The footage embedded above comes from an August 22nd game between the Mets and the Dodgers and depicts Wilmer Flores acting out what is essentially the baseball equivalent of a first-day-of-school anxiety dream. With two outs and runners at first and second, Yasiel Puig batted a mostly harmless ground ball to Flores. Instead of converting said grounder into a routine out, however, what Flores did was first to (a) misplay the ball and then, after picking it up, (b) stumble forward unprovoked and fall to the ground in front of everyone.
That no one scored on the play (or the inning) is perhaps some consolation so far as this particular instance is concerned. Still, to the degree that just any one play can, this particular one doesn’t recommend Flores’ hands and agility.
Nor was this particular sequence of events probably very surprising to any number of talent evaluators who’ve watched Flores play defense ever. The presiding sentiment regarding the now 23-year-old Venezuelan has been — for a few years, if not longer — has been that, while he exhibited promise offensively, he was essentially a man without a position.
Consider this passage, for example, from the 2012 edition of Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook:
As he fills out his lean frame he could develop 20-homer power, which would be special for a shortstop — but scouts give Flores no chance to stay up the middle. He’s a well below-average runner with heavy feet and substandard range.
Not a glowing report, that. And yet, one finds that, in nearly 50 starts at shortstop this year, that Flores has produced commendably average — or at least not disastrously below-average — defensive figures, according both to UZR (+3) and DRS (-2).
That said data is the product of just a 430-inning sample is entirely noteworthy — and all relevant caveats regarding fielding data apply. However, given the myriad concerns regarding Flores’s defense, it’s probably also fair to regard anything better than abject failure an overwhelming victory.
Nor is it merely the shadowy math inherent to defensive metrics which suggest that Flores has converted batted balls to outs at something like the rate of an average shortstop. Here, by way of illustration, are the current charts courtesy of Inside Edge’s video scouts, both of Flores’s made and missed plays this season.
As the chart on the right shows, there have certainly been instances this season in which Flores has failed to record outs when other shortstops almost always would do. The Puig grounder (No. 3 above) is one example, of course.
From May, and marked No. 1 above, is this errant throws on a ground ball by Paul Goldschmidt:
From August 10, and denoted as play No. 2 above, there’s this combo package of awkward shuffling and poor throwing on a batted ball by Ben Revere:
And then from actually just two innings after the Puig grounder above on August 22nd, there’s this second error from that same game (No. 4), an inexplicably inaccurate throw to first:
Those plays all illustrate concerns expressed about Flores’s defense, and feature basically all the flaws — bad hands, poor footwork, inaccurate throws — an infielder can exhibit. That said, according to Inside Edge, those are the only plays Flores really ought to have converted this season and hasn’t. Indeed, one finds that Flores has also recorded outs in situations where other shortstops might not have done.
On August 16th (play No. 5), for example, Flores fielded this ground ball hit by Cubs catcher Wellington Castillo and made an accurate throw to first within about 4.5 seconds — which is to say, an interval of time in which at least some major leaguers run from home to first.
On August 18th (play No. 6), converted this ground ball in the hole within about 4.4 seconds, just getting Javier Baez at first base (and officially ruled an out following a challenge):
Finally, on August 31st (No. 7), Flores dove to his left and deftly gloved this grounder/liner-type hit up the middle by Ben Revere, and then successfully recorded an out after flipping to second base — a play Inside Edge’s scouts regard as one converted less than 10% of the time:
Even in some of these plays — like in No. 5 when Flores is lifting himself to his feet — there are instances in which Flores exhibits some manner of awkward movement. And it’s entirely possible that Flores’s weaknesses just haven’t been exposed yet. In most case, when a scout has suggested that a player’s actions aren’t suited to this or that defensive position, then that player really isn’t suited to this or that defensive position. In other cases, however — like the ongoing mystery that is Jhonny Peralta — there’s a disconnect between a fielder’s actions and his ability to convert batted balls into outs.
What appears likely, in any case, is that the Mets experiment of installing Flores as the (mostly) starter at shortstop has had relatively positive returns thus far — if only because those returns haven’t been disastrous. It’s also an experiment that probably deserves to be extended — because, as Baseball America noted in 2012, a player with Flores’ offensive upside does have a chance to be special if he’s also playing shortstop.
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