Will the real Juan Lagares please stand up

Juan LagaresJuan Lagares had a great game on Monday, as he came up with two hits and made two outstanding defensive plays in the Mets’ 6-1 win over the Twins. The game was a good illustration of the pros and cons for Lagares. While he had two hits, neither left the infield and one he would have been thrown out at first if the ball did not get literally stuck in the webbing of the infielder’s glove, making a throw impossible.

Lagares had two great catches but the announcers made it seem like he had four.

We all want Lagares to be a star and to hold down center field for the next decade or more. But on our way to anointing him to the All-Star team, let’s take a second to try and objectively look at his performance. It’s been said that you’re never as good as you look in your hot streaks and never as bad as you look in your slumps. Lagares has given us evidence of both hot and cold here in his rookie season.

In his first 34 games, Lagares put up a .507 OPS – that was the cold
In his next 31 games, Lagares put up a .905 OPS (.438 BABIP) – that was the hot

So, what is the real performance? Is it right in the middle of those two streaks, with a .706 OPS? Perhaps, but be aware that those two performances came with a .358 BABIP. For the sake of completeness, it should be noted Lagares had more PA in the hot streak, so those two groups above produced a .719 OPS.

Not included in either stretch mentioned above is what he’s done in his last 19 games, where he’s produced a .219/.238/.359 line for a .596 OPS. But before we claim that as his true talent level, he’s got a .259 BABIP in this stretch.

Overall, Lagares has a .683 OPS for the season, about 35 points beneath what the average NL center fielder has hit this season. And that’s with a .328 BABIP, which is elevated from what we consider normal. It may very well be that Lagares is the type of hitter who will consistently post BABIPs in this range. But at this point in time, it seems a mistake to make that the default assumption.

Regardless, it seems safe to say that Lagares will not hit as well as the average CF. However, his defense is well above average. That first catch, where he ran around 30 feet, jumped to catch the ball and then crashed into the fence was the stuff from which legends are made. Lagares also made another fine catch in the game.

The issue is when he gets praised to the heavens for any catch where he moves more than five steps. By all means, cherish the great plays. That play detailed above deserves all the praise it gets. But it cheapens the truly outstanding plays when the announcers and fans lose their marbles over any ball that’s caught in which the CF has to move. Has it really been that long since Carlos Beltran played center for the Mets?

Keith Hernandez made a great point when he speculated that Lagares coming up as a SS helps explain why he is so good at charging the ball in the outfield. He’s also been excellent going back on the ball and he’s displayed a very strong, often accurate, throwing arm. But can we agree that a throw on the fly that’s 10 feet up the third base line is not one to praise, much less go bananas over?

Coming into the season, it seemed very likely that the Mets needed to add three starting-caliber outfielders. Marlon Byrd has been better than anyone could have hoped for and has played so well that it’s certainly at least an option to consider bringing him back as a starter next year.

Lagares, too, has played better than we could have expected. What he’s done over his first 84 games in the majors has been to perform (offensive, defensive, baserunning) at a better-than-average level in center field. The question now is if he can do that over 150 games.

He’s shown the ability to hit for average in the minors so it’s not unrealistic to expect he’ll do the same in the majors. But can he do anything else? Can he hit for power? Can he add walks to his game? Can he develop into a basestealer? These questions, along with an objective look at whether he actually will hit for average in the majors, all need to be discussed when determining his offensive value going forward.

It’s often said that speed and defense never go into a slump. But before assigning Lagares a Gold Glove Award for the next 10 years, keep in mind that defensive play has peaks and valleys, too. Here are the top five defensive center fielders in the majors by UZR/150 in 2012 and how they are doing this year:

Michael Bourn, 23.4 – 7.6 this year
Drew Stubbs, 9.2 – (-0.5) this year
Denard Span, 8.7 – 6.8 this year
Carlos Gomez, 6.9 – 23.8 this year
Jon Jay, 4.7 – (-12.5) this year

Three of the top five players have declined significantly. Not listed above but a potentially interesting comp for Lagares is Ben Revere. In 2012, Revere posted a .675 OPS yet had a 3.0 fWAR thanks to outstanding defense and baserunning. This year he has a .700 OPS but with significantly worse defense and basrunning numbers, he’ll be lucky to finish the year with a 1.5 fWAR, as he currently sits with a 0.9 mark in the category.

