The case for starting Juan 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.
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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.
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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.