Deep Dive: Welcome back to the Big Leagues, Wilmer Flores

22-year-old Mets infielder Wilmer Flores will be in Friday’s starting lineup, batting seventh and playing shortstop.

Toby Hyde, Contributor

The Mets were so sure that Flores could not play shortstop in the big leagues, they moved him off the position in 2012 as he rose from Single- to Triple-A.

And tonight, he might be starting there for them at Citi Field.

Here’s a look back and forward, as the team enters yet another era on the infield…



Wilmer Flores throws to first


The Problem at Shortstop


The Mets shortstop position has been one of the least productive in baseball. It has failed in 2014 both offensively and defensively.

Mets shortstops are dead last in WAR (FanGraphs). They are 29th in baseball in OPS, ahead of only the Pirates.

This is not a small sample size issue. This is not a new problem. It has been going on, on both sides of the ball, since Jose Reyes left for the Marlins after 2011, during which they’ve been 29th in baseball in fWAR, 20th in UZR (FanGraphs), and they have collectively cost the team 16 runs in two years (ESPN Stats & Info.).


Team-Level Issues


The Mets are 23rd in runs scored, which probably overstates how effective the team has been offensively. They are 28th in home runs. They are 29th in wOBA (.284), which excludes base running, but also 28th in FanGraphs Offense (with base running added back in).

In other words, the Mets need more offense.

In the field, they’ve been ordinary, though a league-worst at fielding ground balls. Overall, whether doing research on Baseball Prospectus or FanGraphs, The Mets defense is more or less average. However, they are dead last in turning ground balls into outs, with opponents batting .278 and slugging .305 on grounders (Baseball Reference).


Is Wilmer Flores the answer?


I’ve seen Flores a lot in his minor league career. His hands at the plate are among the best I’ve seen at Single-A. He had an outstanding ability to put the bat on the ball. He knew that pitchers in the minors could’t throw a fastball by him. He knew he could always attack an early-count fastball to put it in play. But, he was unable to survive in the big leagues with that approach.

In his 101 plate appearances for the Mets last season, the 22-year-old Flores hit just .211 with a .248 OBP and a .295 SLG. His primary problem was controlling the strike zone. Flores walked in just 5% of his plate appearances and struck out 23% of the time. He never struck out like this in the minor leagues, peaking at 17% in Triple-A. MLB averages in 2013 were a 7.9% walk rate and a 19.9% strikeout rate.

In the last four years of his career, he has exhibited a pattern of increasing strike zone control in his second (or third) exposure to a given level. He was not ready to hit Major League pitching last summer. He got off to a slow start in Triple-A this season. However, since April 18, he has beat up the Pacific Coast League. He’s walking at a much better rate and now looks like a hitter ready to contribute at the plate more than he was a year ago. Remember, MLB shortstops are hitting just .246 this season.

In regards to his fielding, I’ve talked with multiple scouts about his work at shortstop. No one liked it, with one scout saying he should only play first base.

Flores has soft hands and a strong arm. However, he is a well below-average runner with slow feet and deliberate actions. He’s going to field ground balls hit to him, but, if he has to go more than three steps, it’s going to be an adventure on the infield. There will be ground balls up the middle or in the hole that he’ll never get to.

Thankfully, in the National League, only the Cardinals and Braves have induced fewer ground balls than Mets pitchers so far in 2014.


Conclusion


Based on the above, if Flores can hit roughly .225, with a .300 OBP and .330 SLG, his at bats should cancel out his struggles in the field.




24 comments
Richard Alicea
Richard Alicea

This kid is going to hit for a higher average than that...he's also going to field the position adequately...this is a win win anyway you look at it.

Doubleday
Doubleday

The Mets were also so sure that Nolan Ryan was too wild to make an impact in the majors, that they traded him for a washed up Jim Fregosi.

cmetsfan
cmetsfan

Many of us have been frothing for Flores so looking forward to what he can bring offensively! 

upstater
upstater

Makes no sense at all. .225 is 3 hits in 100 at bats (25 games) compared to .195 for Tejada. Surely the ground balls he wouldn't get to have more impact than 3 hits in 25 games.

gregf
gregf

Hit .225? Who the heck are you kidding? If that is his upside, he shouldn't even be in the system ...

If, perhaps you are saying that is the break-even point, I guess I could understand that ... but that is not clear ... Flores needs to project to a .275/15 HR/75 RBI guy or package him up in a deal ...

Having said all this, I think this is the right move and I will be watching and rooting for him tonight ... nobody seems to mention he had good success driving in runs when he came up last year, then when he turned his ankle on an awkward run into 3B, he dropped off considerably ...

It's time to deal! Maybe Giants are a good trade partner right now. METS need to clear roster, bring up the kids, and get a feared hitter in middle of line up. Dillon Gee and Daniel Murphy are at hot-iron, strike now value. Lucas Duda, Josh Satin, and Gonzalez Germen are nice players for a good team. Brandon Nimmo needs a change of scenery, and John Leathersich is a lefty strikeout specialist attractive to other organizations.

