An MMO Fan Shot by Daniel Marti
Less than a week away from Opening Day 2018, the Mets approach this upcoming season with many questions and interesting stories to follow on their roster.
Will Brandon Nimmo develop into a true leadoff hitter? Will Michael Conforto return to produce like he did in 2017 before he got hurt? What can Matt Harvey provide at this point in his career? There are dozens of others, but one story that needn’t be explored is the one regarding the Mets’ newest first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez.
Once among the most elite first basemen in the league, Gonzalez’s decline has been quite sudden and dramatic.
Nagging injuries, including a herniated disc, have significantly sapped Gonzalez’s ability to produce at the plate. Last year in 252 plate appearances Gonzalez slashed a meager .242/.287/.355.
His batted ball profile tells a similar story as his xWOBA (this metric measures the quality of a hitter’s contact on the baseball) was a mere .303. Gonzalez’s power has also diminished, yielding a HR/FB rate of only 4.2 percent (compare this to the 2017 league-average of 17.5 percent for first basemen). His 2018 Spring Training has been equally unimpressive as he simply looks lost in the batter’s box.
There is very little chance Gonzalez can turn things around in 2018. Although he is two years removed from a productive season, the fact is Gonzalez will be turning 36 this May. Baseball, or any sport for that matter, is not kind to 36-year-olds who have chronic back problems.
In addition to his probable poor performance in the upcoming regular season, carrying Gonzalez on the roster will also cause the Mets further issues with their bench.
As the Mets enter the summer months, they will conceivably utilize a four-man bench of Jose Reyes, Wilmer Flores, Kevin Plawecki, and Juan Lagares. That makes for one of the worst benches in baseball in terms of positional flexibility. Reyes is a middle infielder and Flores cannot defend adequately at any position besides first base. The Mets cannot afford to carry essentially two first basemen on their roster, especially since they will still have Dominic Smith waiting in the wings in Las Vegas.
Gonzalez simply won’t hit enough to offset the drawbacks he brings to the roster.
The Adrian Gonzalez experiment should be ended immediately by releasing him and then naming Wilmer Flores as the starting first baseman.
Although he won’t likely become even a top 20 first baseman in the MLB, Wilmer is still the Mets’ best internal option at first base given Conforto’s and Smith’s injuries.
Wilmer’s claim to fame has been his otherworldly ability to mash left-handed pitching.
At his peak, he produced an elite slash-line of .340/.383/.710 against them in 107 plate appearances in 2016. However, 2017 told a different story for Wilmer as he started to hit right-handers (slashing .262/.306/.459) while performing a little worse against left-handers (slashing .291/.309/.553). His newfound ability to hit right-handed pitching appears to be sustainable as he produced a xWOBA of .325 against them in 2017.
This was actually much higher than his .300 xWOBA against left-handers in that same season. His improved contact against right-handers is demonstrated by the increase in his fly-ball rate. Since Wilmer is hitting more balls in the air, as opposed to the ground where even Bartolo Colon may be more productive, he is allowing his power to produce better outcomes in games.
Wilmer Flores is still only 26 (he will be 27 in August) so it isn’t a stretch to believe that he can improve at this stage of his career. If he can return to his 2015-2016 form of crushing left-handers while competently handling right-handers like he did in 2017, the Mets have the makings of a solid first baseman on the cheap.
More importantly, starting Flores at first base would open a spot on the short bench for a more versatile, athletic player like Phillip Evans who can play multiple positions. Wilmer has already proven to be one of hardest workers on the team while also entrenching himself as a beloved figure in New York.
He won’t produce sexy numbers, but Wilmer Flores is the unequivocally superior option at first base compared to Adrian Gonzalez in 2018. Wilmer’s journey in 2018, should it take this path, would make for a story much more deserving of Mets’ fans’ attention.
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This Fan Shot was written and contributed by MMO community member and die-hard Mets fan Daniel Marti. Have something you want to say about the Mets? Send your article to GetMetsmerized@aol.com or use this Contact Form. Or ask us about becoming a regular contributor.