The case for starting Juan Lagares

Jaun Lagares

Imagine you have a pretty good slugger on your team — not an MVP candidate, more like a borderline All-Star. Someone like Carlos Gonzalez or Justin Upton, or maybe Marcell Ozuna or Melky Cabrera, or maybe Carlos Beltran. A hitter with flaws, and risks — maybe they get injured too much, or are too slump-prone, or strike out a ton — but overall a good hitter, without a doubt. Now imagine that, in the field, they’re below average; might hurt you a bit out there. So, this player… do you play them? Do you put them in your lineup every day?

This isn’t a trick question. If you’re anything like the typical baseball fan, or player, or manager, or executive, the answer is “yes.”

Okay, second imaginary scenario: you have a hitter on your team who doesn’t make a lot of outs. He draws walks, gets hit by pitches, bunts for singles, and so on. You have other guys who do other things better, so this get-on-base guy doesn’t play every inning of every game, and that’s fine. So what should his role be? Do you only use him when you’re trailing late in games and the guy leading off the inning isn’t very good and you want to pinch-hit with a rally-starter? Or do you use your on-base machine, y’know, most of the time, figuring that every time he reaches base instead of making an out is a good thing?

Again, not a trick question. Again, it seems to me that the obvious, agreed-upon answer is “yes.” You use this player most of the time. Sub him out when the situation warrants; otherwise, let him play.

Doesn’t this make sense? If you have someone like Carlos Beltran on your team, you’d like to give him four at bats every day, right? And if he’s slow and wears down easily and can’t field anymore, you still try to get him as many at bats as you reasonably can, right?

Now imagine the exact same player, except he does it with his glove rather than his bat.

That’s Juan Lagares.

best 2-year dWARworst 1-year dWAR
Juan Lagares6.90.4

In 2013-2014 combined, Baseball Reference credits Juan Lagares with 6.9 defensive WAR. Then in 2015 he was awful, with 0.4 dWAR. Then in 2016 he was only given a part-time role.

Those other players I mentioned above, the ones who do it with their bats? In the last few seasons (I looked back as far as 2012), they’ve had good years and bad years too. None of them were demoted to part-time roles.

best 2-year oWARworst 1-year oWAR
Justin Upton6.82.0
Carlos Gonzalez6.7-0.1
Carlos Beltran6.30.3
Melky Cabrera5.20.4
Marcell Ozuna4.10.7

When a hitter demonstrates that type of ability but then has a bad year, most teams give him another chance. And sometimes another, and another. When a hitter shows he can be elite, he doesn’t wind up in a role where he’s only used if the situation is perfect.

Juan Lagares shouldn’t be a back-up. Juan Lagares shouldn’t be playing only when the Mets are leading and he can sub in for a player who won’t bat again, on the off chance that someone hits a difficult fly ball his way in the tiny portion of the game remaining.

Juan Lagares should be given the chance to recapture his form from 2013-2014, to see if he can save the Mets as many runs with his glove as some of those hundred million dollar men add with their bats. He should be pinch-hit for when the situation calls for it, and left in the lineup otherwise to work his magic on as many defensive plays as possible.

Juan Lagares should be the Mets’ 2017 starting center fielder.

David Berg has been following the Mets since 1990, and counts himself as a "die hard fan" -- the agonies have been numerous and arduous, but he's still watching every game he can, determined to "earn" the satisfaction when the Mets eventually win it all. In his non-spare time, David is a designer of graphics, web sites, and games. See his work at Shrike Design
  1. Reese February 7, 2017 at 11:50 am
    Unfortunately in the MLB mindset paycheck dictates playing time. What do they do with Curtis Granderson and/or Jay Bruce if Lagares was to play every day?
  2. Viper February 7, 2017 at 12:59 pm
    Granderson will give the Mets more power but that’s it. I expect his batting average to be lower and if the Mets are batting him leadoff, the rbi’s are not going to be that different either. Last year he had 30 hrs and 55 rbi’s? going from memory here so it may be slightly off.

    With Lagares you get an elite defender who will save many runs and help out the pitchers a lot. Defense has and should have a premium value as well. Granderson disappered for most of the season last year and came alive only the last month of the season.

    Lagares represents the present and future while Granderson represents an aging veteran that is now mediocre but plays because his pay scale says he must play.

  3. Moranathan February 8, 2017 at 3:54 am
    This is contingent on Lagares being healthy, which hasn’t been a given.
    • David Berg February 8, 2017 at 10:40 am
      Very true. I wouldn’t suggest that the Mets stick with him if he can’t throw, or can’t run 100%, or can’t extend for grabs, etc. The Mets definitely need a back-up plan. I just think Lagares should be Plan A.
  4. Dan Capwell February 8, 2017 at 6:57 am
    Lagares is signed thru the 2019 season. My sense is that the Met OF for 2018-19 will be Ces-JL-Conforto, left to right. My magic 8-ball sees Bruce traded sometime this season and Grandy not brought back after his deal expires.