Revere is by no means a perfect comp for Lagares and even if he were, that would be a sample size of one, which is hardly significant. Instead, it’s just a warning that one cannot assume a young player will continue to perform as good or better in defense and baserunning from a season ago.

We have 39 games left in the season to continue our evaluation of Lagares and how he fits on the club going forward. Those 39 games will not be the final answer but it will be interesting to see how he hits the remainder of the season. Unless he falls flat on his face, it’s likely the Mets will pencil him in as the starting CF for 2014.

A league average player in CF at a pre-arb salary is a very desirable thing to have. On the list of things to worry about for 2014, center field seems like a very low priority. Yet it’s important to realize that Lagares’ defense is what makes him a league average player. Offensively, he is below average and only an unsustainable 105-PA streak is making his offensive numbers look this good.

Right now that 105-PA streak is roughly one-third (38.2%) of his total for the year. It will be curious to see what his hitting numbers look like when that streak represents one-quarter of his season, instead.

A reader asked me earlier why I was so down on Lagares, which is why all the positive things in this article have been highlighted. There’s a lot to like about Lagares and just because one points out that he’s not the next superstar doesn’t mean that he’s in any way a disappointment. As with any other player, the goal is to enjoy what he provides while putting it in its proper context.

Right now, nobody knows what Lagares will turn into in 2014 and beyond. His likely range of outcomes seems extremely broad. The enthusiasm that most have for him, in my opinion, needs to be dialed back. That doesn’t mean that All-Star type numbers are off the table for Lagares. Rather it’s just that he’s not a lock to be the team’s center fielder two years from now, much less five years away.

33 comments for “Will the real Juan Lagares please stand up

  1. August 20, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    But it’s defense that wins games. Can’t teach the instincts he has showed. Legares is where Carlos Gomez was several years ago.

  2. since68
    August 20, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    also note that Collins has jerked him around the line up. One day he’s a lead off hitter, another he battin sixth. This has worked against his consistency. if he continues to play defense at this level, and hits for average, with between 10-20 hr, I’ll take it in a heartbeat

  3. Metsense
    August 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    I would be pleasantly surprised if Lagares ever was an all star. I hope he hits as well as an average NL CF during his career. I hope the Mets are good enough offensively that he just has to bat 7th or 8th in the lineup. There is room for improvement in baserunning and pitch recognition. He is young and raw enough (only 78 AAA ABs) to improve.
    I would pay the price of admission to see him play CF. He saves runs on defense. His defensive play has directly effected the pitching staff because hits are turned into outs. If a team’s strength is pitching then a team needs at least average defense and Lagares gives the Mets above average defense. I agree with all your points Brian but I’m just a little bit more optimistic about Lagares then you are.

  4. Name
    August 20, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Over the last 25 games:
    .257/.286/.406 with a .692 OPS. (.308 BABIP)
    That OBP is hard to look at, but if he can do that while playing great defense, you can pencil him and his min salary into the lineup for the next 3 years and i’d have no problem.

    But when he hits arbitration we’ll have to revisit this discussion again.

    Brian, regarding UZR/defensive metrics, do you know how much assists affects the stats? Because as word leaks out not to run against Lagares, i’m pretty sure that players will run less on him which means the number of assists will go down as well.

    • August 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm

      He also has a .149 ISO in that stretch – are you convinced that’s what his power’s going to be like?

      From 4/23-6/21 he had a .304 BABIP with a .234/.250/.351 line for a .601 OPS and a .117 ISO. I’m not saying this is the type of hitter he is — I’m just saying we don’t know.

