Juan Lagares Better Than Willie Mays

My “boss” at ESPN — David Schoenfield — penned (typed?) a piece titled “The Current All-underrated Team.”

Schoenfield chose Juan Lagares as the team’s center fielder, saying, among other things:

“Lagares has certainly received recognition as perhaps the best defensive center fielder in the majors — winning his first Gold Glove in 2014 — but because he’s not a big basher at the plate, he still seems undervalued overall. And he’s not a zero on offense. He hit .281/.321/.382, nothing great, but that makes him about a league average hitter.”

You should read the entire article to see how Schoenfield compares Lagares to Willie Mays.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. norme January 13, 2015 at 7:23 pm
    Articles like Schoenfield’s are entertaining, especially when written by a knowledgeable person. It gives an old guy like me a chance to reminisce

    I grew up in the Willie-Mickey-Duke era and have always gotten a thrill at watching great centerfielders. Since metrics on fielders are not my cup of tea I still use the eyeball test. Lagares has been a joy to watch but its hard to compare.
    In his younger days Mays had the vast outfield at the Polo Grounds to show off his stuff. In SF he had to deal with the winds and that terrible chain link fence.
    Mickey wasn’t as quick, but once in full stride he appeared to outrun baseballs. Old Yankee Stadium was a pretty big pasture to cover. Of course, he couldn’t throw like Willie.
    Duke had the smaller ball park, and probably didn’t cover as much turf as Willie, but he was a master at climbing the walls. Old-timers (older than me!) talked of his spike marks on the wall at Connie Mack (Shibe Park) in Philly.
    In the more modern era I’ve always been partial to Andruw Jones in his younger days. Played a shallow CF but could cover the ground and had a great arm.
    Lagares still has to put in more time to make his mark.

  2. argonbunnies January 13, 2015 at 10:13 pm
    On the one hand, it seems silly to compare a second-year player to an all-time great. On the other hand, Mays isn’t an all-time great JUST for having a high defensive peak, and it’s certainly POSSIBLE that Lagares’ defensive peak might be a teeny bit better. Certainly Juan can play shallower and field/rob more singles than Mays could in the canyon of the Polo Grounds.

    I can think of a few OFs who were just as good as Lagares at going back on the ball or into the gaps, but the way he charges the ball and gets rid of it quickly, with serious mustard on it, might be pretty unique (and also maybe why he hurt his elbow?). I heard one commentator say Lagares is the only OF he’s seen who fields like a shortstop, which I thought was pretty cool.

    • Dan42 January 14, 2015 at 6:25 am
      Wasn’t he a shortstop, converted to the outfield because he was blocked at that position? Ironic, methinks.
  3. friend January 14, 2015 at 10:30 am
    Things are looking up. Can’t wait for David Schoenfield’s next masterpiece, “Wilmer Flores Better Than Cal Ripken”.
    • Joe Janish January 14, 2015 at 1:49 pm
      I thought Flores was already better than Ripken (?)

      By the All-Star break, Flores will have passed Honus Wagner on the list of all-time greatest shortstops.

    • norme January 14, 2015 at 8:03 pm
      I think it might be pretty even—of course Flores is 23 and Cal is now 54—it might be close.
  4. Colin January 14, 2015 at 2:32 pm
    Jaun is going to tear it up this year. He looked overly defensive in pitchers counts and everyone threw him breaking stuff away that he’d slap at. If he can button up and get a little more “duda” with his at bats, I think he’s going to hit for both power and average. Still, 281 aint so bad.
    Fired up for 2015. Hopefully, Wilmur is taking ground balls right now.
  5. Bat January 16, 2015 at 8:05 pm
    Joe, I really feel like you go out of your way to be negative on this blog.

    The title of this post says “Juan Lagares Better Than Willie Mays” but in actuality the article by Schoenfield – one of my favorite writers about baseball – simply says that BY ONE METRIC (i.e., viewing something through one particular lens) Lagares MAY BE BETTER at ONE POSSIBLE AREA of baseball.

    Defensive stats are known to be unreliable and Schoenfield is simply stating that according to one particular means of analyzing something called “runs saved” Lagares may be better…not really a big deal. It’s impressive, but as Schoenfield would surely admit, this one metric is not dispositive of the issue and no one could definitively state that Lagares was a better defensive player than Mays (and forget about offense).

    But of course you entitle this post “Juan Lagares Better Than Willie Mays” as if Schoenfield has implied that Lagares is a better player than Mays now, or will have a better career than him…and the vagueness of the title seems to imply that Lagares is better all-around rather than possibly in one specific area.

    Again, the negativity seems excessive and unnecessary. You have adopted this Fire Joe Morgan style of analysis where you jump down everyone’s throat from GKR, Alderson, Collins, Schoenfield or whoever else for seemingly innocuous comments.

    Hopefully Schoenfiled reads this blog. If he reads this particular comment, I would like to tell him that I read pretty much every article on Fangraphs and pretty much everything he writes; I find his opinions to be very thoroughly researched and well-substantiated by statistics. Doesn’t mean I agree with everything he writes, but I find the articles an interesting and sometimes even compelling read.

    • Joe Janish January 17, 2015 at 3:36 pm
      Bat, you often take me too literally. This isn’t a stat blog based purely on facts and proving black vs. white. It’s an opinion blog, and with that comes colorful writing, character, emotion, poetic license, and entertainment (not necessarily in that order, not necessarily always including all nor only those characteristics).

      The headline for this post had one specific goal: to make you click and read David’s piece. It seems the headline succeeded. Obviously I like and respect David, too, and so I want to lead the MetsToday audience to his posts.

    • argonbunnies January 17, 2015 at 8:17 pm
      Schoenfield is one of my favorite baseball writers too, but just FYI, you have to do your own fact-checking, Bat. At the pace David writes at — multiple articles per day — he’ll often get a fact wrong here or there. Guys whose job is entertainment are rarely precise researchers. I enjoy Schoenfield, but I trust the obsessive types on FanGraphs much more.

      I suppose that was off-topic, but whatever, I’m following Joe’s lead and keepin’ it loose. 🙂

  6. Bat January 17, 2015 at 9:57 pm
    Argon, I don’t think it is just Schoenfield writing those articles – I’m would imagine he has editors, interns, whatever at ESPN to assist.

    Sure, he gets something wrong now and again but I like his work. I’m a big fan like I said previously.