The Wilmer Flores Enigma: How to Fit a Square Peg?

Square Peg in a Round Hole

The first thing I noticed was that he’s strange hitter, in that he doesn’t look like most anybody else. He stands tall, not a lot of bend in the knees, and for many ABs, Flores will sort of shoot the ball into RF without much discernible hip-turn. Just an upper body swing and, in the best outcomes, a nice single into RF, hitting it where they ain’t. He does this, I think, skillfully. The bottom half stays unusually quiet.

Wilmer-Flores-swing

Wilmer also often doesn’t finish his swing the way most hitters do. The hands aren’t high, above the shoulders. There are ABs, even when he pulls the ball, where it seems like he’s taking just a short, quick poke at it.

And then other times, less so, thus far, when he drives the ball deep with what appears to be a more orthodox swing.

I find it all a little puzzling, frankly.

As a Little League coach, you almost want to say, “Swing harder!”

wilmer-flores-2013-bm-300x211I remember Ralph Kiner dismissively noting about Jay Payton: “He’s only got one swing.” It was an astute observation; there was nothing situational about Jay’s approach. No adjustments to the game situation or to the intent of the opposing pitcher. It’s a complaint I’ve had about Chris Young all season. The pull-everything approach, swinging for the  fences, rinse and repeat and fail again.

Wilmer seems entirely different from that. A puzzle. He just turned 23, has had very little time in the MLB, so it’s much too early to judge. In fact, I doubt that we’ll get much meaningful info about his bat based on two months of rookie play.

Just this: It looks a little weird; he’s different. And it also underscores how few hitters arrive with what appears to be a personal style. The game teaches and promotes conformity. The right way of doing things. That’s why it was so entertaining last week to watch Hunter Spence play for the Giants. Everything he does is different, and basically nothing looks “right.” He runs weird, throws weird (the elbow is far too low), swings like a maniac. Most every baseball coach would yell, “No, no, no!”

And yet Spence killed the Mets across the entire series.

Interesting.

Rookie years are tough on most players, and I don’t think that Flores is the rare hitter who can succeed right out of the gate. If it’s going to happen, it could take a couple of years.

Do I think Wilmer Flores is a shortstop? I’d be shocked if he was. But I think the glove and feet can play second base. We’ve watched Daniel Murphy these past years. Flores is surely equal to that. In baseball, it always comes down to math: the offense-defense equation. All-hit, no-glove at one extreme; all-glove, no-hit at the other. The relative importance of the defensive positions factor into it, too. A brutal LF is not the same weight as a poor defensive catcher. Moreover, each team has its own dynamic. The ’86 Mets would have won with Ruben Tejada at SS — I think they just about did, since Rafael Santana is about as close a comp as I can conjure. That is, the defense only steady, never sensational. And the bat, well, forget the bat. They needed a guy to stand there.

Jimmy Rollins, Wilmer Flores

Wilmer Flores is fortunate to follow such a below-average defender at SS as Ruben Tejada. I can’t remember Tejada ever surprising me by going deep into the hope to backhand a ball, plant, pivot, and throw somebody out a first base. It wasn’t in his arsenal. He wasn’t bad. He just wasn’t particularly good. Barely able. Wilmer strikes me, at this early hour, as a notch or two below that.

Yet I think Flores can probably step in and, overall, give the Mets more than Mr. Tejada did. Of course, Tejada was not a good baseball player, so that mitigates the accomplishment. It’s also possible that Wilmer is so inferior defensively that it’s unacceptable, regardless of his offensive performance.

It doesn’t look like he’ll hit like A-Rod. And even if he does hit like A-Rod, we’d move him to a less-demanding position. In basketball terms, Wilmer Flores just may be a tweener. A star power forward for Siena, say — a first-team, ALL-MAC talent — but too small for the NBA.

t100-wilmer-floresI also strongly suspect that come the winter, the Mets organization will be seeking a real shortstop to play the position. (But I thought that last year, so you never know.) I’ve said it dozens of times: If you are going to build a team around pitching, then you’ve got to provide solid defense, every day. Murphy at 2B is already a weakness; the club simply can’t double-down at SS with the same type of player. It’s not an option. I repeat: It’s not an option. They cannot possibly go below-average at SS and 2B. It’s a non-starter.

