Wilmer Flores Probably Earns A Job

Depending on your perspective, a feature/bug of Zach Sander’s valuation system is how it weights playing time. If you put Wilmer Flores into your shortstop position on April first and never moved him, he would have been worth -$7. On a rate basis, he’s comparable to Xander Bogaerts, Jordy Mercer, and Brandon Crawford, all of whom ranged from $2 to $5 of value. In other words, it was a solid fantasy debut for Flores.

The 23-year-old Flores entered the season with big questions about his defense, but the Mets are saying it has improved enough to stick at shortstop. In a too-small sample (443 innings), Flores’ defense was rated as a positive. He certainly looks ugly visually, but so does Jhonny Peralta. For those who don’t know, UZR has ranked Peralta as among the best defensemen in three of the last four seasons. Another not-so-smooth slick fielder who comes to mind is Chase Utley. It’s not ludicrous to allow the possibility that Flores might play a passable shortstop without ever looking good at it.

While fantasy owners typically ignore defense, they should care in this case. The biggest question when it comes to Flores is his playing time. Will he be the primary shortstop, split time between short and second base, or shuttle between the majors and Triple-A? Much of that will be decided by his defense and competition.

The Mets have another solid young shortstop who posted similar value in twice as much playing time. Ruben Tejeda is entering his age 25 season, and he could be a non-tender candidate with a projected salary of $1.7MM. To me, it’s more plausible to see him dealt to another organization. As a hitter, his strength is on base percentage. He hit .237/.342/.310 last year after a miserable 2013 season. Had he qualified for the batting title, his on base percentage would have tied for 48th best, with Josh Donaldson, Nick Markakis, Justin Upton, and Neil Walker.

Tejada seems like the kind of player a second division club might try at the top of the lineup. Given that there was talk of running him out of New York prior to last season, I think the Mets will lean towards starting Flores. Daniel Murphy has second base on lock down, but he’s also the backup first and third baseman. Any related injuries would open playing time for both middle infielders. The Mets are always linked to trade rumors for shortstops, so that’s another angle to watch.

As for Flores’ hitting, his 28/6/29/1/.251 fantasy line in 274 plate appearances engenders some hope. He’s hit much better in the minors with a career .292/.334/.440 slash in 3,237 plate appearances. He featured a normal batted ball distribution with 20 percent line drives and 40 percent ground balls and fly balls. Since Flores isn’t much of a baserunner, I like the healthy fly ball rate. It will give him an opportunity to push 20 home runs with a full 650 plate appearance season.

Including a stint in 2013, his career balls in play average is .264. His batted ball data doesn’t explain the low BABIP, nor does he appear particularly shiftable. As such, Flores seems like a candidate to regress to the mean. In this case, that may buff his batting average into the .270 range, especially if he can maintain a healthy 5.8 swinging strike rate.

A couple minutiae emerge from his plate discipline data. His contact rate outside of the zone  was a stunning 85.8 percent (league average 65.9 percent). I think we can safely expect regression even if he remains above average in this regard. That might be for the best, since outside the zone contact can lead to weak balls in play. He also saw pitches in the zone over 50 percent of the time, compared to a league wide rate of 45 percent.

When I combine all the little details, a shadow of hope begins to emerge. Flores is potentially a hitter with special contact skills in a league where strikeout is king. With a little help from the BABIP gods, he could find himself in an important spot in the Mets lineup, one where runs and RBI can be found in plenty. His high contact approach and solid minor league power actually does seem well suited to a mid-lineup position. If he can get a little smarter about attacking the most hittable pitches and spitting on the borderline ones, he could see both his BABIP and ISO spike.

Basically, I see the ghost of Michael Young inside young Flores. Will Flores ever reach that ceiling? Can he help in 2015? That’s debatable. My advice to prospective Flores owners is to use him as a depth piece. In a traditional 12 team league with three middle infielders, I would aim to use Flores as the fourth guy. Especially if your collection of middle infielders looks like Jimmy Rollins, Omar Infante, and Alcides Escobar, the added depth and upside could be extremely important.

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9 years ago

So, my dynasty league SS last year was Andrelton Simmons (blech!). I dropped him to pick up Flores in the last week of the season as my starting SS going into next season. My league has 14 teams and deep benches, so any SS with a pulse is probably rostered. In leagues like mine, I am very bullish on Flores and hope he can at least do better than Brad Miller and Simmons, the two SS I started with last year.

Power from SS is really valuable, especially in leagues that reward slugging %. The walk rate scares me for OBP leagues, especially since he doesn’t offer much speed to offset it, but hopefully the 20 HRs and decent runs and RBI will help out.