2023 stats: 126 G, 454 PA, .284/.355/.509 (.863 OPS), 23 HR, 60 RBI, 136 OPS+, 2.5 fWAR
Notable: Hit .291/.370/.550 (.920 OPS) with 15 HR and 36 RBI in the second half (64 games). His 150 wRC+ was 9th-best in the NL, beating Cody Bellinger (141) and Pete Alonso (123).
It’s a Friday afternoon so if you’re in a hurry, here’s the summary of Wilmer Flores’s 2023: he was fantastic. Amazing. Better than expected. The San Francisco Giants were desperate for ever decimal point of his hitting.
He’s mentored Thairo Estrada and been a big help in the clubhouse. He’s done everything the team’s asked of him. He’s a “professional hitter” in the modern sense, and when you look at his season split, he was really quite a bit more than that, too.
Let’s jump back to that “notable” stat about his absurdly great second half. You figure in the Oracle Park era (since 2000), that the list of players with a .920 OPS over a 64-game span is basically Barry Bonds and probably Jeff Kent and, indeed, that’s what I found (for the most part) using Stathead’s span finder.
There were also familiar or not too surprising names like Moises Alou, Rich Aurilia, Brandon Belt, Melky Cabrera, Brandon Crawford, Ray Durham, Marquis Grissom, Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey’s good friend Hunter Pence, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and J.T. Snow. The only really suprises were A.J. Pierzynski (from June 1-August 22, 2004, that douchebag hit .330/.373/.538), Michael Tucker (who had a .920+ stretch from June through mid-August of 2004); and Mike Yastrzemski, who landed on the list only because of some spans in 2019 but who I would’ve assumed popped up again for subsequent seasons.
But Flores is in both familiar company and rare company, because the Giants don’t usually have much in the way of good hitters. Flores took a big leap forward this season in the hitting regard but also filled a role in the Giants’ algorithm.
This was Flores’s career best year just in terms of hitting value, even if it didn’t max out all his categories. Yes, his best year in terms of home runs (his previous high was 19, set last season, but not in RBI, hits, or even walks. Highs in on base and slugging by a considerable amount, though, but I say all that with this in mind: the Giants used him as a 66-75%-time player.
They picked their spots when to use him and that led to basically peak performance from the hitting side. He basically filled the spot in their math model that Darin Ruf inhabited in 2021, and you’ll note that Ruf went on a similar tear over his final 64 games of 2021: .290/.395/.549 (.944 OPS) — the reason he doesn’t show up on the earlier list is because of too few plate appearances (190).
Right-handed power plays great at Oracle Park and when you combine that with someone whose swing is already trained for the gaps you get a player who might just be the platonic ideal of a hitter for that park. It’s a shame there aren’t many like him. The Giants could sure use more Wilmer Floreses.
Here’s a nice spotlight on his hitting that includes where he ranks in some other hitting categories:
Deposed manager Gabe Kapler said of Flores,
“If you look up at the board any time Wilmer’s at the plate, you see the great contact numbers, you see the low strikeout numbers,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said postgame. “Those numbers get even better when facing left-handed pitching. So against [Max] Fried or any other pitcher over the course of the last two months, it’s hard to argue that Wilmer isn’t one of the better hitters in all of baseball and one of the more clutch hitters in all of baseball.
“There’s some value in him not starting games so he can come off in the biggest spot and make the biggest impact. And therefore he doesn’t have the counting statistics that are going to get him the national recognition, but we see it and appreciate it. There’s nobody I’d rather have up in the biggest moments.”
Kapler’s right about the split, but it’s not a Austin Slaterean difference between his lines.
vs RHP (273 PA) | .271/.352/.496 (.847 OPS) - 15 HR 27 BB 35 K
vs LHP (181 PA) | .303/.359/.527 (.886 OPS) - 8 HR 14 BB 28 K
According to Baseball Reference’s “Late & Close” split, he hit .282/.370/.507 (.877 OPS) in 81 plate appearances — so, clutch. He ranked second on the team’s WPA list (Joc Pederson was, somehow, 1st), but obviously first in offensive value (136 wRC+). His game has only gotten better as he’s been with the Giants.
Role on 2023 team
Last year, when Flores won the Willie Mac Award, Gabe Kapler said,
“I think baseball requires a degree of steadiness and stoicism,” Kapler said. “A level of calm, a level of perspective, a level of experience. A level of ‘I’ve seen this before, I’ve been around it, it’s not taking me off course when things get hard. I expect it to be challenging at times.’ … In that way, he’s a perfect role model.”
I think that was his ultimate role even if that wasn’t exactly his planned role. Advancing into the absolute best hitter in the lineup probably was not the grand design of the offseason, but it wound up being a consolation because it showed that some part of the front office’s plan could still work; and, look, there’s nothing in the game of Baseball that says a team deserves a consolation for anything. It just worked out that Wilmer Flores is awesome.
And Flores was still a clubhouse guy. Last year, Susan Slusser wrote about how “Flo is cool,” and this year we got word that he, Thairo Estrada, and Mike Yastrzemski were trying to keep the clubhouse focused on the quickly derailing season. I know some people out there want to call into question the conviction of the players these three presumably called out or served as a counterforce, too, but I totally get that there are people who’d rather chill and play pusoy if they knew for certain the train was going to fly into a ravine at full speed and there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Life is worth living right up until the end, isn’t it?
Role on 2024 team
You don’t need to read a Statcast page to know what your eyes tell you: Flores is not a good defender. The depths of his versatility have been greatly exaggerated and the idea of utilizing him at either second or third base — even in a pinch — should send shivers. His presence as a first baseman, designated hitter, and pinch hitter is more than enough.
All that said...
If Jim Bowden — I know, I know, stay with me, though —
If Jim Bowden — wait wait wait!
If Jim Bowden (subscription required) is on to something and not just vaguely recalling poor sourcing, then the Giants might have some interest in Pete Alonso. A roster with Alonso and Flores makes no sense, but reuniting Flores with the fanbase that got separated from him solely because of the Wilpons does make sense.
Still — a 2024 Giants team with Wilmer Flores on the roster is still a good team. Or, at least, on the way to being a good team. He’s not the problem with the lineup. He’ll never be a problem. He’s Wilmer Flores.