Stuck in the Middle with You: Wilmer Flores

With regards to shortstop, no two words have produced more fan discontent this offseason than perhaps those of Wilmer Flores. When Sandy Alderson pairs them together in the same sentence with Opening Day, anxiety levels skyrocket.

Nevertheless, Sandy Alderson began preparing the fan base for that very scenario when he said the probability that Flores starts the season at short is pretty high.

I share my fellow fans’ displeasure with the overall situation, but feel too much vitriol is being personally directed at Wilmer Flores. That’s unfair to the 23-year old. I’m sure much of the backlash can be chalked up to otherwise innocuous sports-slang vernacular, while some I feel is just displaced anger.

Before criticizing Wilmer’s shortcomings as a shortstop, I first consider what might have brought this situation about.

Everyone has their own timeline as to when this problem at shortstop started, their own version of the root cause, and what to do about it.

Some date this dilemma back to ownership’s failure to retain Jose Reyes. In my opinion, they clearly made an executive decision not to re-sign Reyes, and with that knowledge, prevented Sandy Alderson from making a trade that could have at least included a potential replacement, in order to protect their falling gate receipts.

Enter Ruben Tejada; the beleaguered shortstop was tendered a contract by the Mets, so that continues to make him irritatingly topical.

He did well in 2011 as an understudy, and quickly soothed many fans suffering from post-Reyes stress disorder with a fine follow-up season as the starter in 2012. Beginning in 2013, his game fell off the table like a 12-to-6 curveball. The most popular reasons are poor conditioning, poor attitude, and cowering under Terry Collins.

At this point, is anyone even remotely curious as to whether Ruben Tejada can regain his offensive production of two short years ago?

Tejada’s poor play over the last two seasons has created the need for another replacement at short.

Sandy Alderson made a tepid inquiry into free agent Jhonny Peralta last year, and had a seemingly inconsequential chat with Scott Boras this year (which sparked rumors of Stephen Drew), but has so far engaged in no other free agent discussions about any shortstopst. Some of Sandy Alderson’s disinterest with this year’s market stems from his own standard (frugal) operating procedure, but in his defense, also from a thin selection.

The team also failed to submit a bid for Korean League shortstop Jung-ho Kang, who most clubs feel will have trouble staying at shortstop in the majors.

Any mention of money, however, must once again include the Wilpons. To a large extent, much of this shortstop dilemma stems from their continuing financial straits.

Whatever your opinion of the contract Jhonny Peralta signed with St. Louis, the Cardinals are one of the last clubs you would accuse of wonton spending. That said, if this ownership were operating in the black, perhaps they do not even blink an eye at Peralta’s demands. However, in the post-Madoff era, we know that not to be the case. Sandy Alderson instantly took the club out of the running after learning of Peralta’s asking price.

Even on the trade front, ownership’s situation no doubt factors into any potential Troy Tulowitzki considerations.

We recently learned Sandy Alderson has been talking with Colorado since the summer. However, striking a deal to bring the Rockies star to Flushing is still being characterized as slim, which is fine by me. Staying away from a shortstop with a potentially compromised hip who is due $114 million through 2020 (plus a $4 million buyout in 2021) is probably the prudent thing to do.

In eight full seasons, Tulowitzki has only exceeded 150 games played twice, with the last time coming in 2009. In five other seasons, he only managed 126 games played or less. Therefore, in this particular situation I’d rather the Mets hoard their young pitching.

On yet another level, even the Mets minor league system is still unprepared to yield a quality alternative at short.

If the situation has you up in arms, then the following comparisons are sure to infuriate you.

First, let’s establish that Wilmer Flores only has 51 major league games and 443.1 innings of experience at shortstop. He had 193 total chances in 2014 and committed four errors. The sample size is very small, but that’s all there is to work with.

Second, obviously a team predicating itself on pitching needs to be stronger up the middle than what Wilmer Flores and Daniel Murphy can provide. So, before anyone assembles on my porch with torch and pitchfork in hand, it’s December; just entertain yourselves. I’m not trying to convince anyone that he’s the long-term solution at short, because he’s clearly not.

