The Mets Luck Has Evened Out; Wilmer Flores Has Been Fine; Deal With It

By: Brian Mangan

Quick reaction piece to Michael Baron’s opinion article over at Just Mets this morning. In it, Baron argues that the Mets can’t afford to play Wilmer Flores at shortstop any longer, given his perceived struggles in the field and at-bat. Respectfully, Baron is wrong on this one.

The Mets are Fine, Just Not That Good

First of all, the Mets are not a sinking ship right now. Despite all the gnashing of teeth during the Mets current run of below .500 ball (they are 7-12 in their last 19 games), the Mets are fine. The problem is that this valley comes directly after a high, unsustainable, peak of success that tricked people into thinking this team was something that they are not.

Before the season I had the Mets winning around 87 games. They lost Zack Wheeler in Spring Training, but made aggressive trades for Jerry Blevins and Alex Torres. After a hot start put them at 10-3, I told people that I thought they were still around a 87 win team. 

Everything was breaking right for the Mets during their win streak — timely hits, one-run wins, etc. — and everything has broken against them in their recent streak of futility. The sum of these things is that the Mets have had just about neutral luck on the season thus far. As it stands today, the Mets are 20-15, with a pythagorean record of 20-15. The Mets are 7-7 in one-run games, and 3-3- in blowouts. Baseball Prospectus’s Adjusted Standings have the Mets as a 17-18 team according to their Third-Order Standings, and Fangraphs projects the Mets to play one game above .500 from here until the end of the season.

The Mets are not as good as they looked during the streak, and not as bad as they look now. They are a true-talent just above .500 team, and when Wright and d’Arnaud return, should play better.

Wilmer Flores Isn’t Perfect, But is Not the Mets Biggest Problem

As for what to do to “fix” a team that doesn’t need “fixing,” many have suggested replacing Wilmer Flores. Here’s what Baron had to say about it:

But the truth is it’s just not working, and the problem keeps costing the pitchers pitches, the team runs, and the team games. I’m confident they know that, too.

It’s fine that Baron has his opinion that it’s “not working,” but that doesn’t necessarily make it true. In supporting his case, Baron argues that Flores is hitting .174 over his last 14 games, had made eight errors this year, and has converted only 92.2% of routine plays this year according to Inside Edge. But small numbers can be sliced and diced any way you want to make the point you want. The fact is, Flores has proven that he is a major league hitter, he’s making enough plays defensively, and he’s not even close to being this team’s biggest problem.

He’s one of our best hitters. 

  • For the year, Wilmer Flores is hitting .238/.287/.426, which is the third highest OPS on the team.
  • Over his last 30 days, Flores is hitting .263/.300/.500.
  • Over his last 227 plate appearances, Flores is hitting ..263/.308/.469.
  • Wilmer Flores leads the Mets in home runs with 5. No other Met has more than 3.
  • Wilmer Flores is 2nd among all Mets position players in WAR.

He compares favorably to other shortstops in WAR.

  • Among all shortstops with 80 plate appearances or more, Wilmer Flores is 11th in WAR out of 29 qualifiers.
  • He has the 2nd most home runs, despite having 41 less plate appearances than the leader.

Defensive metrics have been friendly to him so far.

  • Flores currently has 0 Defensive Runs Saved, tied for 16th out of 28 qualifiers.
  • Flores currently ranks 13th in Ultimate Zone Rating out of 28 qualifiers.
  • His 8 errors are tied for 5th worst, although he’s 15th out of 28 in double plays turned.

Small sample defensive data is what it is — it’s better than nothing, but there is a lot of noise in it until the sample size gets much larger. But at this point, Flores has 693 MLB innings at shortstop, and so far he’s been worth -3 DRS, +4.6 UZR, and has successfully fielded 96.4% of his “routine” plays, which would rank him 14th out of 28 shortstops this season.

If Not Flores, Then Who?

Baron neglected to objectively look at any of the above facts. He also failed to suggest a solution.

  • Does he want Troy Tulowitzki, who has only successfully fielded 92.5% of “routine” plays, even worse than Flores this season?
  • Does he want Starlin Castro, who has fielded 93.2% this season, and who has -0.1 WAR this season?
  • Does he want Matt Reynolds, who is older than Flores and is hitting a paltry .296/.367/.452 in the Pacific Coast League?

I understand that fans are frustrated (and I am in no way picking on Baron, who I believe shares an opinion with many if not most of the fan base on this) but Wilmer Flores hasn’t been the problem. The problem is that people are emotional, and capricious, and demand instant gratification.

The problem is that Curtis Granderson, Daniel Murphy, and Michael Cuddyer haven’t given us anything this season. The problem is that aside from Jeurys Familia, our bullpen is no good. The problem is that we’ve had injuries to David Wright, Travis d’Arnaud, Zack Wheeler, Jerry Blevins, Bobby Parnell, Jenrry Mejia, Vic Black, and Rafael Montero. The problem is that John Mayberry, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Ruben Tejada are a combined 15-for-102 (.147 average). The problem is that Kevin Plawecki is hitting .220 and Dilson Herrera is hitting .235. The problem is that Jon Niese has a 1.385 WHIP and Jacob deGrom has been human in the early going. The problem is that the Mets were just barely a .500 team, and they have come back to earth.

Try to control your emotions. It’s easy to be mad when you see Flores, playing a position he is not best suited for, make an error. It is much harder, but much more rewarding, to keep an eye on the big picture. Flores isn’t the problem. It might not feel like it, but he’s one of the brighter spots on the team.