      Edit: There is an “arm” component to both DRS and UZR. In the latter, Lagares is + 9.8 in ARM, +1.3 in range and (-0.2) in errors for his current 10.9 UZR

  5. Chris F
    August 20, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    With a DRS of 20, he only sits behind Carlos Gomez, with many less games played. He clearly had mad skills on defense. Also, I believe Bourn, Stubbs, and Span all changed teams and now play in new stadiums etc. It would be reasonable for a person to take time learning new dimensions and teammates. Im still pretty high on Lagares, and ready to let his glove give him the sticking time to see of the bat becomes decent. His defense is certainly helping to offset offense. And regardless of the kind of hit, I’ll take two infield hits because it continues to show speed and hustle, which this team has lacked. Overall, I keep him and look to bolster the OF with corner power.

    • August 20, 2013 at 3:28 pm

      Good point about the players switching teams.

  6. JimO
    August 20, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    Wait…if he came up as a Shortstop; we should try him there. Then you could have den Dekker in CF and put the money into a prize corner OF (or two depending on Byrd’s status).

  7. August 20, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    Brian,your mention of the praise for Lagares reminds me.I used to always make fun of other teams broadcasters as homers(including,of course,the Yankees),Met broadcasters were always more objective.This season they are sounding more like homers than I can remember.Not just with Lagares but with TC ,with Ike Davis etc.

    • NormE
      August 20, 2013 at 5:52 pm

      Very good point, Steven. It was grating on me so much that, when they were in LA last, I switched from Gary and Keith to Vin Scully.

    • August 20, 2013 at 6:16 pm

      Steevy, I’m glad you said this. I love GKR but it seems to me that there have been several occasions this year where they said some stuff that just didn’t make sense. I’m wondering if they are getting pressure from above to praise certain individuals.

  8. Jerry Grote
    August 21, 2013 at 6:30 am

    Worthwhile to note: his game doesn’t have a “split” hole in it, and not even a little bit of one. I think that plays an important role in a players usefulness.

    At the end of the day, defense and speed don’t take a day off. I think the speed component of his game will continue to make the mark. I’m encouraged by the evolution of this game to this point … he is running more, bunting successfully more.

    For him to take the next step forward, he needs to keep putting the ball into play. I still believe that is the potential for this guy. The problem the Mets have, is that they have wayyyy too many role/fringe players of the likes of Lagares, Flores, EYJ.

    Meanwhile, don’t look now but …Ike Davis, second half: .300/.477/.500.

    • August 21, 2013 at 8:54 am

      But if you’re below average offensively, not having a split means that you wouldn’t make a potential platoon partner. There’s nowhere to go if you fall off just a little. Teams will carry a middle infield glove that puts up a .600 OPS but they won’t give meaningful playing time to an OF who does the same thing.

      Since 2000, there have been three guys who have carved out extensive careers in the majors as outfielders primarily with their glove: Doug Glanville, Tony Gwynn Jr.and Willy Taveras. Glanville (who provided greater offense pre-2000) and Taveras had career OPS marks in this span of .647 and Gwynn is at .630 — so we have a de facto minimum that Lagares will need to reach and maintain.

      As for Ike, with the HR last night he now has 3 HR in 111 PA since the break, a time span where he has a .390 BABIP. We know the BABIP will fall dramatically – his lifetime major league mark is about 100 points lower – so he better start hitting some homers on a regular basis. But boy, he crushed that one last night.

      • Chris F
        August 21, 2013 at 10:12 am

        I think the real Lagares is still a project in the making. He basically went from AA to the show and here we are after a sum total of 85 pro games making deep analyses of his game. The fact is we dont know what it is going to be just yet. His position in the line up is everywhere. The expectations change constantly. He now has a defensive runs saved score of 21, with Carlos Gomez at 27, with about 30 more games played. He has been a killer with assists, and awesome with the glove. Sure GKR are getting a bit frothy over it, but Id rather we have them talking GG for Lagares than here’s Duda with another ball hit over his head while playing 10 from from the track. Lagares’ value as successful is more than OPS in my eyes. I cant see that his defense has a reason to substantively decline. He has no L/R splits at the plate. When he has a consistent role to play in the line up, his chances to succeed should improve, further, once he plays more than half a season, we may get better insights on what his potential may be.

