With Michael Conforto coming off the disabled list, there was a question where he should hit in the New York Mets lineup.
Traditionalists wanted to see him in more of a classic RBI spot in the lineup like third or clean-up. Sabermetrically inclined fans who saw Conforto as the best hitter on the team wanted him to hit second in the lineup.
His manager, Mickey Callaway, decided to bat Conforto leadoff. It was the right decision.
Recently, teams have ever so slowly been moving away from the classic leadoff hitter. It’s no longer about speed and stolen bases. Now, it’s about the ability to get on base, and it’s about the ability to drive in runs when the lineup flips over. Teams who have constructed their lineups as such have had success recently.
The 2015 Mets went to the World Series with Curtis Granderson (.259/.364/.457, 26 homers, 70 RBI) as their leadoff hitter. The following year, Callaway’s Indians went to the World Series with husky first baseman Carlos Santana (.259/.366/.498, 34 homers, 87 RBI) as their leadoff hitter. The reigning World Series MVP is George Springer (.283/.367/.522, 34 homers, 85 RBI). Each one of these players were top three on their team in OBP, homers, and RBI.
With few exceptions like Bobby Bonds and Brady Anderson‘s 50 homer 1996 season, these types of hitters typically hit in the middle of the lineup. Now, teams, especially analytically driven teams, have rethought that model, and they want these types of hitters atop the lineup.
Conforto is one of these types of hitters.
Before tearing his posterior casule, Conforto was hitting .279/.384/.555 with 27 homers and 68 RBI. Like Granderson, Santana, and Springer before him, he was top three on his team in OBP, homers, and RBI. Also like that trio, Conforto did his damage from the leadoff spot.
One thing that is lost with Conforo was how much he has found a home in the leadoff spot. In the 68 games he had led off for the Mets last year, Conforto hit .279/.386/.555 with 20 homers and 45 RBI. That was good for a 149 wRC+. That’s higher than the 54 wRC+ he has batting second or the 137 wRC+ he has batting third.
Really, Conforto is at his best when he is leading off. That extends to leading off games where he hits .305/.397/.712 or leading off an inning where he hits .282/.373/.554.
In theory, Conforto should bat second. Given his ability and his 2017 stats, he’s the best hitter in the Mets lineup – even better than Yoenis Cespedes. However, part of his being the best hitter in the Mets lineup is his being in a spot in the lineup he is most comfortable and produces.
He certainly proved how comfortable he was in that spot yesterday when he hit an opposite field go-ahead home run against Stephen Strasburg. So yes, Conforto should even hit leadoff whenever Brandon Nimmo cracks the lineup.
Given his skill-set, how successful teams have been using similar hitters atop the order, and how he thrives in that spot, Conforto should be the Mets leadoff hitter.