I’m rooting for Wilmer Flores. I’m very glad that he’s getting regular playing time.  Like the baseball card says, I think he’s a second baseman. But right now, money aside, I like Murphy a lot better, and I’m much more hopeful about Dilson Herrera. After all these years, it’s still hard to see where Wilmer fits in with the Mets. But given that he can play 3B, SS, and 2B — and is a RH-bat on a team that sorely lacks one — I imagine that Wilmer could still be a nice component on the bench, and an insurance policy in case of injury. A step up from the Joe McEwing/Justin Turner types we’ve been seeing for years.

Super sub. It’s something, right?

 

 

 

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20 comments

  1. From somebody’s tweet: 270/.313/.489, 6 HR 20 RBI, 10 2B, 7 BB 24 K, 37 games — Travis d’Arnaud’s stats since return from Vegas.

  2. Lot of different theories on why the Nats kill the Mets. And obviously, the HR disparity is hard to ignore. Another: They don’t walk anybody. This current Mets lineup simply can’t score without the free passes. It can take advantage of erratic pitchers and poor bullpens, but the Mets look helpless against control pitchers. Maybe that’s true of all teams, but it seems especially true of these Mets. Last I looked, they were 1st in the NL in walks. Take that away, and these guys are exposed.

    They need a real bat in that lineup so bad.

  3. I need the Mets to go 22-19 the rest of the way to nail my prediction of 79 wins. This won’t be easy.

  4. Last comment: LH hitting .323/.417/.475 vs. Familia. RH: .125/.201/.158.

    The OPS difference: .892 vs. .360.

    He needs a new pitch.

  5. Michael Geus says:

    I’ve never really been “sold” on Flores. I consider him a young player worth having around, but I do not see talent that makes me eager to clear a spot for him (I’m talking Murphy here.) Now we will see a little more, which is good.

    If there is more power to his game than his first impressions give, that changes things, otherwise I would be careful about trading Murphy any time soon. This offense cannot afford to lose anything.

  6. Reese Kaplan says:

    Someone needs to do a PCL Factor study along the lines of the Coors Field Factor.

    You take a hitter who over 162 games hit .323/28/143 and then get the reverse handicap number for projectability. Is it, for example, 20% off the batting average and 30% off the run production? In which case you’d have a slash line of .259/14/100? You know what? If that’s the case, I’d trade Murphy and his projected salary in a heartbeat if I knew I could get that production from Flores at 2B. (Of course, I pulled that factor from my posterior, but greater minds than I who have no day job can do the actual study).

    The same holds true in reverse for pitchers. Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey didn’t exactly dominate AAA yet did better in the majors. de Grom was good but has been great up here. Then you have the curious case of Rafael Montero who was unhittable for much of his AAA career but in his limited chances has not been the same in the majors. Still, just as there are always hitters who do better in the majors than the PCL minors there will occasionally be pitchers who do worse.

    • wkkortas says:

      Actually, Bill James did this about 30 years ago when he was studying why guys who hit .380 in Albuquerque hit .250 for the Dodgers. He came up with a formula which I don’t, quite frankly, remember, but involved the taking the ratio of the runs scored in the team’s park and runs scored in their AAA park and factoring in a reduction for the move from AAA to The Show. It turned out that, in the case of the Dodgers, you were moving from such a high-run environment in Alburquerque to a low-scoring one in Dodger Stadium that you had to let a ridiculous amount of air of those statistics; basically, a guy hitting .290 at Alburquerque had little or no offensive value as a big leaguer. I would suspect the adjustments you have to make between Vegas and Citi are nearly as dramatic.

      • Wasn’t that a two-year agreement with Vegas? You’d think that the Mets would have been plotting their escape the entire time. I’d love to see them get out of that bad situation asap.

    • Brian Joura says:

      Reese – late last year I did this and it was a 25% drop in OPS going from LVG to NY. It’s a back of the envelope type of calculation but it’s something to keep in mind when everyone talks about how well Flores did in Vegas. Once you let out the air, it’s just not that impressive.

