‘A useful reset’: How Michael Conforto’s Giants are using a lost year to prepare for a crucial 2023

Photo of author

Scottsdale, Ariz. – He just turned 30. He bats left handed. He has a career 124 OPS+ — the same as Nolan Arenado and Rafael Devers — and he was a free agent this winter. By those measures, you’d expect a bidding war for a long-term centerpiece. But Michael Conforto was a special case.

The former New York Mets outfielder slashed his original contract year in 2021, and won’t play at all in 2022 after undergoing shoulder surgery. Then the San Francisco Giants signed him for years and $36 million, with an opt-out after the first year, which he can activate by batting 350 times and hoping to miss Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa. Regardless, he signed a tremendous centerpiece. Their lineup anyway.

Early on, Conforto is providing reason for such hope. A full 17 months away from his last action against major-league pitching, he is swinging in spring training. In seven games so far, Conforto has homered three times, posted a .263/.318/.737 line overall, struck out eight and walked twice.

Giants manager Gabe Kapler said of Conforto’s fast start, “It’s impressive but not surprising.” “So you take some time off, you’re recovering from an injury—you don’t lose the things that make you so good.”

[Free bracket contests for men’s & women’s tourneys for shot at $25K]

And with the benefit of a long memory, Conforto has been great. Between 2017 and 2020, he was ranked as one of the top 25 players in the game By FanGraphs WAR and by Pure Hitting Metrics, in league with winter headliners such as Korea, Xander Bogarts and Trey Turner. In that span, Conforto batted .265, drew plenty of walks and blasted 97 homers.

See also  Netherlands vs England, 1st ODI: England Hit World Report 498/4 To Thrash Netherlands | Cricket Information

That’s exactly the message Coupler provides for Conforto as he returns to normal.

“You need a physical build,” Kapler said. “But you remember how to do it, and if you just let your body take over, I think that’s an example of what happened with Michael. He’s healthy. So his natural athleticism is taking over.” , and he is getting success.

Kapler, who missed the entire 2007 season and came back with his strongest offensive season in his playing career, said Sunday that players sometimes need a break from mental anguish. Taking a year off could, in theory, be unintentionally helpful.

“Like Gabe says, it’s a useful reset,” Conforto said. “There’s some truth to that, for sure. You’re able to look at everything from a different perspective, not in the thick of the season, looking back at your career, looking at the things that happened when you had a good year. Things you didn’t do so well when you had a bad year, so you can use it in a positive way.

New Giants outfielder Michael Conforto has missed a full 2022 season with a shoulder injury, but has appeared in early spring training three times. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

For Conforto, what he did well in his successful years — he’s trying to make sure he does well in 2023 — was the crushing fastball. He said he often got stuck between fastballs and off-speed during his 2021 campaign, when he dropped .232/.344/.384 despite maintaining strong strikeouts and a walk rate. His performance against the Heaters in 2021 was different from the rest of his career. That season he slugged just .401 against four-seamers and -seamers after regularly posting .500 or better SLG marks the previous season. And he wasn’t whispering. He was not hitting them hard.

See also  Bulls' Lonzo Ball will miss most, if not all, of the 2023-24 NBA season after third knee surgery

Overall, his offensive production was still slightly better than the league average by the park-adjusted hitting metric wRC+, but it was a serious decline for an at-bat-first corner outfielder heading toward a star’s payday. Reportedly turned down a long-term extension with the Mets,

This spring, locking down on the fastball — getting comfortable playing the outfield and throwing with a surgically repaired shoulder — has been a major point of emphasis for Conforto.

“The goal right now, and I’m on my way, is just to be on time for the fastball and work from there,” he said. “That’s always been my bread and butter.”

The Pekota System in Baseball Prospectus projects Conforto as the best veteran hitter, In a tie with fellow free-agent signings Joc Pederson and Mitch Haniger. But injury history limits Conforto’s projected playing time to 370 plate appearances. If the Giants are going to compete — or surprise, 2021-style — in a loaded NL West, they will almost certainly need Conforto to be fully healthy and return to the form that has made him one of the game’s most intriguing young hitters. made one of the year ago.

Recent history supports the idea that the Giants can help him do just that. They handed Carlos Roden a similar short-term deal after he showed injury-hindered promise with the Chicago White Sox, and in return, he got a Cy Young contender season before earning a massive contract with the New York Yankees.

That 2021 team, you’ll remember, also came a hitter during an unplanned rest. Buster Posey’s year off came because he opted to sit out the shortened 2020 season, not because he had serious shoulder surgery, but because of parallel standing.

See also  England vs Sri Lanka: Tom Curran's 4-Wicket Haul In Useless As Rain Ends England's Bid For ODI Sequence Sweep | Cricket Information

For now, Conforto is using the time as fuel. He has asked the Giants’ coaches to remind him that “to be in this clubhouse and to be able to play this game is a special thing.”

“If there’s anything I can pull from that, it’s perspective,” he said. “I’m trying to remember when I’m struggling that 0-for-3 is better than being home.”