Since his unexpectedly early return from shoulder surgery in early April, Michael Conforto has struggled at the plate, with just a .652 OPS. Still, there are some promising signs for the young slugger, who the Mets badly need to give a boost to an anemic lineup.
In the month since his season debut, Conforto has just a .200 batting average and, even more troubling, has shown very little power, with his lone home run on the year coming in his first game. His four extra base hits over 90 plate appearances is well below his career numbers. And with the possibility of lingering issues related to his highly unusual shoulder injury that ended his 2017 season, both the team and the fans have some reasonable concerns.
Not all of the numbers for Conforto are bad, though. He is seeing the ball as well as at any point in his career, as he has walked in 20 percent of his plate appearances, pushing his on base percentage to a strong .367. His strikeout numbers are similar to his career norms and he is making contact at a good rate -- on par with last season.
Conforto's big problem right now is that he is struggling to drive the ball. He's hitting line drives and fly balls as much as ever before, but his hard hit percentage is down by almost 10 percent from his career average. As a result, his batting average on balls in play is down 50 points from last season and his home run per fly ball rate is just 6 percent, compared to 18 percent for his career.
There are two main reasons Conforto is hitting with so little authority...
First is that despite his quick recovery, he was very limited in his activity throughout the offseason. Strength training makes a big difference in power hitting and it can take a long time to rebuild the muscle mass you'd normally see in a hitter of Conforto's caliber in his prime.
The other issue, one Conforto has cited in interviews, is timing. He is only now just approaching the number of at-bats most hitters get in a normal Spring Training -- something he lacked entirely this year. A lesser hitter might find himself swinging and missing frequently. Conforto is skilled enough to connect, but often weakly or off-balance. His atypical batted ball distribution also supports this, as he is failing to use the whole field as he does so well when he's right.
While his struggles are frustrating, especially in light of the team's overall offensive issues, there are some positives.
Both the strength and timing are likely short-term problems, and it's reasonable to expect to see him start making solid contact within the next few weeks. Meanwhile, his exceptional eye at the plate means he still has value as he works through this slump. Playing time will only help him, and the Mets can feel confident using him -- particularly in a leadoff role -- knowing he is far from an automatic out. He is also providing value on the field, where he is on track for his best defensive season yet, even beginning to look like a natural fit in center field. Conforto's rise to stardom hasn't been derailed, only slowed.
Maggie Wiggin (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Archive Posts) has been a Mets fan since birth and a MetsBlog contributor since 2013. She loves throwing hard and hitting hard and hates the DH. When baseball is out of season, she fills her days with data analysis and evaluation and patiently waits for Spring