Ever since taking over for the injured David Wright at third base, Wilmer Flores has been making his case as a true everyday player.
Over his last seven games, essentially since taking over, Flores is hitting .476 in 21 at-bats with 2 extra-base hits and 2 RBI. I’ve said all along that his is an important part of the future for the Mets, and its looking like I might be proven correct.
But let’s wind it back and talk about David Wright first for context. His issues with his back are well-documented, but his strong finish to the season last year made it seem like maybe he figured things out.
But he’s been a hole both in the lineup and in the field this season. Look at his numbers so far this season:
The 55 strikeouts are certainly an eyesore, as is the .226 batting average. The seven homers are a plus, but overall he’s been more Bucky Barnes Captain America than Steve Rogers.
But where he really hurts the Mets in the field, thanks mainly to his spinal stenosis. When he came back after missing most of 2015, he had to alter his throwing motion, dropping into a sidearm slot that, while he had the same amount of control, has sapped all of the strength out of his throws to first.
This was on display in the lead up to the fateful Duda throw home in Game 5. Wright, for some reason, stepped in front of Flores to make the throw to first. That in itself was awkward, but then he awkwardly took his time and floated the throw to Duda, who then rushed his throw home when Hosmer broke from third. While most of the talk was about how Duda struggles to throw home, a strong throw from a healthy Wright (or from Flores) keeps Hosmer on third in the first place.
It’s been even worse for Wright so far this season. His range is basically one step to his left and right, and he can barely come in on balls in the grass. His throws have even less on them.
But now he’s on the disabled list with a herniated disc, and he’s going to be out at least eight weeks with a high probability for more.
Once he went on the DL, the talk was about how the Mets were going to struggle to find a replacement at third because “Flores isn’t an everyday player”. The running fan theory was that the Mets should move Neil Walker to third, and call up Dilson Herrera to play second.
But what I don’t understand is the quick discarding of Flores as a viable option. Take this quote from Amazin’ Avenue: “… [Flores] hit .263/.295/.408 with 16 home runs in 510 plate appearances, which translated to a 95 wRC+. Major league third baseman have collectively hit .264/.334/.440 this season, which would leave Flores below average at the position even if he were to match his 2015 line.”
I love numbers as much as the next guy, but the collection of stats here ignores what I think is the most important number in this situation: 24. That would be his age.
Since when are we ready to write off a guy as unfit for the majors at the age of 24? That was good enough to be signed at 16? I really don’t understand.
Flores’ main knock against him early on over the last couple of years were his errors at short. That being said, the majority were throwing errors that he clearly worked on and worked out, as he had 10 errors before the All-Star Break, and just four afterwards.
More importantly though, 2015 was Flores’s first full-ish season in a starting lineup. Slashing .263/.295/.408 obviously isn’t great, but for a first full season for a 24-year-old isn’t too shabby.
As long as Wright was healthy, he was never going to lose his spot due to being the captain of the team and the face of the Mets for basically his entire career. While this is commendable, now that his ability to play has been significantly impacted by his back, he was only holding back the development of a younger player like Flores.
I’m convinced that Flores can develop into a much better hitter. He certainly has pop, as evidenced by his 16 homers and .408 slugging percentage. His OBP was low, but you only get better at reading major league pitching by seeing major league pitching. Should the Mets give up on a guy who hit 16 homers in 2015 because he had trouble getting on base? It makes no sense that he “doesn’t profile as an every-day player” when he’s only had one full season in the majors.
An interesting comparisson for Flores is Detroit Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos, who is also 24 but is in his third season as a starter. Getting him into the lineup at third was part of the reason why the Tigers traded away Prince Fielder, which allowed them to move Miguel Cabrera back to first. For his first two seasons, however, Castellanos didn’t live up to the hype:
There’s absolutely nothing special about those numbers. Couple them with Castellanos being one of the worst defensive third baseman in baseball and you get a guy that apparently the Mets would give up on. But now look at this season:
Castellanos has been a force this season because he was given a chance to grow into the position due to necessity and faith from the Tigers organization. His fielding has improved slightly, but Flores is actually a better fielder on the hot corner, at least in his limited time there
Of course you feel for David Wright with his multitude of injuries, especially considering the spinal stenosis is a kind of thing that you deal with for the rest of your life. But his career is dwindling, and I can’t imagine it extending longer than next year, if it doesn’t end here with the herniated disc. Wright is a player who wants to due the best for the team, and it may be time that what’s best for the team is having Wilmer Flores in the lineup everyday, letting him develop and burgeon into the player the Mets thought he would be.