Michael Conforto - Budding Superstar or Extraordinary April?

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We all know the timeless adage, "Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me... you can't get fooled again.” At least that's the version I learned from George W. Bush.

As of May 1st, 2016, Michael Conforto was sporting a 196 wRC+ fueled by a 1.118 OPS, a .411 BABIP, and 6.9% K-BB%. Michael Conforto then battled injuries, and poor play, and when it was all said and done, he finished the year with a 96 wRC+, 15.3% K-BB%, and a .724 OPS over 348 plate appearances.

One year later, Michael Conforto, still a mere 24 years of age, has posted a 179 wRC+ fueled by a 1.093 OPS and a .358 BABIP. He has bumped his walk rate up to 14.1% BB% while cutting down to a 19.6% K%. Comparatively, he finished 2016 with a 10.3% BB% and a 25.6% K%. Is this a sign of a legitimate breakout season or simply an excellent April from a fast starter who will ultimately fade?

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Michael Conforto: Is His Best Yet to Come?

As of May 1st, 2016, Michael Conforto sported a 10.5% BB% and a 17.4% K%. Michael Conforto has shown plate discipline nothing short of elite in 2017. Mike Trout has a 13.1% BB% and a 20.8% K% and represents a good comparison of a player who walks a ton and strikes out a good amount as well. However, these plate discipline numbers don't seem incredibly sustainable, seeing as Conforto's underlying plate discipline statistics haven't changed much from his 2016 campaign, such that nearly a 4% spike in BB% and a 6% cut in K% would make sense.

Notably, Conforto has posted nearly identical Swing%: 44.1% in 2016 compared to a 44.7% in 2017. His contact rate has actually fallen: 78.4% Contact% in 2016, compared to a 75.9% Contact% in 2017. Perhaps even more notably, Conforto has been whiffing at a few more pitches, seeing as in 2016 he had a 9.5% Sw-Str% and a 10.5% Sw-Str% thus far in 2017. Furthermore, when compared to an established hitter with similar walk rates and strikeout rates, Mike Trout, we see again that the plate discipline numbers Michael Conforto has posted thus far in 2017 seem unsustainable. As a disclaimer, comparing most players to Mike Trout usually ends poorly, but when it comes to plate discipline statistics, a comparison becomes more realistic.

When it comes to career rates, Mike Trout is more selective with his swings, with a 24.2% O-Swing% and a 56.9% Z-Swing%, compared to Conforto's rates of 26.4% and 66.4%, respectively. Mike Trout also makes more contact with pitches he offers at, highlighted by a 81.2% Contact% and a 7.2% Sw-Str%. When compared with Michael Conforto's career rates of 78.2% Contact% and 9.6% Sw-Str%, we see that Mike Trout likely should be taking more walks and striking out less than Michael Conforto, something that he has done in his career. Thus far in 2017 we see the opposite, however, as Conforto has walked at a higher rate and struck out at a lower rate than Trout. All in all, one can conclude that the encouraging plate discipline changes Michael Conforto seemingly has made in 2017 could potentially be nothing but a mirage.

The next issue with Michael Conforto's breakout lies in his performance and playing time against southpaws. The Mets are still hesitant to play Conforto against left-handers, seeing as he has only had 10 PAs, compared to other Mets such as Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker who have had 30 PAs and 35 PAs against left-handers in 2017, respectively. For his career, over 78 PAs, Michael Conforto has posted an 11 wRC+ against southpaws, compared to a 134 wRC+ against right-handers over 556 PAs.

In his minuscule 10 PA sample against southpaws thus far in 2017, Conforto has four strikeouts, one walk, and two hits: a single and a solo home run.  The home run actually represents his only homer against left-handers in his career, and while some may read more into this home run, it would be better to dismiss it as luck and consider his continued struggles against left-handers as unchanged. Even if the Mets were to give Conforto consistent playing time against left-handers, there exists no evidence to suggest he will improve against them.

It doesn't take a rocket-scientist to tell you Michael Conforto's 33.3% HR/FB will regress, as will his .358 BABIP, so the real question with Michael Conforto should be what will he be once those numbers do begin to normalize?  Unfortunately, it looks like Conforto hasn't made any drastic changes to his approach at the plate, and in terms of batted balls, Conforto has actually sacrificed 10% worth of FB% for nearly a 10% increase in GB%, as well as sacrificing 3% worth of Hard% for Soft%.  Neither of these tradeoffs are ones you want to see from a power hitter, and they raise even more questions about the legitimacy of the Michael Conforto breakout.

Overall, Michael Conforto is still a high-upside fantasy baseball option who has been known to go on extended hitting tears, but it doesn't really look like he has made any significant changes, and thus the holes in his game still limit him from taking the leap from upside to elite.  Take this as you will, but Michael Conforto looks like a prime sell-high candidate, as he possesses enough talent for someone in your league to believe that his breakout is legitimate.