The Downfall of Not Starting Juan Lagares

The other night, I received a seemingly cryptic email from my older brother. The subject was, “This is idiotic.” I opened the email to uncover exactly what I thought I’d find: a smack-my-head worthy link about the New York Mets. It’s a long-withstanding family tradition to share these types of things, after all.

According to NBC Sports’ Bill Baer (via The Star-Ledger‘s Mike Vorkunov), Terry Collins and perhaps the Mets too apparently feel that center field is a wide-open competition.

Specifically, per Collins:

We’ve got three guys that can play center field that we know of and by gosh the best one is going to be out there because it’s a big position.

One can only assume he means Chris YoungEric Young Jr. and incumbent Juan Lagares. But since Chris Young was inked this offseason to a $7.25 million contract—and is projected to play a corner—it appears as though only one of EYJ or Lagares will be a starter. And this, folks, is silly.

In just 421 plate appearances last season, Lagares managed to post a 3.7 bWAR. It certainly wasn’t due to his paltry offense, either, as the 24-year-old hit to the tune of a .242 batting average, 4.7 percent walk rate and park-adjusted 80 OPS+.

Lagares’ high-caliber wins above replacement in 2013 was, of course, a product of his elite defense.

DRS UZR/150 dWAR
2013 28 34.1 3.5

In fact, the Mets’ farm hand was the sixth best defender in baseball (with at least 800 innings), according to the Fielding Bible.

2013 DRS
Andrelton Simmons 41
Carlos Gomez 38
Gerardo Parra 36
Manny Machado 35
Nolan Arenado 30
Juan Lagares 26
Shane Victorino 24
Starling Marte 20
Welington Castillo 19
Jay Bruce 18

(above DRS sorted by position, not cumulative season DRS).

Yet, even with such a valuable commodity—one that a fan who’d rather burn a Bible than cite the Fielding Bible could identify—the Mets are seemingly blind to it.

To play optimistic fan for a moment, perhaps Collins is just bluffing. Maybe Collins’ public announcement was just a ploy to light a fire under Lagares’ backside so as to not make the second-year player a cocky one.

But how about if Collins is being transparent and the organization is serious about not using the slick fielder as a starter?  The result: simply, less wins.

Projected ’14 Steamer Oliver ZiPS
Eric Young Jr. -0.2 1.2 0.9
Juan Lagares 1.6 2.9 2.0

Per Steamer, Oliver and ZiPS, Lagares projects to be a vastly superior player than EYJ in 2014. Despite the obvious, Collins apparently still prefers to use Young, who led the National League with 46 stolen bases in 2013, as the team’s lead-off man, according to NY Daily News’ Kristie Ackert.

Using Young in the lead-off position would undoubtedly add unique speed atop the Mets’ lineup; speed the team has not seen since Jose Reyes. But if Young’s speed is utilized at the cost of benching (or optioning) Lagares, it would hurt the team’s ability to win games.

And considering Baseball Prospectus (subscription needed) projects the 2014 Mets to win just 73 games with Lagares starting 55 percent of the time in center, they’ll need all the help they can get.

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7 responses to “The Downfall of Not Starting Juan Lagares

  1. Chris Young plays gold glove caliber defense in CF, can readily provide great D, range and speed out there replacing Lagares.

    Also, regarding Eric young, if you consider his minor league career OBP, (.388) as well as major league OBP in 2011 and 2012, (.342 and .377) there’s clearly the capacity to have a .350 OBP in 2014. With that, no reason he couldn’t score 100 runs and steal 60 bases – very dangerous weapon that drives opposing pitchers and catchers crazy – the whole team, actually. Let’s remember what it feels like when the Mets face a speedster at the plate and on the bases – not good feeling.

    Ultimately, I think the Mets will figure out how to give EY CY and Lagares plenty PA’s, by giving each player something like 4-6 games a week or so on average – with EY playing outfield and maybe once or twice a week at second, with perhaps Murphy playing first here and there to make room.

    • Young was an elite CF defensively in 2010 (18 DRS) and 2011 (20 DRS), but not nearly as much so in 2012 (7 DRS) and certainly not in 2013 (-5 DRS). To say that he’s still capable of “Gold Glove” CF defense now is a bit of a stretch.

      I don’t really care about OBP as much as BB% (as OBP can just be fueled by BA). Young’s career MLB OBP is .325, but his career BB% is 8.3%. The latter is good–especially paired with his speed–but I’m still more confident in Lagares’ defensive skills than Young ability to be a consistent full-time hitter (career 76 OPS+).

      Honestly, if the Mets really think EYJ is worthy of starting, it should be at 2B. With Murphy’s increasing price tag through arbitration and limited skill set, he–and not Lagares–should get the boot (hopefully through trade).

  2. I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say CY is capable of gold glove caliber CF for the foreseeable future. He’s only 30 with great wheels and range and continues to excel in the latter even last season despite being uncomfortable playing half his games in the corners during an adjustment phase. Despite that, he was second in the A.L. in outfield range factor per 9, and in 2012, was 5th amongst NL CF in range factor. I’ve seen with my own eyes how good he is. Plug him into CF in 2014 and he’ll continue to excel defensively while providing speed and power on offense.
    As for Murphy there’s no way he’s riding the pine bumped out of overall starting role – his bat, clutch hitting and ability to make contact is way too valuable especially from the left side on a right hand dominant lineup,and overall, one that includes a bevy of high K hitters heading into the season. .
    I expect Murphy to have a breakout season offensively including closing in on 20 homers, far more BB’s, and more consistent hitting such that .300 BA and .350 OBP is in reach. I perfectly comfortable with those stats, as well as RBI, and think he’s ready to be moved into a run producing slot in heart of the order, batting 5th or 6th with concomitant expectation to deliver and share the load.
    I also think his defense will stabilize. He had a terrible July 2013, but otherwise was solid.
    Again, I think there’s plenty PA’s available to satisfy individual and team needs for Lagares, EY, CY and Murphy while keeping all four fresh. I think that’s the best way to resolve the log jam and mitigate over-exposure as well as mental and physical fatigue. I also think given Wright and Grandy off days is as valuable.

    • I think Murphy is a better fantasy player than he is a real-life player. His defense is horrendous (-13 DRS in 2013) and he doesn’t take many walks (4.6% BB%).

      Below are 2014 projections from ZiPS, Steamer and Oliver:
      ZiPS: .282 BA, 5.2% BB%, 9 HR, 14 SB
      Steamer: .280 BA, 5.6% BB%, 9 HR, 11 SB
      Oliver: .280 BA, 5.3% BB%, 11 HR, 17 SB

      That said, I don’t think Murphy should be benched in favor of EYJ, but I do think the Mets should seriously entertain trading him before the season. He’ll make $5.7 million this season (his second arbitration year) and will likely make a lot more in 2015. I don’t view him as a core organization player, so selling him off would be a prudent move, in my opinion.

  3. Pingback: The Downfall of Not Starting Juan Lagares | We Report

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