Juan Lagares made an outstanding catch a few nights ago, saving at least an extra-base hit and perhaps a home run in a game that the Mets went on to win. He deserves all the credit in the world for making that play. However, that one play does not mean that every single thing he does defensively should be blown out of proportion from now on.
In Saturday’s revolting game, Laragres fielded the ball 30 feet behind the infield and threw the ball home, trying to nab the runner at the plate. Announcer Ron Darling gushed that the throw was a bullet and lamented that John Buck was unable to hold onto the ball. Meanwhile, the throw was above Buck’s head and the catcher was trying to catch the ball and tag the runner in one swoop.
It was the type of play that if it was made, the credit should go to Buck. It was reminiscent of the 1979 All-Star game and Dave Parker’s throw to the plate (only a much shallower play for Lagares). Parker threw the ball high and it was only a fine play by Gary Carter corralling the ball and applying the tag which made the out happen.
Regardless, in very brief action in the field, Lagares has already posted a +3 Defensive Runs Saved, a very impressive total. Scouting reports were mixed on his defense, with some saying he was not suited to play center field. If nothing else, he passes the eye test and looks like he’s comfortable playing the key defensive position.
However, he has not impressed at the plate, which was where he was supposed to offer the most help. Lagares has a lifetime .282 AVG in the minors and he’s actually hit better as he’s moved up the organizational ladder. This year in the hitter-friendly PCL, Lagares posted a .929 OPS before he earned his call to the majors.
Yet with the Mets he has just five hits in 30 ABs and in 33 PA he has a .419 OPS. Among the 16 position players the Mets have used this season, Lagares’ OPS ranks 15th, ahead of just Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Of course, it’s only 33 PA and Lagares has just a .227 BABIP and he likely will do much better if he’s given enough of a chance.
The same argument applies to Collin Cowgill, who also had hit well in the upper minors and who was anointed as the every day center fielder by Terry Collins at the end of March. But Cowgill posted a .167 BABIP and found himself shipped to Las Vegas after 52 PA.
The bullpen has been helped by the quick and decisive moves of the front office but the offense has not benefited from the same approach. When Cowgill was on the team, the Mets averaged 4.85 runs per game. Since he was banished to the minors, the Mets have averaged 3.29 runs per game. Coincidence – yes, probably. But Cowgill, while with a poor .467 OPS, did have 14 Runs + RBIs in 19 games.
If we look at Runs + RBIs and divide by Plate Appearances, we see Cowgill with a .27 rate. Buck leads the team with a .38 rate while David Wright has a .31 rate. Here’s how the outfielders rate in this department:
Yep – in 33 PA, Lagares has yet to score or drive in a run. He’s got quite a bit to go to catch up to Cowgill’s rate – a player deemed not worthy of much of a shot by management.
The Mets wanted Cowgill to be a leadoff hitter and when he didn’t get on base enough in his brief sample they gave up on him. Cowgill did show good OBP numbers in the minors – lifetime .371 mark – but wasn’t given enough of a chance to let that carry over into the majors.
Ike Davis in 2012 was allowed to stink for 201 PA, where he notched a .507 OPS. The explanation was that the Mets were winning so they could afford to “carry” Davis’ bat during this retched stretch. But the 2013 Mets were putting up runs at a terrific pace – the overall record being much more of a reflection of poor SP and lousy RP – and Cowgill’s leash was ¼ the size of Davis’.
We have no idea if Cowgill will hit in the majors if given a legitimate chance. He hasn’t hit in the brief time he’s been given but he has enough of a minor league track record to make it worthwhile to find out. I believe if that both Cowgill and Lagares were given 600 PA in a single season, that Cowgill would put up an OPS significantly higher, in the 75-100 point neighborhood.
The 2013 Mets are not going anywhere and the season is best used to see if guys like Cowgill can be an asset going forward. It’s beyond ridiculous that he was given 52 PA and deemed not worthwhile. But if Cowgill was sent out to pasture after such a brief trial – there’s no reason for Lagares to get any more of a shot. His minor league track record is inferior to Cowgill’s and his offensive production in the majors this year has been significantly worse.
And no hyperbole over short throws to the plate changes that one bit.