Mets' left fielders simply have not hit enough. By Fangraphs' wRC+, where 100 is league average, Mets left fielders have combined for 80, 26th in baseball. Only the Reds, Nationals, White Sox and Angels have received worse offensive production from their left fielders. From a larger picture perspective, the Mets have scored 329 runs, the second-worst in baseball, more only than the Chicago White Sox. While the pitching is among baseball's best, the offense has been among the league's worst units.
Meanwhile, the Mets have the 22-year-old Conforto in Double-A. He cannot alone cure the Mets offense. However, he can provide an immediate upgrade to the team's current roster. Conforto is hitting .321 in 44 games in double-A with 12 doubles, three triples and five home runs, to go along with 23 walks and 34 strikeouts, for a .406 on-base percentage and a .518 slugging percentage. In rate terms, he's drawn a walk in 12 percent of his plate appearances and struck out in 17.7 percent. By wRC+, among batters with at least 150 PA in the Eastern League, Conforto is third on the circuit at 172. The shape of Conforto's production, power, walks and a strikeout rate better than league average suggest that he is ready for the next step.
However, moving up a level or two, will very likely hurt his production. Previous estimates had batters losing 18% of their efficacy in moving from Triple-A to the big leagues. Conforto has run a .380 batting average on balls in play in Double-A. While, to some degree, that's a sign of making good, hard contact, big league fielders will turn more of those balls in play into outs.
These effects are captured in translating Conforto's Double-A effort to a big league equivalent. (Unfortunately, the great Minor League Splits no longer splits out custom MLEs.) Baseball Prospectus' weighted mean projection, updated Wednesday pegs Conforto for a .250/.315/.417 line in the big leagues. That's similar in average and on-base, but better along the power dimension than the last projection from Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projection system, which pegged his MLB equivalency to be .252/.317/.378 on June 22. At FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan ran the numbers and found that prospects roughly at Conforto's level struggled initially (averaging a 89 wRC+). That smells reasonable. And yet, it might well help the Mets.
The Mets are not comparing Conforto to some imaginary replacement-level baseline. Instead they must compare him to the team's incumbent outfielders. Given their level so far, the team would not need Conforto to be great, just competent to be an upgrade.
Compare the performance of the guys playing left field for the Mets:
Player - fWAR
Michael Cuddyer - 0.1
Kirk Nieuwenhuis - 0.1
Darrell Ceciliani - 0.3
Eric Campbell - -0.1
Kirk Nieuwenhuis owns a 69 wRC+ thanks to a .164 batting average and a .227 on-base percentage. Two teams, the Mets and the Angels, have already let him go this year. Darrell Ceciliani has a 59 wRC+ thanks to a .206 batting average, and a .270 on-base percentage. Eric Campbell has been a little below replacement level while hitting .179 wit ha .305 on-base percentage.
So, lots of guys put up numbers in Double-A, but cannot replicate it in the big leagues. However, Conforto has outperformed anyone who would otherwise be playing in left field for the Mets in the absence of Cuddyer. Travis Taijeron, a high-strikeout outfielder currently in Triple-A is also included in this comparison.
|Conforto 2015 EL||44||.321||.406||.518||22|
Obviously, Conforto has spent less time in Double-A than Nieuwenhuis, Ceciliani, Campbell or Taijeron. He also has the best batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage of the group at the youngest age.
The advanced stats support the notion that Conforto is a cut above the rest of this group. He has the lowest strikeout rate, and the best walk rate. His power production, as measured by isolated slugging, falls behind Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Travis Taijeron.
|Conforto 2015 EL||10.4||17.7||12.0||2.6||.380||.196|
Would there be a cost to promoting Conforto now? First, the Mets would have to clear a 40-man roster spot. This is not a sever constraint at this time as the team could simply shift David Wright to the 60-day DL and postpone having to open another spot. Alternatively, Ceciliani or Nieuwenhuis could be designated.
Is Conforto a finished product? Absolutely not. He's 22 years old and has only played 44 games above a-ball. Would the team be running any risk promoting him now? Would a few weeks or a month of struggles damage him for the future? That's impossible to say, but fans who worry about player confidence severely understate the degree of extreme faith in one's own abilities it takes to be an elite professional athlete.
The likeliest outcome is that Conforto does not produce at a league average level. However, he should be better than the team's incumbents. With the Mets clearly in a pennant race against the banged up Nationals, every game and every at bat matters. While the team can and should be pursuing other outfield help (Hi, Carlos Gomez), Conforto should be playing left field everyday now.