        I am troubled by Ike. My fear he is doing just enough to survive looks to be coming true. Its quite a feat to go to the top of the Porch, but like you say Brian, 3HR since coming back aint “crushing” the ball. No matter how far that one went, its still only 1 run!

        • August 21, 2013 at 10:41 am

          I’m not sure why you’re okay with saying that we don’t know what he’ll be offensively but you’re convinced this is what he is defensively. UZR and DRS have substantial differences in what they see from Lagares. UZR thinks he’s really good and DRS thinks he’s other-worldly. The vast majority of his value from UZR comes from his throwing arm. What if word gets out and people stop running on him? What happens to his defensive numbers then?

          He’s a work in progress and there’s plenty of room for growth. But it’s possible that the below-average offensive numbers that he’s currently posting are the top end of his offensive capabilities.

          If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone throw out Carlos Gomez’ name as a comp, I could buy everyone at the bar a drink. That’s on the table as a potential outcome. But also on the table is Jeff Francoeur – a guy who looked good in a uniform but only had value when he had abnormally high BABIPs.

          Also on the table is Kirk Nieuwenhuis, a guy who did great when he hit the ball but who got eaten up by strikeouts.

          Or maybe he’s Jeremy Hermida, who went from a .700 OPS as a rookie to an .870 OPS the following year to a guy playing exclusively at Triple-A at age 29.

          You could say this range of outcomes is possible for any young player. But I would say they are more in play for Lagares than with a typical youngster. I would be *thrilled* if he turned into Gomez and I’m not dismissing that possibility. But I think the chances of that happening are pretty slim.

          • Jerry Grote
            August 21, 2013 at 11:12 am

            What is “average” offensive performance for a rookie CF? I did a quickie on Fangraphs, limiting to rookies who were younger (25 and less) and got at least 200 ABs


            Turns out, based on ISO and on WAR, Lagares is in the top third of the 32 CFers from 2008 and 2013. He is also the worst at taking a BB – but thankfully enough, the next guys were named Carlos (Gomez, Gonzalez). His wRC+ was in the bottom third – but of course that doesn’t take into account his fielding, does it? As regards his BABIP …
            Jackson, Austin
            Maybin Cam
            Trout, Mike
            Nieuwenhuis, K uh … Kirk
            Grossman, Rob
            Jay, Jon
            Parra, Gerardo
            Fowler, Dex
            Gomez, Carlos
            Sweeney, Ryan
            Lagares, Juan
            McCutchen, Andrew

            When you sort the same group based on their fielding contributions, Lagares is in between Trout, Cargo, Revere and Rasmus. In fact, the similarity to Carlos Gonzalez is pretty weird.

            It’s a good group of players. Brian’s optimism in the article above is warranted. I don’t think Lagares is Cargo, obviously. But I don’t think its fair to call him average against his true peers, either.

            • August 21, 2013 at 11:36 am

              I don’t think a 20-year-old Mike Trout is a true peer to a 24-year-old Juan Lagares.

              Rookie CF, at least 75% of the time in center, minimum 200 PA, age 23-25, 2000-2013 yields 23 names: Pence, Long, Byrd, Fowler, Young, DeJesus, Jackson, Gardner, Dukes, Sanchez, Pollock, Lagares, Terrero, Reed, Taveras, Gathright, Anderson, Brantley, Revere, Carrera, Abercrombie, Hicks and Bourn.

              Lagares is 12th in OPS (they are listed above in OPS order), 8th in ISO and 19th in PA. It’ll be interesting to see where he falls on this list at the end of the year.

