Imagine if Chris Pratt’s role on Parks and Recreation never evolved beyond “Ann Perkins’ loser boyfriend.”
Before saving the planet and fighting dinosaurs, the future Hollywood A-lister introduced the world to his boyish charm as Burt Macklin, Johnny Karate and Andy Dwyer. But before regularly stealing scenes, the Mouse Rat headman was kind of a dick.
In the show’s forgettable first season, Pratt scratched himself in the background to build sympathy for Leslie Knope’s future best friend and beautiful tropical fish. Quickly realizing it had a future MVP playing a minor part, Parks and Rec promoted him to featured billing. It’s jarring to picture a world where he doesn’t sing a recap of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Sudden Death to a group of children.
The New York Mets have their Chris Pratt in Michael Conforto. They wouldn’t play him, however, until Knope, Perkins, Ron Swanson, Tom Haverford and Perd Hapley all went on the disabled list.
Remember when the Mets wanted no part of starting Conforto? Let’s hope so; it was only two months ago. In an offense riddled with veteran hitters—many of whom will enter free agency this winter—they were not willing to make room for a talented 24-year-old already as good, if not better than all-or-nothing slugger Jay Bruce.
Yes, he struggled last year, sullying a torrid start to hit .220/.310/.414. Despite traveling back and forth from Triple-A Las Vegas, he finished with a 96 weighted runs created plus (wRC+), a slightly-below average mark graded on a 100 baseline which should not have incited such impatience. Oh, by the way, he introduced himself with a .270/.335/.506 slash line in 2015, and that doesn’t take into account his two-home run game in the World Series.
Whereas Dwyer is allergic to jerks, the Mets are allergic to common sense. They nearly sent Conforto to Triple-A to start 2017. Instead—likely only because of injuries to Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo forced their hand—they included him on the Opening Day roster with designs of filling a bench role.
Since this season is essentially a remake of “Homer at the Bat”—congratulations to Homer Simpson for his long overdue Hall of Fame induction, but where’s Mr. Burns’ credit for astutely playing the percentages?—they soon had no choice but to start a future cornerstone with Lagares, Nimmo, Lucas Duda and Yoenis Cespedes all hurt. Now he’s hitting .326/.423/.674 with 13 home runs and a 182 wRC+, which ranks sixth among all qualified batters.
His 48.0 hard-hit percentage also ranks sixth, and good things tend to happen when a batter makes sharp contact.
An esteemed group of pull-happy hitters share the leaderboard, but Conforto has sprayed hits all across the diamond. In addition to squaring 47 percent of his batted balls to center, the left-handed slugger has smacked one-quarter of them the opposite way.
As illustrated by MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, he has belted a majority of his long balls over the left-field fence:
And he’s even hitting lefties, albeit in a minuscule sample size. Having rarely received an opportunity to hone his craft against same-handed pitchers, Conforto is currently 7-for-21 with three walks and three home runs against southpaws. That’s already more hits than he collected against them (five) in 53 plate appearances last season. Perhaps he merely means more reps to improve against southpaws.
It seems laughable for the Mets to have refused the services of a healthy, promising player. This may feel like revisionist history, but hordes of fans and writers—this one included—yelled for the Mets to play Conforto before he went bonkers. While neither likely anticipated such a hot start from Bruce, who has cooled down in May, The Ringer’s Zach Kram and Amazin’ Avenue’s Lucas Vlahos also campaigned for the young outfielder to play regularly.
His fan club has Per Mets Citi, Alex Rodriguez may lead the now-crowded Michael Conforto Fan Club meetings:
Now let’s pump the brakes, because Conforto isn’t the Mets’ savior. He’s not a .220 hitter, but he also won’t sustain a .326 average with a 25.6 strikeout percentage and 11.8 swinging-strike rate. Although he’s making sharp contact, the .379 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is due to drop.
As will his 32.5 home run-fly ball percentage (HR/FB %), a mark topped by three other hitters, including fellow young New York outfielder sensation Aaron Judge. With a tame average home run distance of 399 feet, per Baseball Savant, nobody should view this hulking power as the new norm.
And that’s OK. Conforto isn’t Judge—who, as many Twitters users have joked, is the living embodiment of a video-game Create-A-Player with all the physical attributes maxed out. The 6’1″, 215-pound Conforto is more of a gap hitter who can regularly hit 25-30 dingers rather than 40.
Sitting Conforto for the first week likely won’t matter for a team rapidly sinking from playoff contention. Their buffoonery, however, is not without consequence, as the early MVP candidate is not even on MLB’s All-Star Game ballot. Fans can instead select Andre Ethier, who has not played a single game this season. (They can also vote for Conforto as a write-in option.)
Oh well, Parks and Rec never won an Emmy during its incredible seven-year run. By now, Mets fans all know that Conforto is 5,000 candles in the wind.
Note: All advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.