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How Michael Conforto’s Slump Compares to a Different Left Fielder

Michael Conforto is having a good season. It’s true. He has a .287 TAv and has posted 1.3 WARP in 56 games and 216 plate appearances; he’s also hit nine home runs. PECOTA projects Conforto to post another 1.5 WARP for the remainder of the season. According to these same projections, he should finish up about a three-win player with more than 20 homers. The numbers don’t scream “superstar,” but they do whisper “roughly Kole Calhoun’s 2015.” That’s pretty good.

And yet, it sure doesn’t feel like Conforto is having a good year. He’s been ice cold since the beginning of May. In April, Conforto hit .365/.442/.676. It was unsustainable, sure, but the peak was high enough for the inevitable regression to be easy to take. Conforto capped off the month of April with a 3-for-4 day that included a double and a home run. Since then, Confort has plummeted from that peak. As if he were concerned with the neatness of monthly splits, Confort went 0-5 with three strikeouts on May 1. Since that day (through Saturday), Conforto is hitting .153/.215/.314.

Last week, Brian Duricy offered an excellent look at Conforto’s struggles. Conforto’s troubles, in short, involve managing the strike zone, which suggests that the slump is “self-created.” On the one hand, that means he should be able to get himself out of it. But on the other hand, it’s not a great sign that he got himself into this hole in the first place. The problem is diagnosable, but the remedy isn’t clear.

It often feels that way with Carlos González, who is prone to suffer from intense slumps. They can last for months. In 2015, González had 294 plate appearances from the beginning of the season to July 4. He hit .237/.297/.402 with 10 home runs. All figures are worse when considering that Coors Field’s expansive outfield props up BABIP and OBP just as much as Denver’s thin air helps home runs. When he’s slumping, he swings and misses at every slider outside and fists ball after ball to second base. He always comes out of it though. In González’s next 314 plate appearances in 2015, he hit .302/.350/.667 with 30 dingers. González essentially had two seasons: one in a slump and one out of it. It was his tendency to go ice cold elongated for half of a season. It all balanced out for an average 2.2 WARP season.

That is not to say that Conforto’s cold and hot streaks will resemble González. In fact, there is a key difference. González is at a point in his career where his slumps are ingrained in his baseball DNA. Prior to each season, Rockies fans mentally prepare for the massive CarGo cold streak. But it always ends. And yet, every time González goes cold, it feels like he will never get out of it, even though history suggests that he will.

How it ends is another matter, but it has to involve rediscovering confidence in his swing. The path there depends on the player. Eno Sarris at FanGraphs recently spoke with several major-leaguers about how they attempt to get out of slumps. The methods include watching video, spending time with pets, and journaling to keep up with daily tendencies. We don’t know what Conforto is doing to get out of his mire, but it has to be something, because he’s been living with this cold streak for some time now. A few weeks ago, BP Mets suggested a few ways for Matt Harvey to get out of his funk (and he did!)—perhaps for Michael a weekend getaway with Bartolo Colón would help him out. Maybe the calendar just needs to flip to July.

There is still a lot we don’t know about Conforto. One of the things we’ve yet to learn about Michael Conforto is how slumpy his slumps will be, and how he manages to break free of them. Losing his pitch recognition and plate discipline for stretches of time is frustrating, but it happens. It’s a matter of how quickly he can rediscover them, along with his confidence. We began by noting that Conforto is, in fact, having a good season. That is still true on the whole, but Conforto’s April numbers are straining against the weight of his performance from May and June. Without finding what he needs—plate discipline, pitch recognition, and confidence—that season might slip away.

Photo Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

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