              • Chris F
                August 21, 2013 at 12:40 pm

                Again, I would like to be careful about rank order in terms of assessing position peers. Although he ranks 12th, his WAR is sits at the average (Lagares = 1.6, mean = 1.65) for a data set with an n = 32. The data are statistically skewed however. Lagares does sit above the median, which is 1.3. Overall, his WAR is spot on league average at this point.

                • Jerry Grote
                  August 21, 2013 at 1:11 pm

                  umm … two things here … first, i was only relating the idea that his WAR (1.6) was around 12th of 32 players.

                  and secondly, I’m not even sure you can do a mean on a number like WAR, can you? Doesn’t that number have to normalized to per 650 PA?

                  At any rate, the way I look at his numbers to this point, there’s one thing I wouldn’t call him – and that’s below average. With apologies to Brian.

                  Of course, the games about to begin and Lagares is going to help me put my foot in my mouth. :(

                • Chris F
                  August 21, 2013 at 1:27 pm

                  I did the mean and median on the WAR population. Im sure there is a standard deviation on each players WAR score that is based on their PAs or G. I treated each equally as having met some minimum qualification to be ranked in the link you posted. Surely Lagares’ WAR metric has a bigger uncertainty (+/-) component than someone who has played 110 games. (To be honest, the calculation for WAR is pretty sloppy so it is very hard to tell what represents a significant change). Trout at 10 is clearly hugely above the mean of 1.6, but how much better a 2 is (or really if at all) I cant say. Like with the wRC+ calculation, Lagares presently sits within league average. It strikes me that these broad minded metrics clearly indicate that Lagares is not below average (as you point out), but in fact comfortably performing as an MLB CF.

          • Chris F
            August 21, 2013 at 11:59 am

            Lets be honest here. Carlos Gomez is having quite an anomalous season his DRZ is nearly double the highest he ever had and about 5x what he ordinarily puts out. Hes a career .250 BA, .706 OPS guy, not the .290/.860 man of this season. Comparing Lagares to Gomez this year is unreasonable generally. Why will people continue to run on Lagares? Because the thrill of competition is innate. Why would anyone pitch to Miggy? Or pitch to/run on Puig? Because thats what people do to win. Like I said, the story is too short on Lagares right now. Im not sure who he will comp to at this point. Im happy to let him tell us.

            • Chris F
              August 21, 2013 at 12:54 pm

              DRS for Gomez not DRZ

      • Jerry Grote
        August 21, 2013 at 10:39 am

        I don’t have the time to check all three, but we’ll start out with Gwynn who was a RF when he came up. And that when he was 24, he was light years behind Lagares. Although you know it, it bears reminding that CF doesn’t carry the burden of a corner OF. Even that said, already Juan is 50 OPS points ahead of the other guys and his growth pattern hasn’t even begun.

        Not sure how being able to hit both LH/RH pitching is some sort of burden. I don’t want to platoon a great defensive CFer. In fact I want there to be no additional reason to take him out of a game.

        We’ll see. He simply can’t keep striking out 24% of the time. To paraphrase Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men … “his chances of getting on base go up exponentially” if he hits the ball. But he’s using his speed (SB/bunts) and that’s a net good.

        • August 21, 2013 at 11:01 am

          I came up with those three names when I checked for OF who played between 2000 and 2013 with a minimum of 1,500 PA and an OPS of less than .650

          I just ran another query, same time frame, same PA but with a requirement of 75% of games in CF and upped the OPS to less than .680 and came back with just Glanville and Taveras.

          Upping the OPS maximum to .700 gets eight results – adding Corey Patterson, Drew Stubbs, Cameron Maybin, Luis Matos, Chris Singleton and Michael Bourn. Without checking the numbers, all of those guys had good defensive reputations.

          It seems if your OPS dips below .680 — managers are extremely hesitant to play you. We see they only play the good gloves for guys below .700 but that’s not a concern right now with Lagares.

          The two CF who did log significant playing time with low OPS numbers both had other things working in their favor. Glanville was a better hitter earlier in his career and Taveras was a noted SB threat.