I’m merely trying to help a kid out, whom otherwise isn’t getting much support.

That said, the great thing about statistics is that you can torture numbers until you finally get them to say what you want.

The last two shortstops voted into the Hall of Fame were Cal Ripken and Barry Larkin.  The next will most likely be Derek Jeter.

  • Cal Ripken – career .979 FA at short; above .969 LgFA.
  • Derek Jeter – career .976 FA at short; above .972 LgFA.
  • Barry Larkin – career .975 FA at short;above .972 LgFA.

Some of their big name contemporaries fared no better, or a little worse:

  • Wilmer Flores – .979 FA at short; above .975 LgFA.

How did that compare against last year’s division rivals?

Wilmer Flores’ basic fielding average as a rookie also demonstrated a considerable improvement over his career .962 average through 485 minor league games at short.

For the moment, I admit I’m more intrigued with his bat, and less consumed with his ability to master short.

His detractors, however, are absolutely correct. Numbers tell no lies.

While he’ll play a representative shortstop on balls hit within his reach, there’s no ignoring the fact Wilmer Flores suffers from a pronounced lack of range.

I think we all agree this is where his long-term viability as a major league shortstop indeed falls short.

I also think you’d still be a little surprised with how others rated against their peers.

Range Factor per Game:

  • Ripken – career 4.32 RF/G; below 4.56 LgRF/G.
  • Larkin – career 4.32 RF/G; below 4.54 Lg RF/G.
  • Rodriguez – career 4.42 RF/G; below 4.57 LgRF/G.
  • Tejada – career 4.47 RF/G; below 4.50 LgRF/G.
  • Garciaparra – career 4.32 RF/G; below 4.56 LgRF/G
  • Jeter – career 3.90 RF/G; below 4.46 LgRF/G.

Wilmer’s 2014 division contemporaries:

  • Ian Desmond – career 4.12 RF/G; below 4.32 LgRF/G.
  • Andrelton Simmons – career 4.54 RF/G; above 4.33 LgRF/G.
  • Adeiny Hechavarria – career 4.13 RF/G; below 4.35 LgRF/G.
  • Jimmy Rollins – career 4.12 RF/G; below 4.39 LgRF/G.
  • Wilmer Flores – 3.71 RF/G; below 4.29 LgRF/G

Wilmer’s percentage is truly distressing.  This is also where Derek Jeter earned some of his criticism as a shortstop, being the only one of his notable contemporaries to post a RF/G below 4.0, with a 3.90 mark.

Here’s the twist: Wilmer Flores’ 2014 season RF/G represented a near 60-point disparity between that of the league’s. Derek Jeter’s 3.90 career RF/G registered near 60-points below his respective league’s 4.46 mark as well.

Just saying…

We all know Flores is better suited to play second or third base. Clearly then, the idea is for Wilmer Flores to make routine plays, and atone for any defensive shortcomings with offensive production. I know that’s a trade-off not being received well. However, the bottom line is Wilmer Flores represents the Mets best in-house option at shortstop because of all the failures taking place around him.

Even if the primary reason to start him is to showcase and trade him, play he must. At this point, general managers around the league need more than just his .292/.334/.440 career minor league slash over seven seasons to judge him by.

The onus then is also on Wilmer Flores to improve. His rookie season provided a pleasant glimpse into what could be.  In 78 total games and 259 at-bats, Wilmer hit 13 doubles, 6 home runs, and drove in 29 runs, while only fanning 31 times. In September, he was 25-for-89 (.281) with four home runs and 13 RBI. Otherwise, his overall .251 batting average was a respectable launching point.

However, although he proved he can put balls in play, Wilmer needs to work on his selectivity. He only drew 12 walks last season, and thus posted a well below par .286 OBP.

On all counts, the Mets, as well as prospective trade partners, certainly need to see improvement this season, so don’t make life harder for him.

Please support Wilmer Flores, until Sandy Alderson does better.

Thank you very much.

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