Juan Lagares, Eric Young and the Birth of An Outfield

At the 2013 Baseball Writers Association of America dinner, when New York Mets GM Sandy Alderson was asked about the state of his outfield, he quipped, “What outfield?”

On April 23, the Mets promoted Juan Lagares from AAA Las Vegas.

On June 18, the Mets acquired Eric Young, Jr. from the Colorado Rockies.

Until June 18, Alderson’s joke seemed prescient. A starting outfield mainly comprised of Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Marlon Byrd — supplemented on occasion by Lagares, Collin Cowgill, Jordany Valdespin, Andrew Brown and Mike Baxter — was bumping along with a combined slash line of .218/.300/.389/.689 with 220 strikeouts to boot. There was little speed, not enough power and Polo Grounds-bad defense. The Citi Field expanse may as well have been Yellowstone, considering the lack of offense and the daunting defense. There was speculation that this group would be historically bad in terms of production; not even the most rabid of orange and blue fanboys could convincingly argue against it. Then, the cavalry arrived from out west.Young Jr -- 300x300

At the time, it seemed like a minor deal. Eric Young is a nice little player, but not one to shake the foundations of an established squad. However, in the opinion of your intrepid columnist, the three most overlooked aspects of a ballplayer are speed, base running and defense. Young arrived toting all three. Immediately installed as the left fielder, he gave the offense and defense a jolt. A couple of days later, Duda landed on the disabled list with a strained intercostal muscle. He has since come off the DL, but speculation is rife that he may not see Queens again until the rosters expand in September. It’s become clear that Duda will not be part of the “core” going forward. This is the smart decision. Duda’s skill set does not translate well to Citi Field and he has what Bill James would call “old player” traits: lots of strikeouts, a fair bit of power, immobile defense. The Mets – and Duda – would be better served if he were sent to the AL as a DH. In any case, Duda’s absence allowed Lagares take hold of the centerfield job and not let go. His offense had been a big question – his batting average had dipped as low as .067, as late as May 7 – but since that date, he’s lifted his average exactly two hundred points.

Which brings us to the revelation of the year, Marlon Byrd. Signed to a pittance of a contract, Byrd was supposed to be a complementary player, an instant offense guy, some pop off the bench. Consistent play and necessity have turned Byrd into the best Mets right fielder since the heyday of Darryl Strawberry. This is not mere hyperbole: even in the great year of 2006, right field was a black hole, manned by the likes of Xavier Nady, Lastings Milledge, Endy Chavez and Shawn Green. Byrd’s unlikely success has, if nothing else, bought the organization an extra year of development for the likes of Brandon Nimmo, Cory Vaughn or the currently disgraced Cesar Puello.

In any case, since the acquisition of Young and the installation of Lagares as the full timer in center, Sandy Alderson has described the “what” outfield as one of the strongest in the majors, and sporting a slash line from June 18 to August 7 of .272/.332/.423/.755. Is it Carl Yastrzemski/Fred Lynn/Jim Rice good? No, but it’s a darn sight better than anybody could have predicted.

What outfield? This outfield.

Follow me on Twitter @CharlieHangley

16 comments for “Juan Lagares, Eric Young and the Birth of An Outfield

  1. Chris F
    August 8, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    Huzzah!

  2. pal88
    August 8, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    On Point! terrific article…

  3. Name
    August 8, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Umm, where’s the great Eric Young defense that everyone has been raving about? He’s a tiny bit better than Duda, but still well below average.

    He’s made a few nice grabs and catches, but overall I wasn’t that impressed with his defense, and all the metrics support me.
    -0.8 dWAR for the Mets.
    And I can’t find the splits for the Mets on fangraphs, but combied Rockies and Mets he has a UZR/150 of -10 this year.

    • Chris F
      August 8, 2013 at 9:53 pm

      He’s a million times better…I mean Duda can’t field within 20 feet of where he stands. EYJ is improving and made some very clean cates while covering tons more ground.

    • August 8, 2013 at 10:32 pm

      Coming into Thursday, EY Jr. had a (-5) DRS and a (-2.8) UZR in the OF for the Mets. But he looks like he should be a good fielder so everyone praises him.