          Also, it’s possible that Glanville being a really smart guy – an Ivy Leaguer – may have helped him stay in the majors.

          Edit: In this time frame, there are 35 players who played CF at least 75% of the time.

  9. August 21, 2013 at 10:20 am

    At least if Ike walks he gets to see more pitches. My question is why didn’t he do this at the beginning of the season? At this rate he’ll wind up with almost 80-90 walks! Where was this plate discipline in the beginning of the season? Home run hitters just don’t lose it like Ike did.

  10. August 21, 2013 at 10:32 am

    I don’t look forward to watching Ike “figure it out” around late July every year for years to come.As to not having splits,that isn’t bnecessarily a good thing.You would hope a righty would hit 20-30 points better against lefties ,no need to platoon him as long as the drop off isn’t huge.

  11. August 21, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Gomez wasn’t even a decent player until last year.At age 26.

  12. Sean Flattery
    August 21, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    He’s the best I’ve seen in years, a natural. I think some of the guys you mentioned(Bourn, Gomez)are terrific outfielders but rely on their speed to make up for their deficiencies.

  13. August 21, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    For what it’s worth, and if I remember correctly, the story behind Lagares has been that he’s hit for pretty high BABIP (which really drove his offensive performance) since around 2011ish, when he came back onto the prospect radar. Could be that he is one of those players that does just hit for highish BABIP, which could mean when it does drop during cold streaks his offense completely tanks, as you’ve point out.

  14. jay
    August 25, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    For all the talk about his defense, we ignore his real ‘potential’ for offense. Given the drought of offensive ability from Center Fielders these past several years, Juan has the potential to be a top 10-15 producer offensively as a piggy back to his defensive output. He’s not going to blow anyone away with his presence at the plate, but he chops away and gets results. He doesn’t have the best approach but his walk numbers have been rising post all-star break. In fact, Juan’s post all-star break numbers have been quite impressive on the offensive side (just wish he was a little more clutch!!!). Here are some blind splits from 4 CF starters post all-star break (NL and AL included)…. Who would you rather have (Defense not included, although we all know we’re taking Juan’s CF defense over just about anyone in the league).


    Player A: 150 26 38 8 2 6 11 .253 .313 .453

    Player B: 144 19 38 7 1 4 14 .264 .310 .410

    Player C: 133 14 37 7 3 3 14 .278 .326 .444

    Player D: 116 19 29 6 0 3 9 .250 .374 .379

    Taking names away from stats reveals a lot. It takes away our preconceived notions we already have about that player and about what that player “should” produce based on his past. Intangibles play a huge role as well and they can’t be quantified by the stats above, but based on statistics there is not as WIDE a gap as we estimated between Lagares and other stars at the position. Now you make the choice.

    Player A= Austin Jackson

    Player B= Jacoby Ellsbury

    Player C= Juan Lagares

    Player D= Shin-soo Choo

    • August 25, 2013 at 12:23 pm

      Results are great.
      Results matter.

      But when you are using past results to predict future performance, you simply cannot ignore BABIP. Since the All-Star break, here are the BABIP numbers for your four players:

      Jackson – .296
      Ellsbury – .315
      Lagares – .340
      Choo – .313

      If we do the last 28 days, here are the OPS and BABIP numbers for the same four players:

      Choo – .731, .309
      Lagares – .650, .280
      Ellsbury – .708, .325
      Jackson – .816, .308

      No one doubts that Lagares will put up solid numbers if his BABIP is .340 — the question is how likely is it that he will post a number that high. The follow-up question is what kind of offense he’ll provide if he puts up a normal BABIP.

      • Metsense
        August 25, 2013 at 12:38 pm

        Lagares will also add value to himself if he learns to run the bases and also become a base stealer. He has the gift of speed, now he just needs to put in the time , study and effort to utilize this gift.

  15. Chris F
    September 6, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    I saw this in Fangraphs today anf though it was too much not to pass on. Its an excellent story on Lagares playing CF.

    I love the title: Assassin of Runners!


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