      JP, It’s interesting to read that you like Flores’ swing. I hate his swing. I agree with your overall point about how so much of the game is conformity and that something different can be a good thing. But this is ugly and so far it’s not working. And I have a hard time seeing any over-the-fence power developing from this.

      Frankly, I’m shocked that the development system didn’t overhaul his swing by at least 2009.

  7. wkkortas says:

    I think one trap that teams get caught in–and perhaps the Mets more so than other teams–is that they focus so heavily on what players can’t do that they lose sight of what a player can do. I think the Mets have spent so much time worrying about Wilmer’s defense that they lose sight of what he can be–an above-average bat for a middle-infielder who can play a lot of positions adequately for you. One of the things that made JIm Leyland so successful in his run in Pittsburgh is that he focused on what guys could do, and then put them in situations which maximized their strengths, which is how he got production out of gusy like Rock Redus and Lloyd McClendon. Same thing for Davey Johnson’s handling of Wally Backman–by focusing on what Wally could do, he found himself a damn good second baseman. The current edition of the Mets seem to be too often paralyzed by a palyer’s flaws, which ends up translating into Omar Quintinilla.

    Oh, yeah–Ryan Rossiter wants to know why you’re picking on him.

  8. LongTimeFan says:

    Above average bat – I don’t see that with that faulty mechanical technique. That swing, if not amended, amounts to singles hitting.

    • Yet he has hit for good power in the minors. Right now, the inside pitch looks like trouble; he’s going to have to show pitchers that he can turn and punish that middle-in fastball. I’ll say this: I so much prefer watching him bat than Ruben Tejada. He’s fascinating.

  9. Eraff says:

    I believe they’re trying to identify his Bat, for themselves and possibly for other teams. He’s playing a position at which he’s comfortable, so he can mostly concentrate on hitting. He has decent hands and may profile well as a corner IF, controlled piece for another team. His further placement at AAA would have no real value, for all reasons noted. He COULD provide 350 ab’s as a infield rotation guy—- a Turner “plus”—with the Mets. He can wear 4 IF gloves.

  10. Eraff says:

    btw— some interesting changes for den Decker that may make his improved contact rates better and sustainable. His hands are carried lower, his bat load is lower, and his bat is flatter through the contact zone. He may be a part to carry forward.

    • Yes, MdD looks very different and radically cut down his K’s at AAA. Juan Lagares should be nervous. One of my predictions this preseason was a platoon of MdD and Lagares in CF — “and it works!” I wrote. I often wonder how Sandy perceives Lagares, the lack of power & plate discipline, combined with his probable value on trade market as a secondary piece. All along, we’ve (collectively) wanted to see these guys play. The next phase is making some decisions. Clearly it’s too early to tell on MdD, but Jake deGrom already approves of his hair.

  11. Raff says:

    I think Flores is a square peg if the assumption is that he’s somehow being moved into the starting lineup in 2015. I agree; that is not likely. His fit becomes a lot cleaner if Mets are moving Tejada, bringing in a starting SS, and viewing Flores as a utility/swing guy who they can move around to various positions. This pre-supposes that he at least demonstrates a major league level of competence at hitting and fielding. If he can do this, it would provide the Mets with a great deal of additional roster flexibility and a low cost option at he utility role. I don’t see them keeping Tejada around for that.

  12. Eraff says:

    The REAL Enigma?……. David Wright.

    • With David, I’m willing to think that’s hurt and will need some kind of surgery this off-season.

      Or let’s put it this way: I sure hope he needs surgery this off-season!

      Most troubling is that he was once such a smart hitter, and over the past few years seems kind of clueless up at the plate. This team is offensively-challenged in the first place; it simply could not absorb a shitty season from its “star” hitter.

      • IB says:

        Wright is killing the Mets and TC’s response is to keep plugging him into the 3 hole. The pain of watching him manage this team has really sunk in over the last week.

        Hard to watch but at least there’s checking out what the rookies are doing. DD is hitting the ball hard and D’A is looking like the real deal.

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