      • Chris F
        August 8, 2013 at 10:42 pm

        ok, you can have Duda in the OF, and I’ll gladly take the second baseman posing as an outfielder.

        • Name
          August 9, 2013 at 9:15 am

          Chris, I did mention that EY was better than Duda and that he’s been an upgrade, but he isn’t worthy of the great praise that people are heaping on him. It may just be that we are so used to Duda stinking it out there that we have low expectations, but he is still well under average defensively out there, enough to bring down his overall WAR down to 0.

          Speed does not equal good fielding.

        • August 9, 2013 at 9:37 am

          I’m shocked that you think I want Duda as an OF.

    • NormE
      August 8, 2013 at 11:12 pm

      The other night EYJr. made a diving catch with the bases loaded and two out. If it had fallen in two runs would have scored and possibly more if
      the ball was not played cleanly. That could have been the difference between the W the Mets got and an L. I truly believe that Duda would never had made the catch. This enforces my belief that of all the metrics being used today fielding stats are the most unreliable. I’m not claiming that EYJr. is a great outfielder, he is not great on balls over his head and his arm is an infielder’s, but he is much better than Duda. When you factor in his speed on the bases, he has played an important role in the Mets looking more capable than they did earlier in the year.

      • Name
        August 9, 2013 at 9:20 am

        He made a good catch that one day, yes, which saved the game for the Mets. But that’s just one catch. I remember when he first came to the Mets he missed many a few balls because he couldn’t time his leaps.
        I already mentioned he is much better than Duda, but in the overall scheme, he is still well below average defensively, but people are praising him like they are praising Lagares.

        His overall contributions… well, i’m not sure how much causation Young coming to the Mets has to that. Not to say he hasn’t helped but, his overall WAR is about 0 with his time with the Mets, and their sucess mainly has to due with the superb pitching that they’ve gotten since he’s come over.

        But i mean when the team is winning people are willing to overlook things while when the team is losing we try to blame everyone on every angle.

  4. mike b
    August 8, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    Good article, but I see Lagares as a legit star. Other than Beltran, he’s the best cf in memory. I see him as a .280+ hitter with 15-20 hr’s and 15-20 sb’s and a great defensive player. Way better than Pagan. A possible all star. He may be a 20-30 hr guy, but in Citi, maybe that’s asking too much.

  5. mike b
    August 8, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    Good article, but I see Lagares as a legit star. Other than Beltran, he’s the best cf in memory. I see him as a .280+ hitter with 15-20 hr’s and 15-20 sb’s and a great defensive player. Way better than Pagan. A possible all star. He may be a 20-30 hr guy, but in Citi, maybe that’s asking too much. He’s got 3 triples in the last month.

  6. Metsense
    August 8, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    NL avg LF 328/429/757; Young as a Met 346/354/700
    NL avg CF 324/397/721; Lagares 301/402/703
    NL avg RF 334/442/776; Byrd 325/496/821
    Total NL OF OPS 2254; NY Mets OF OPS 2224
    Since June 18th the Mets are 25-20. They still have a below average offensive outfield but the improved defense and good pitching has turned in a winning record for about 28% of a season. Good pitching and defense with an average offense should win games.
    In 2014, in order to improve, the Mets will need two corner outfielders with 2013 Byrd like numbers. If Lagares can maintain near avg production his plus defense makes him a positive in CF. Young’s speed is a nice weapon and maybe moving him into 2B (if they get 2 corners) would free up both Murphy and Flores for trade.
    Although the 2013 outfield is a pleasant surprise there will be a need to upgrade in the winter if the Mets want to go to the next level.

    • TexasGusCC
      August 9, 2013 at 1:36 am

      Metsense,

      How about keeping Flores at first, Young at second, possibly resign Byrd for two years, and getting an outfielder. Your lineup could be: Young, Lagares, Wright, Outfielder (Beltran), Byrd, Flores, d’Arnaud, SS, Pitcher. That’s not bad.

      • August 9, 2013 at 9:00 am

        I would not sign Byrd to an extension at all. That’s a classic Omar-esque overreaction to a flukey good year — think Jose Valentin after 2006. No, Metsense has it right: 2 corners. Shin Soo Choo, anyone?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *