|Wilmer Flores is improving with the glove, but he's really picking it up at the plate. (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)|
Throughout the off-season and during the first month of the 2015 regular season, many Mets fans clamored for general manager Sandy Alderson to acquire a good-hitting, good-fielding shortstop. The incumbent at the position, Wilmer Flores, was expected to hit well in the major leagues, but was considered a liability on defense. In his first 30 games of 2015, Flores committed nine errors in 129 chances and wasn't contributing much with the bat, as he was hitting just .229 with three homers and eight RBI through May 8.
But since then, Flores has taken great strides in improving his defense, making just one error in his last 104 chances (.990 fielding percentage) and participating in 20 double plays. He has also elevated his game at the plate, batting .263 with seven homers and 20 RBI over his last 31 games. In fact, he has as many homers in that span as he does strikeouts - a rarity for a player who hits with power.
For the season, Flores has been hovering around the .250 mark, but his ten homers are tied for the most by a shortstop in the major leagues. (The Cardinals' Jhonny Peralta also has ten.) In addition, Flores ranks in the top five at the shortstop position in RBI (28) and slugging percentage (.433). Among players on his own team, however, Flores ranks first in home runs, second in RBI (just one behind the injured Daniel Murphy), second in slugging percentage and third in runs scored. Flores is in the top three in each of those categories despite having the sixth-most plate appearances on the team this season behind Juan Lagares, Curtis Granderson, Michael Cuddyer, Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy. And among all National League players, regardless of position, Flores is the ninth-toughest to strike out, as he has whiffed just 25 times in 201 at-bats.
On Friday night, Flores hit his tenth home run of the season, making him just the third Mets shortstop to reach double digits in homers over an entire season, joining Kevin Elster (1989) and Jose Reyes (2006, 2007, 2008, 2010). [Note: Eddie Bressoud hit ten homers as the Mets' primary shortstop in 1966, but only eight of those homers came while Bressoud was playing shortstop. He hit one as a first baseman and one as a second baseman.] However, Elster didn't hit his tenth homer in 1989 until the final week of the season, while the earliest Reyes reached double figures in long balls was in 2008, when he launched his tenth rocket on July 12 during the team's 94th game of the year. Flores turned the trick a full calendar month before the date Reyes did in 2008, doing so in the Mets' 62nd contest, leaving exactly 100 games for him to add to his total in 2015.
For his career, Flores has produced 25 doubles, 17 homers and 70 RBI in just 555 at-bats. By comparison, Elster had 21 doubles, nine homers and 47 RBI in his first 555 at-bats, while Reyes had 32 doubles, ten homers and 52 RBI in the same number of at-bats. Doubles-wise, Flores ranks in between Elster and Reyes, but Flores is already superior to both Elster and Reyes in home run and RBI production.
With the season still three weeks away from being halfway done, Flores is approaching 30 RBI, putting him on pace to easily surpass 60 RBI for the entire season. Only two Mets shortstops have ever driven in at least 60 runs in a single season - Reyes, who owns the franchise mark at the position with 81 RBI in 2006 (he also produced 68 RBI in 2008) and the normally light-hitting Rey Ordoñez, who became the first shortstop to drive in 60 runs for the team when he reached that exact figure in 1999.
No Mets shortstop has ever led the team in home runs or RBI. In fact, the closest any shortstop has ever come to leading the team in either category was in 1966, when Eddie Bressoud (10 HR, 49 RBI) finished six homers behind team leader Ed Kranepool and 12 RBI behind Ken Boyer for the club lead. However, as mentioned before, Bressoud accumulated some of his offensive totals at other defensive positions. The only true shortstops to finish within 20 RBI of the team leader were Roy McMillan, whose 42 RBI in 1965 left him twenty short of team leader Charley Smith, and Jose Vizcaino, who finished 20 RBI behind team leader Rico Brogna in 1995. Vizcaino's 56 RBI during the strike-shortened 1995 campaign set the franchise record for runs batted in by a shortstop in a single season, a mark that was surpassed by Ordoñez four years later and Reyes seven years after that.
There haven't been too many offensive-minded shortstops in Mets history. But there have been some standout seasons at the plate for some players who manned the position. And if Wilmer Flores continues his recent power production, he might become the first to lead the team - or even come close to leading the team - in either of those categories over a full season.
With his offensive struggles and defensive shortcomings no longer as obvious as they were during the first month of the season, Mets fans are now clamoring for Flores to come up to the plate rather than asking for his head on a plate. It's amazing what a little production and some historical perspective can do to calm the savage beast.