As he jumped from Double-A ball to make his debut, and started hitting and never stopped, the accolades kept pouring in.
“Conforto might be the Mets’ best all-around hitter since the captain arrived in 2004,” wrote David Lennon in Newsday.
“Michael Conforto and the Mets are ready,” wrote Kevin Kernan in the Post.
“He’s an excellent player,” David Wright said. “A great person, one of those young guys who gets it.”
And the praise was not unearned. After a slow start in his six July games, Conforto hit August without breaking stride. In 23 games, he hit .317/.405/.603, for an OPS of 1.006.
That’s right: a Mets rookie OPSed over 1.000 for a month – and, despite a drop-off in September and October, .841 for the year. In slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+, Conforto was second only to Cespedes. And unlike Cespedes, Conforto will be 23 next year, is under contract for the foreseeable future, and is not a liability on defense. Far from it, in fact – while not perfect, Baseball Reference has Conforto’s dWAR at 0.8, almost a full run higher than Cespedes’. Overall, Cespedes barely beats Conforto in WAR, 2.3 to 2.1 – and Cespedes did it in 249 plate appearances, to Conforto’s 194.
And Conforto’s strong points just keep coming. In his 194 plate appearances, Conforto struck out only 39 times. He walked 17 times – three more than Cespedes. He hit 14 doubles – the same amount as Cespedes.
And again, he was 22. He still has room for that oft-mentioned but infrequently observed development. The average will go up. The power will improve, even beyond its impressive 2015 showcase.
And even better, he’s got some luck coming his way. Conforto’s Line Drive Percentage in 2015 was 22.6%, compared to an average of 20.9%. Cespedes only had 20.4%. But Cespedes’ 2015 BABIP was .323. Conforto’s was .297. The League average BABIP was .299.
BABIP lower than average, Line Drive Rate higher than average? You know what that means – on top of all the development the coaching staff can coax out of him, Conforto’s got some luck coming his way as well.
But it goes beyond the numbers, because the numbers simply can’t do it all. Just look at him. Look at the fluid power of his swing, the elegance of his opposite-field line drive home runs, the infield that can’t shift because they don’t know where the ball is going. Look at his two home runs in Game Four, a stage on which most rookies could only dream of finding themselves. Look at his simple yet effective defense in the outfield, where preseason rumor had it that his defense would hurt the team.
And listen. Listen to the excitement of the broadcasters as Conforto hits, and their comparisons to Don Mattingly. Listen to the loud, clean sound of the ball off the bat as he homers twice in game four. But above all, listen to that little voice.
You know the voice. All Mets fans have it. It’s the voice that we want to listen to, but are afraid of. The voice that we’ve repressed since it let us down with Lastings Milledge and Fernando Martinez. The voice that told us that deGrom was for real, but also tried to sell us on Alay Soler. It’s the voice of optimism. And in Mets fans, it’s been beaten down, given the wrong answer and then been silenced, so many times that we’re not sure whether it can still sprout the occasional nugget of truth.
But these aren’t the same old Mets. This isn’t the face-palming team of early 2015, nor the laughingstock team of 2009-2014, or the where-prospects-go-to-die team of 2006-’08. This is a whole new ball club. This is a team that was good yesterday, and will be good tomorrow, next week, and next year.
So for once, give in to that little voice, or, failing that, to the broadcasters, pundits, opposing managers, teammates, opposing pitchers, analysts, scouts, etc., and take a good long look at Michael Conforto. Take a look at what he’s got, and then think about just how good this kid could be.
And no, he may not be a Hall of Famer. He may not be Willie Mays or Stan Musial. But he’s a 23 year old outfielder with a great bat and a good glove, and on this team, that goes a long way. Michael Conforto, in five weeks, five months, and five years, will be the solid hitter that this team and all its pitching needs to become a group that can beat anyone on any given day.
And yes, it’s tough as long-suffering, beaten-down Mets fans, to admit to ourselves that we might just have a pretty damn good team next year. But this time, I’m listening to that little voice that’s telling me good things. And Michael Conforto, I suspect, will prove me right.