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.
|best 2-year oWAR||worst 1-year oWAR|
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.
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.
That’s not a bad outfield, IF Conforto can hit.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sounds like we’re roughly on the same page.
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.
…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.