By William McInerney
Michael Conforto had an excellent first half for the New York Mets (which I’m aware is the understatement of the year, but still). He’s slashing .284/.403/.542 as of the All-Star break, a year after slashing .220/.310/.414. He’s also hit 14 home runs and has 41 RBI about halfway through, a year after hitting 12 HRs with 41 RBI for the whole season.
Additionally, he already has two more walks this year than he did last, in 75 less plate appearances. He has significantly improved in all aspects of his offensive game, and he’s showing the ability that made him a top hitter in college, a first-round pick, and a player who made the MLB within 14 months of being drafted.
So, the question is what has Conforto done differently this year to improve his numbers? The answer is surprisingly simple. He stopped being obsessed with hitting home runs. Last year he was trying to pull everything over the wall, which led to him making a couple of mistakes. The first was swinging at bad pitches looking to hit everything over the wall. The other mistake was trying to pull pitches he should have been driving the other way or hitting to the gaps.
Conforto is at his best as a gap power hitter, and he has a ton of opposite field power. He reminds me of a left-handed version of David Wright in his prime (before the injuries essentially ended his career). A player who can hit a home run to any field, and is as comfortable, if not more comfortable, driving balls to the opposite field gap.
Last year Conforto got home run happy. This is a habit that a lot of young players with power (especially young lefties) get into. Remember, Conforto was only 23 last season. Most people at that age are trying to break into the job field and going out with their friends a ton, not playing 100+ games in a professional sports league. Ultimately, it isn’t surprising he got into home run hitter mode.
The important thing is Conforto has gotten away from trying to hit home runs with every swing. He’s realized he’s better off trying to hit for the gaps and letting the home runs come. He’s got so much power he doesn’t need to look for home runs to hit them. They’ll come when he hits the ball hard. And it’s resulted in him having power to every field.
Some players have bounce back years but don’t really change their approach, so they’re bound to fall back to earth. Conforto is different, however, as he’s made obvious changes to his approach at the plate, and has improved because of them. He’ll keep hitting at this point because he has changed his approach to become a more complete player.
It is fair to question whether Conforto will keep this approach. However, I believe he will. The primary reason he will is because it’s what he did in his rookie year. He hit to all fields, and he showed he can hit to all fields. His struggles and poor approach were more than likely a one-year aberration, rather than a full-on approach issue.
They stemmed from him being a young guy with power, and part of it was how much talk there was about the Mets needing to hit home runs. With all the talk about the Mets having power hitters from 1-8 in the order, and being a young hitter with a lot of power, he’s going to look to hit more home runs. He’s figured out how to approach his swing now.
Ultimately, .300 with 20+ HRs and 30+ doubles a year is not out of the realm of possibility for Conforto to put up as an average year when his career is done. Obviously, a projection like that is hard to make as that takes a lot of skill, but Conforto is that skilled of a hitter where it isn’t impossible for him, if he keeps this new approach long term, which he should.