Throughout this offseason the Yankees haven’t made many transactions, but have already sealed the deal on what they needed. Areas that deserved attention were covered by the signings of Gerrit Cole and Brett Gardner, and the organization has maintained veteran options behind Gary Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka ready in the minors.
However, with the first spring training game nearly a month away, the Yankees could still look into acquiring middle infield depth as well. Once you look past Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu, the fall back options are Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada. Both are talented young players, but adding another piece into the mix could offer the Yankees a veteran player ready to take the stage at any moment.
Enter Wilmer Flores, formerly a Mets regular, looking for an opportunity as he enters his age-28 season. After the Diamondbacks declined a club option of Flores worth six million dollars, he entered free agency having generated four consecutive seasons as an above average hitter. His 2019 season has been the most impressive so far after he hit for a 120 wRC+ and produced career highs in batting average and on-base percentage — .317 and .361 respectively. Flores has always possessed a great ability for making contact and his ISO numbers remained slightly above his career average, however what helped Flores have a productive season at the plate was a significant tick in his BABIP output.
Diving into his batted ball profile the main difference stands out to be his rise in line drive percentage, marking above a five percent increase compared to 2017 and 2018. Considering Flores struck out significantly below league average at 10.9% last season and walked 5.3% of the time, he was often putting the ball in play.
Flores has never been much of a power threat, therefore you shouldn’t expect his HR/FB rate to be among the top of the league, but one thing he has done well is avoid hitting ground balls. Since 2016, 292 players have accumulated more than 1000 plate appearances, and Flores ranks tied for 33rd with a 35.5% ground ball rate, putting him right between solid major-league bats like Eric Thames and Robinson Chirinos. He didn’t change his launch angle or generate a significant increase in exit velocity compared to his career, so something else had to change to help Flores find success.
For the first time in his career, Flores produced a batting average over .300 and a slugging percentage over .500 against fastballs. According to BrooksBaseball, last season Flores hit fastballs for line drives 29.30% of the time over a sample size of 667 fastballs faced. That percentage was easily higher than his 2017 and 2018 marks, 24.62% and 22.73% respectively. Considering fastballs accounted for about 60% of the pitches Flores saw, the improvements he made against the pitch was likely the biggest factor in his career year.
A change of scenery to a club known for adding power into a hitter’s swing and helped players like Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman and Cameron Maybin enjoy incredible seasons, could further evolve Flores’ production. He already has a great eye at the plate, can cover the middle infield, and any continuation of his 2019 at the plate would be a welcomed addition.