Put your pens down. Michael Conforto is here to tell everyone that it is way too soon to write him off as an average offensive player.
Conforto is catching fire much like someone on the receiving end of a hot foot prank in the dugout, except he’s not trying to extinguish these flames.
Since the All Star break, Michael Conforto has hit .385/.452/.808. While it is unlikely for him to keep this torrid pace, this sort of streak has leveled his yearly numbers a fair bit. Conforto has raised his OPS from .710 to .755, his wOBA from .314 to .330, and his wRC+ from 99 to 110 since the break. While these still fall behind his career averages of a .820 OPS, .350 wOBA, and 121 wRC+, it’s a push towards his norm.
Conforto returned early this season on April 5 from a surgery to repair the posterior capsule in his left shoulder. An injury that occurred from something that could only be described as a “freak swing.” He was expected to be out until at least the beginning of May.
Only playing a couple of games in the teams spring training, Conforto spent some time in extended spring training, where he was tearing the cover off of the ball. The team saw that his swing wasn’t marred by the recovery, and decided to take him off the disabled list early.
For his first week of the season, it appeared like the right move. In six games, Conforto hit .333/.478/.611. Everything appeared to have been back to normal. This was not the case. From April 12 until the beginning of the All Star break on July 15, Conforto hit just .208/.334/.349, with his wOBA sitting at .305, and his wRC+ at a mere 93.
Perhaps his shoulder was still uncomfortable from the recovery. Perhaps something else was going on.
April and May weren’t the worst months for Conforto. His wRC+ stood at 100 and 116 respectively. Conforto had a three-week stretch from May 7 to May 28 where he hit .304/.377/.551, but then he hit a brick wall in June.
The raw landscape of June showed Conforto hitting .198/.327/.374, with a .308 wOBA, and a 94 wRC+ for the entirety of June. That’s paltry by any standards. Nevertheless, it seems there was more than meets the eye here.
June saw Conforto’s lowest strikeout rate for any month of the year to that point, and his walk rate was at par for the season, and just above his career average. Still, there was something not right in the month of June.
|Walk Rate||Strikeout Rate||BABIP|
The thing that truly sticks out of this chart is the inordinately low BABIP. All the other rates held or improved, but Conforto was truly getting unlucky on his balls in play.
This is where one has to start asking other questions. Well, what about the batted ball profile though? Is he digging balls into the ground?
|Ground Ball%||Fly Ball%||Line Drive%|
We can see that Conforto was actually pushing the ball into the air fairly well in June, though we did see a dip in his line drives. His best month also saw the largest rate of ground balls. Deeper investigation shows that he only had a .500 OPS on those ground balls, so he made the best of his other batted balls. This isn’t a clear picture though.
What about the quality on contact?
|Soft Hit%||Med Hit%||Hard Hit%|
Conforto’s worst month also saw his highest hard hit rate. The data in these three charts shows that, not only was Conforto driving the ball with authority, but that he was also not fairing any luck despite that fact.
Something has to be wrong though, right? Was he becoming predictable? Were teams shifting him because everything was going the same way?
This is about as fair as one could get with distributing the ball. It honestly just seems to be a streak of bad luck. Nevertheless, the first two weeks of July were worsening the trend seen in June. That is, until we hit the All Star break.
Despite it being a fairly small sample, in those seven games, Conforto has taken off. He’s hitting .385/.452/.808 in the last week, as we mentioned earlier. A notable difference though is that he’s only striking out 12.9% of the time.
Conforto’s line drive rate also rose to 26.1% in that time. His hard contact rate is at 43.5%, while his soft contact dropped to just 17.4%. Even his home run per fly ball rate has jumped to 33.3%. These are different rates even compared to his other streaks this season.
Of course, and again, we can’t realistically expect this to continue at this rate. What we can fairly expect though is for his playing to balance out. The season is a marathon, not a sprint. When we see someone fall a bit behind, it’s easy to get a bit pessimistic, but seeing the circumstances for what they are help us understand the reality of the game, and players, we love to watch.