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Conforto and Plawecki’s Late Summer Revival Tour

The old maxim, as it goes in baseball, is that you can’t trust what someone is doing in spring or September. There’s just too many variables that keep the context of the at-bats and games from their normal level of meaning. Or something like that.


When September actually rolls around this year (today!), the Mets will call up Michael Conforto and Kevin Plawecki to head their first wave of promotions. How they perform this month actually does have some meaning.

Both players are still young–Conforto is 23 and Plawecki is 25–and have value and importance in the Mets’ long-term plan. They’ve both struggled this year and this final month–or more, depending on your level of confidence that the Mets can make the Wild Card–can actually help untangle the question marks that both have raised this year.

Conforto’s case is much more higher-profile. After his sterling debut in 2015, his production dropped drastically, primarily starting in May and June. Since then he’s had a few nice vacations in Las Vegas. He tore up the league in his latest stint and perhaps that’s all he needed to find his groove again. Call this the d’Arnaud Corollary; the Mets’ catcher took a two-week trip to Triple-A in 2014 and came back hitting like one of the best offensive catchers in baseball following a few tweaks and an injection of confidence. (Is this one of the reasons why Mets fans pine for Wally Backman? Like there has to be an actual rational reason, right?)

The performance is important, but Conforto’s plate approach and process will need the most scrutiny. He dropped what made him so good over those lost months. He lost his discipline at the plate and his strikeouts spiked. Not surprisingly his contact rate dipped too.

Conforto has the 33rd-highest strikeout rate in baseball this year of any hitter in baseball who has amassed at least 300 plate appearances (out of 229 eligible batters). That’s a significant jump from last year, when he actually struck out less than the league average. Obviously strikeouts aren’t problematic on their own, but in this case it speaks to his larger sense of wandering. He swung at more pitches outside of the zone and his swinging strikes jumped not surprisingly. Off-speed pitches have been an unrepentant nag.

His average exit velocity fell by two miles an hour from 93.2 mph to 91.1 as well. While it was still above the league average (89.1 mph), it was decidedly less spectacular than his debut season when he had hit balls as hard, on average, as Yoenis Cespedes.

What opportunities Conforto will get over the last month is uncertain. The Mets’ outfield is crowded like a rush hour 7 train. “I’m going to find ways to get him in the lineup,” manager Terry Collins said ahead of Conforto’s return. “When Michael comes back and we get him in the lineup, he hits, he stays in the lineup. We’re fighting tooth and nail now to get into the postseason. Right now, as much as I’m a development guy, there’s a time and a place. We fall out of it, little different situation. We’ll put him in there when we think he’s a major factor of us winning a game.”

More worrisome is the performance of Plawecki. Just last year there were real questions of how the Mets should share the catching job amongst the Plawecki and d’Arnaud. If only they could afford to be so gluttonous right now.

To say Plawecki has not produced over two seasons and 401 plate appearances is like saying d’Arnaud has injury issues. It’s an understatement. That’s kind of the problem for the Mets because those two things are inter-related. Plawecki has a .570 OPS and 59 OPS+ in that time, staggeringly bad even before you consider he was touted as bat-first catcher who Baseball Prospectus named its No. 80 prospect ahead of last season.

You could at least point to signs of hope for Plawecki last year. Hitting coach Kevin Long frequently enough touted Plawecki’s hard-hit rate and his exit velo. Even though he wasn’t getting hits, at least Long contended, he was smoking the ball often enough–at least in line with league average.

This year, Plawecki has a problem. He is making hard contact. Like at all. His average exit velocity is almost without peer. Of the 381 players in baseball who have put at least 75 balls in play, Plawecki ranks no. 375–right ahead of Ben Revere but behind Andrew Romine. Anemic would be one way to describe that.

Who knows how much he’ll play. Rene Rivera and d’Arnaud sit atop the depth chart and Plawecki hasn’t really deserved playing time so far in the majors, though at least he’s hitting in Triple-A.

But the Mets do need to know to use the next month to gauge what progress he and Conforto have made in Las Vegas. It won’t tell the whole story but like most baseball conventional wisdom, September isn’t useless either.

Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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