If Pablo Sandoval is comfortable at first base, METS could possibly move on him. Giants have nice fits in minors: Joe Panik (2B/SS- stuck behind Crawford), pitchers like Heath Hembree and Kyle Crick. Deal could bring back players like Joaquin Arias and George Kontos, too.

So, WELCOME in Wilmer Flores, and why not Montero while we're at it! Clean it out and make a package deal. It's time, Sandy! We're getting shut out by the MARLINS!

72tilltc
72tilltc

They said Cal Ripken was too slow too tall for ss and only moved him to ss after he made the bigs. Hubie played ss and was an allstar for Montreal. He cant be worse than Tejada or O.

Joshua Shapiro
Joshua Shapiro

Could mean one less gaping hole in our lineup.  Always a good thing.

Eric Vierow
Eric Vierow

Take it and run wilmer...dont look back...you can be our next talent.

BringBackDaveTelghe
BringBackDaveTelghe

"Based on the above, if Flores can hit roughly .225, with a .300 OBP and .330 SLG, his at bats should cancel out his struggles in the field."

Woooah...I have a major question on your findings here.  Are you setting this equal to Tejada or equaling this to an average SS?  If Flores puts up those numbers you reference and plays terrible D at SS, there's no way he's going to have a postive WAR,

ChemnerC
ChemnerC

@metsblog the mets should have brought this kid to the big leagues a long time ago. Does Anybody remember how bad it was with murph at 2nd.

dave42
dave42

I was under the impression that last year's struggles in the bigs were a result of his ankle injury.  Fact is, he's still a kid.  I am foolishly optimistic that he'll hit this time around.  Whether or not he can field is another story.  If he hits enough, would it make sense to switch him to first and try Tovar at SS?

matt520
matt520

I'm a big believer in shortstop being a defensive position with offense as a bonus.

That being said, Wilmer appears to be the best option in the organization at the moment if he can even be average defensively. No one expects him to be a long term solution at SS but in the mean time if he can lengthen the lineup and add some punch while not killing us defensively, I'm ok with that for now.

I still do not think he has a spot in this infield, he needs to hit and then be packaged with young pitching to get a legitimate firstbaseman or shortstop.

For now though, I hope Wilmer rakes and starts to reach his potential even if the bulk of his career ends up for another team.

Chapter 7
Chapter 7

I'm with you. Glad he's up. So many people bummed about a top prospect getting a chance. Let's see what he's got.

qualcomm
qualcomm

@doubleday Actually Whitey Herzog almost died when they did that... it was done without the blessing of many in the organization.   Nolan was never able to get consistent reps due to his service time and he was a very rhythm centric pitcher who'd lose the strike zone if he didn't pitch consistently.   The exact year he was traded was also when his military duty was up and the very first year he was allowed to start without interruption.   if they had only waited...

Then they paint it like he WANTED to be traded.  The man was bitter for years for being sent away.

It was another moment in the long history of poorly run Met teams that both undervalue and overvalue what they have.  The same FO got rid of Otis, Singleton & Bibby even though all were known as great prospects. With all four, we would have dominated in the 70's, maybe Jackson would have come here to reverse the 1966 travesty rather than the Bronx,  maybe Seaver doesn't get traded and gets to 400 wins, maybe Winfield & Rose choose the Mets at the end of the decade etc...


Christopher Masiello
Christopher Masiello

@upstater  I totally agree about the low bar established by the author here. I am actually a firm believer that defense is somewhat overrated, just not nearly as much as these numbers postulate.

Three hits per month will not overcome horrible defense in left field, let alone shortstop.

However, I do think that .270 with a .750 OPS would WELL outweigh any defensive deficiencies. That's 8 extra hits per month (2 per week) and maybe 9 of those 27 hits are for extra bases. Not to mention the few extra walks thrown in there. I don't care if a guys picks it like Ozzie Smith out there, he can't save as many runs as the better hitter will produce.

The highest Attempts per Game at shortstop last year was 3.2 (Andrelton Simmons). That THREE POINT TWO times per game he tried to field a ball. So you're basically saying that the difference between Ozzie Smith and Stephen Hawking is 3 plays per game.

Now, let's assume that Ozzie makes 90+% of those plays. The worst shortstop in baseball will still make most of them (70%). That's 72 outs vs. 56 outs made per month. 4 outs per week separate the Most active, best fielding shortstop from the worst butcher ever. All Mets shortstops produced 87 runs last year (Runs + RBI - HR). A guy with a .750 OPS (Juan Seguara) produced 111. That's 4 extra runs per month.

Now let's adjust the assumption: Tejada IS NOT Ozzie Smith. Let's also assume that Flores is only the 5th worst shorstop in the majors. His bat will outweigh his glove.

Chapter 7
Chapter 7

Yeah. Seems like those numbers were pulled out of thin air. Is their any statistical backing ?

gregf
gregf

Good point re: theankle ... just mentioned the same ... why don't the 'experts' remember this?