    That’s not a bad outfield, IF Conforto can hit.

  5. Gregg from Hoboken February 8, 2017 at 8:13 am
    I love watching Juan Lagares out there. But he is not a full-time player right now. Against RHP, Juan is sporting a .633 OPS and his OBP is .287. Starting Juan against right-handed pitching is putting him in a position to fail.

    Last year Granderson put up an .826 OPS and a .347 OBP vs. righties. Despite queasiness over Granderson’s fielding, he was passable enough out there in center.

    The Lagares/Granderson platoon puts both players in a position to succeed.

    • David Berg February 8, 2017 at 10:47 am
      Normally I would call a sub-.300 OBP a deal-breaker. But for a guy who provides that much defensive value, I think it isn’t. Lagares’ best season of combined offense and defense (2014) was credited with 5.5 WAR. Granderson’s best recent season of combined offense and defense (2015) was credited with 5.1 WAR. Juan may never hit like 2014 again and Grandy may never field like 2015 again, but I think their overall upsides and downsides are similar. For me, choosing between them is a tough call.

      Fortunately, we don’t have to choose between them. We can choose Grandy over Bruce instead.

      I do like platoons in many cases, but not when a platoon would mean Lagares’ glove isn’t out there in CF a vast majority of the time.

      • DaveSchneck February 8, 2017 at 11:45 pm
        Good article. I agree with some of the above comments. Dan’s Met OF of Ces-JL-Conforto is highly probable. I was bewildered by the recent internet fodder regarding JL being traded to free up money for the pen. Had that come to fruition, and barring an unlikely overpay by the trade counterpart, it made no sense for a team trying to win now and for near future. It would smell of salary dump. Lagares is a highly valuable asset given his glove and his bat vs. RHP. I also agree wit Gregg in that a CF platoon with JL starting vs. every LHP makes the most sense. He should also be used as often as possible late to protect games in which the Mets have leads. Like anything else, this is dependent on his health and his ability to replicate his plus plus defense, but should he show improved offense, I would certainly find him more innings vs RHP. Bottom line, Collins needs to find ways to keep premium defense on the field as much as possible. And, the better the other bats perform, the more Collins can afford to go defense first in CF.
        • argonbunnies February 9, 2017 at 10:55 am
          I agree with everything you said except one thing: that Juan should be used “late to protect games in which the Mets have leads”. In my mind, this is like saving your best reliever for a save opportunity. Or worse, turning your best starting pitcher into a reliever who only enters with leads. I think a run saved in the 3rd is just as important as a run saved in the 9th.

          The upside of starting Lagares is that you can pinch-hit for him when needed. With pinch-hitting, you know the new hitter will be involved in the play. With pinch-fielding, you don’t know whether the new fielder will be involved or not.

        • DaveSchneck February 9, 2017 at 7:49 pm
          You are absolutely correct I meant to say in games that he has not started, for whatever reason good or bad, he should be in the game late nonetheless to protect leads. Having the closer in a JL on the bench in a game he han’t appeared in should be something that doesn’t happen.
        • argonbunnies February 11, 2017 at 10:43 am
          Oops! Sorry to misread you.

          Sounds like we’re roughly on the same page.

  6. david February 13, 2017 at 9:01 pm
    I think the problem with starting Lagares every day is the underlying premise that he will remain healthy. I love his game, and am a defense boffin like many Mets Today readers who appreciate the fundamentals of baseball. Putting the players in a position to succeed is one of the most important parts of the manager’s job. I don’t think starting Juan does that because of the way he plays – but I do think he should be playing at least 50% of the time and TC has a job ahead of him working out his OF playing time. TC also used him expertly in 2015 so I gotta believe he knows what he’s doing in Juan’s case.
    • argonbunnies February 17, 2017 at 2:16 pm
      I don’t think Lagares is hitting the DL because he’s pushing through aches and pains that a few off days would cure.

      My take is, if he’s brittle then have a back-up plan, and if he gets hurt then he gets hurt, but until then, play him.

  7. Iz February 16, 2017 at 8:05 pm
    Your theory forgets one teeny weeny problem. Alderson doesn’t respect defense. Therefore Lagares sits.
    • argonbunnies February 17, 2017 at 2:14 pm
      Hey, this is the GM who pounced on Rene Rivera!

      …after he was released. And after putting bat-first players at 1B, 2B, arguably SS… and letting a guy who can’t field stay at 3B… and after once viewing Duda as an OF…

      So, yeah, agreed — Alderson has never valued defense.

      I dunno if Alderson micromanages Collins’ roster usage, though. If Lagares has lots of competition for OF playing time, that’s on Sandy. If Lagares unfairly loses that competition, I think that’s on Terry.