Flores has seemed to show when he plays regularly he hits better. Last year he improved from his 2014 by trial with a .263 average and lately he’s on a June streak that has him at a mere .500. It’s a small sample size for sure, but the hot 10-day period shows what he’s capable of doing. Sadly, though, with Kelly Johnson’s arrival his ABs will likely diminish just as Terry Collins saw fit to start the now out-of-baseball Ruben Tejada in his place.
What do you think you have in Flores? Is he going to be a solid major leaguer or forever a scrub?