It’s almost sacrilege to talk poorly of Wilmer Flores – the Mets folk hero and utility-man is an undisputed fan favorite for his clutch heroics. In a poll conducted by the New York Daily News after the 2017 season, 89% of those polled said that the Mets needed to hang onto Flores – the only position players with higher ratings were Michael Conforto and Amed Rosario.
It’s hard for fans not to love Flores, and Flores loves them right back – the 26-year-old expressed his desire to stick with the Mets after going 2-4 with a double and a run scored in Wednesday’s game. Still, the Mets are in such a poor position that Flores’ has been discussed in the media as a potential trade candidate. But as much as it might behoove the Mets to sell anyone who isn’t strapped down, Flores is nowhere near as great of an asset as he might seem to be on the surface.
Let’s address why Flores appears like a trade asset on the surface. Since 2016, Flores has hit .268/.315/.475, splitting time between first, second and third. For a utility infielder to hit so well would immediately make him an asset to any bench in the MLB without a solid utility player, or second-baseman – that kind of power is extremely rare among players who can play second base.
But there exists a major caveat in that Flores is very much a platoon hitter. Since 2016, Flores has done an excellent job of mashing left-handed pitching, but he’s been only average against right-handed been pitching.
It’s not like anyone in the media is unaware of the platoon – Flores has had this reputation as a lefty-masher for his career, and as a result, he’s almost always in the lineup when the Mets are facing a lefty. It’s worth noting that Flores has had reverse splits this season (64 wRC+ against LHP, 146 wRC+ against RHP) in limited action, but the big picture indicates that Flores is above-average against lefties and average against righties and teams looking to trade for Flores should treat him as thus.
But even with a disadvantage against righties, Flores is still an average hitter against RHP, which puts him at an advantage over the average second baseman – since 2016, second basemen have a wRC+ of 96 against RHP, and 93 against LHP – so by wRC+, Flores is 4 points better against RHP and 38 points better against LHP. Flores’ bat is his best asset, and it shines best at a middle infield position.
Unfortunately, as much as he’d like to pretend, Flores is not a middle infielder. He’s not even a third baseman. I pulled Flores’ career defensive values from FanGraphs and Baseball Reference, and the results are less than encouraging.
Flores ranks as an average-to-above-average defender at first baseman and second baseman by UZR/150, and that’s it. Nowhere else has he graded out as anything other than below-average to awful by any other metric. It’s important to note that Flores has not seen an extraordinary amount of time anywhere in the field as a result of his role as a utility player, so the defensive numbers that we have are incomplete, but at everywhere that Flores has played, he’s been downright awful to an extraordinary degree. Flores is only somewhat decent in the field while playing first or DHing, and downright atrocious everywhere else. The Mets, cognizant of this fact, have given Flores 74% of his innings played this season at first.
We cannot judge Flores by the marker of “utility player” or “middle infielder” – Flores’ glove everywhere but first base negates the value provided by his bat. So in evaluating Flores as a trade target, we must discuss him as a first baseman or DH. And in evaluating Flores at those positions, he grades decently with his glove, but poorly with his bat. Since 2016, first basemen have a 111 wRC+ against RHP and 106 wRC+ against LHP, and designated hitters have a 109 wRC+ against RHP and 108 wRC+ against LHP – Flores is still an above-average lefty-masher, but is about 10 points worse than the average first baseman or DH against RHP.
Therein lies the flaw in the argument that someone should trade for Flores. LHP have accounted for just 27% of starts in the majors this season, so Flores would realistically start over an average first baseman only once every four days. For a position player with such limited positional versatility, it’s difficult to call a first-baseman who would start only against LHP as worthy of a roster spot, let alone worth trading for.
Besides, there appear to exist few suitors for a player of Flores’ talents. FanGraphs’ playoff odds give 15 teams odds of greater than 10% to reach the playoffs this season. For the starting first baseman for each of those teams, I pulled their L/R platoon wRC+ and compared it to Flores’.
|Player||Team||LHP wRC+||RHP wRC+||wRC+|
|Mitch Moreland||Red Sox||104||101||101|
The only team where Flores might stand to yield an improvement against both lefties and righties is the Yankees, but Greg Bird has had injury problems for much of the past three seasons. The Yankees have expressed confidence in their young first baseman, so it’s unlikely that they try to replace him with Flores, which appears to leave the Mets without a realistic suitor for Flores.
It might be just as well. Given Flores’ status as a folk hero among Mets fans, the Mets might have riots on their hands should they decide to move Flores, who himself has expressed the desire to remain on the team “forever”. Flores is not an awful option at first base, especially for the Mets, who have been without consistency at the position for much of the season. Even if the Mets could move Flores, the return might not be worth the trouble from the fanbase.