Going Deep: Let Michael Conforto Shoulder Your OF
Glance at New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto‘s 2019 Steamer projections and you’ll think he is coming off a normal season. And if he duplicates his 2018 line (28 HR, 78 R, 82 RBI, .243), his current ADP of 108 sounds about right as the 28th outfielder off the board.
Of course, Conforto didn’t have a normal season. If you weren’t paying attention, you might only remember the headlines: He started the year hurt, came back sooner than expected, nearly played his way down to Triple-A, and ended his year with respectable but not great numbers. Dive deeper and you’ll see there’s much more to the 25-year-old’s second half. His monstrous rebound after the All-Star break points to a healthy Conforto and there’s every reason to think a healthy Conforto could be a top-10 outfielder in 2019.
The Injury and the Comeback
On Aug. 24, 2017, Conforto violently whiffed on a Robbie Ray fastball and immediately crumpled to the ground. It was one of those innocuous-looking, non-contact injuries that you knew had to be awful based on his teeth-gritting reaction. He had surgery that September to repair a torn posterior shoulder capsule, but the implications on how the injury would affect the All-Star’s future were unclear. The list of batters who’d had similar shoulder surgeries had all of one name on it: Conforto.
The consensus was that he would be out until at least late May 2018 and the worry was that even then he may never be the same player. He returned in early April, a month sooner than expected, but his poor production indicated that his shoulder was not fully healed. The narrative that his injury might affect him indefinitely started to take hold. By June, reports surfaced that the Mets were considering a demotion.
Then the 2018 All-Star break happened and the dude just started crushing it. The graph below shows how Conforto’s cumulative hard hit rate and slugging percentage increased over the course of the season.
If you’re wondering what happened just before game 60 that might have sparked this turnaround: That’s exactly when the Mets were hanging the minor league stint over his head. But Conforto didn’t really get cranking until right around game 80, just after the All-Star break. He went on a post-All-Star tear, slashing .273/.356/.539 and swatting 17 homers. The results on the field are held up by a hard hit rate that improved as the season went on. He was clearly hitting the ball harder toward the end of the season than he was at the beginning—a clear sign that his shoulder healed throughout the year.
Even still, this may all seem like a late season hot streak—until you compare it to his breakout 2017 numbers.
The Real Michael Conforto
It’s very likely the late-2018 version of Conforto is the same monster slugger as the 2017 version, right before his shoulder gave out. If we compare his post-All-Star hitting profile to the entirety of his 2017 season, we get a clear vision of what a healthy Conforto is capable of.
The ceiling here is sky-high—that home run to fly ball rate should make fantasy owners salivate. His wRC+ of 147 ranked seventh at his position in 2017. According to Steamer, only seven outfielders are projected for a wRC+ over 140 in 2019: Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, J.D. Martinez, Giancarlo Stanton, Mookie Betts, Juan Soto, and Christian Yelich.
If Conforto can manage to be the player he was in 2017 and the second half of 2018, he’ll provide fourth-round value after the 100th pick in your draft.
(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)