by Paul West
Wilmer Flores is currently 5th on the New York Mets in home runs, and 6th in RBIs, doubles, and total bases. He’s also only 6th in at bats, with over a hundred less than Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, Curtis Granderson, and Yoenis Cespedes. At .297, he’s second to Steven Matz–yes, really–with runners in scoring position. He’s played solidly on defense at three different positions, he hit .280 in the second half last season, and he clobbers lefties. He has a knack for the big moment, and according to mlb.com, he’s batting .296 in ‘late & close’ situations. As evidenced by one of the more memorable displays of emotion in recent baseball memory, his loyalty to the Mets is hard to question–and said loyalty, along with his aforementioned knack for big moments, has elevated him to folk hero status among many Mets fans. The Mets offense continues to sputter, despite occasional outbursts, and yet Terry Collins seems determined to only play Flores regularly when he has little other choice.
This begs the question: what does Wilmer Flores have to do to get regular at bats?
Collins has said on more than one occasion that his inclination is to go with the hot hand at the plate. Yet abysmally slumping players like Walker and Cabrera continue to see regular at bats, while Flores remains relegated to platoon duty. When David Wright was finally officially lost to season-ending beck surgery, Flores enjoyed a couple of weeks to relax and not check the lineup every day for his name; he responded by doing things like hitting four home runs in two days and becoming the second Met ever to go 6 for 6. Of course, then the controversial but still widely beloved Jose Reyes returned to town; and though Wilmer continued to hit the ball well, his gametime suddenly dropped once again.
One may offer here that Walker, Cabrera, and Reyes are all switch hitters, thus increasing their value as everyday players; one might also note Reyes’ speed at the top of the lineup, as well as Walker and Cabrera’s smoothness as a double play tandem. But Cabrera’s slump, especially with runners in scoring position, has reached astounding proportions, and Reyes, despite flashes of power, is still prone to chasing bad pitches and isn’t exactly wearing the ball out. Walker, too, has slumped. All while Flores continues to do the one thing the Mets seem collectively unable to do: come through with runners in scoring position, and late in games. And despite being unspectacular at any one position, Flores has a very strong arm and reasonably good hands, and is far from a liability anywhere on the infield.
Walker will likely snap out of it soon, and the same seems likely for Cabrera. Reyes seems likely to continue to be a streaky, thrilling, occasionally game-changing but generally diminished version of his former self. James Loney has been a steady producer of line drives and good at bats to compliment his solid glove at first base; if nothing else, he and Flores should be platooned against lefties and righties. But until further notice, there’s nobody on the Mets’ infield whose play automatically crowds out one of the hottest bats in the lineup.