Michael Conforto is the New York Mets’ best hitter. He led the team in OPS+ last season, and while he’s off to an average start in 2018, his OPS (.796) is significantly better than any other member of the starting outfield. Yet since his return from the disabled list, Conforto has been given more non-injury off days than any starter on the team outside of the catchers and Adrian Gonzalez.
Clearly, the Mets have a logjam in the outfield and their most often solution to remedy that problem to this point has been sitting Conforto against lefties. While Conforto is a much better career hitter against right-handed pitching, his recent history has been favorable against lefties. He had a respectable .729 OPS against southpaws last season and is 3-for-9 against them with an .844 OPS in 2018.
He’s often been benched for Juan Lagares, who is off to a strong start at the plate this season and on another team could be playing regularly. However, Lagares, despite being a right-handed batter, has been worse against lefties than Conforto since the start of 2017. Last season, he posted .604 OPS against them, and this year he’s 3-for-11 against them with a .701 OPS.
But Lagares is an elite defender, so it makes sense to try to play him at least once a week while he’s a threat at the plate, but not at the expense of Conforto — the team’s best hitter, who at 25-years-old needs to be trusted against lefties eventually (ex: choosing him over Jose Reyes to pinch-hit against a lefty). Instead, the player that must sit more often is Jay Bruce.
It is Bruce, and not Conforto, that warrants hitting the pine against lefties. He had an OPS of .718 against them last season and is largely matching that with a .713 OPS against them this season. Add to that Bruce is a worse defender than Conforto.
However, what makes this the right move — especially in the short-term — is that Bruce has been struggling through foot problems since spring training. Giving him sporadic time off will likely help him in the long run. If you want to take it a step further, a quick DL trip for Bruce to get some extended rest might even make sense given the team’s desire to give Lagares and Brandon Nimmo more plate appearances. Moving Gonzalez to the bench and having Bruce play first base full time is another way to remedy the solution, but while Gonzalez is hitting fairly well that doesn’t seem to be an option.
Whatever the solution is at this point, the lack of full trust in Conforto against lefties should come to an end. This obviously isn’t anything new, as he would essentially a platoon player to start last season. But great players should play every day, and Conforto has been a truly great hitter though the majority of his MLB career. Writing Conforto into the lineup should not be a question at this point.