Outfield conversations: Eric Young Jr. or Juan Lagares?

Juan LagaresThe Mets are making strides towards opening day. Spring Training has begun, and players are down in Port Saint Lucie working out. In less than a week, Spring Training games begin. With the start of Spring Training comes conjecture. The media follow everyone on the team, asking questions in hopes of creating interesting stories. A couple of days ago Terry Collins told the press that four guys are competing for outfield spots: Juan Lagares, Chris Young, Curtis Granderson, and Eric Young, Jr.

It’s reasonable that both Granderson and Young will be getting starting jobs. The Mets are paying both outfielders too much money for them to be sitting the bench. The real question is the third outfielder’s spot, which comes down to either Young, Jr. or Juan Lagares.

Lagares and Young, Jr. present an interesting dichotomy. Lagares’s value is mainly derived from his glove, as last year he proved to be one of the best defenders in the league. Lagares has good range and a killer arm. Young, Jr. is one of the league’s best base runners as he led the National League in steals last year with 46. The one thing that both of the outfielders have in common is that they’re mediocre with the bat in their hands.

Name AVG OBP SLG OFF DEF BsR fWAR
Lagares .242 .281 .381 -11.5 25.4 0.5 2.9
Young, Jr. .249 .310 .336 -4.6 -6.3 9.9 0.9

You can make an argument, and say that Young, Jr. is a better hitter than Juan Lagares. However, he’s only marginally better — and considering that both are pretty bad — it’s not saying very much. However, Lagares’s defensive performance far outweighs the speed that Young provides. Lagares last year was a +3 WAR player mostly because of his defense. In context, Ryan Zimmerman, Eric Hosmer, and Daniel Murphy were all in the range of +3 WAR players.

Lagares’s defense provides more value than Young, Jr.’s speed. Even if you don’t believe in the fWAR model, it should be enough of an indication — since Lagares was worth a full two wins more than Young, Jr. — that Lagares is better. We can assume that this is all Spring Training conjecture, and that the team is just trying to give journalists a story. Then again, deciding who gets to play everyday isn’t Sandy Alderson’s decision; it’s Collins’ decision. Collins may give into the pressure of putting Young, Jr. at the top of the lineup.

This is an example of where stolen bases are overvalued. Last year, Young, Jr. stole bases successfully at about an 80% clip, which is the threshold at which you would be willing to give a player the green light to steal when he gets on base. However, it’s not that Young, Jr. isn’t stealing successfully enough, it’s that the steals themselves are really not that valuable. In an article from 2007, Nate Silver — formerly of Baseball Prospectus and now the editor and chief of fivethirtyeight.com — described how he valued Jose Reyes’s steals: “I think that stolen bases themselves are overrated. Based on some standard formulas, the value of Reyes’ stolen base attempts this year — net of the times he’s been caught stealing — is probably on the order of 7-8 runs. That isn’t trivial, but it means that all of Reyes’ stolen base attempts this year are roughly equal to 5 home runs.”

It’s important to keep in mind that Reyes had 78 steals in 2007, compared to the 46 steals that Young, Jr. had in 2013. Young, Jr. steals bases pretty well, but those steals really don’t bring that much extra value to the table. At least Reyes had other tools he could rely on, such as his ability to hit well, wield a decent glove, and get on base. Eric Young, Jr. is a one dimensional player; he can run the bases well, but he can’t do anything else well.

Lagares will provide more value than Young, Jr. if he can play every day. They’re both one- dimensional players, it just so happens that the one area in which Lagares excels is much more valuable than the area in which Young, Jr. excels. They will both provide the Mets good value next year. Young, Jr. will be the best fourth outfielder in the game and a really good weapon off the bench. Lagares will be one of the better defensive outfielders in baseball. Lets just hope talk of Young, Jr. getting a starting job in the outfield is conjecture.

30 comments for “Outfield conversations: Eric Young Jr. or Juan Lagares?

  1. Bubbadubbs
    February 23, 2014 at 11:46 am

    I wish people would look at juan’s numbers from the point he started till september when he would historicly have been finished for the season. He got tired after mid sept the end of minor league ball due to conditioning, he was pretty darn good from june to mid sept.

    • February 23, 2014 at 12:37 pm

      I’m not a huge Juan Lagares fan but I think he earned a starting spot with his play last year.

      But you can’t just ignore the stats that don’t support your POV. Lagares had one stretch in the middle of the year where he hit the cover off the ball that was roughly 100 PA. And he had three times more PA where he hit like a replacement player.

      Maybe this year’s numbers are smoothed out and he doesn’t have the incredible hot streak and the extended poor performances. But he’s got no room to regress offensively.

    • Name
      February 23, 2014 at 9:49 pm

      Any easy counterargument would be for me to say to take out his rather lucky hot stretch in July. In that case it’s a pathetic .225/.250/.310 with a .565 OPS aka Omar Q type numbers.

    • mikeb
      February 24, 2014 at 5:57 pm

      I agree. Not only tired, but Byrd was traded and Wright was out hurt. This left little protection in the lineup. People keep saying he’s a bad hitter will be proven wrong this year. I bet he hits .260-.275, outhitting every other outfielder. Does anyone expect Grandy or C Young to hit .260? Plus, while Lagares strikes out too much, those guys strike out much more. Power? Sure, he’s behing on that, but are people going to love Grandy if he hits .230 with 24 hr’s?

  2. Rev.Al
    February 23, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    if he is not going to play every day,then he should play in AAA to refine his skills.And batting eye.

  3. Chris F
    February 23, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    I take Lagares all say every day, and twice on Sundays (including double headers).

    It is time for Collins to go.

    • Jerry Grote
      February 23, 2014 at 2:41 pm

      +1.

      Eric Young is the very definition of a replaceable player, when you view him from the totality of his abilities. And he’s no longer a very young man.

      OTOH, you have possibly the very best fielding CFer and he is young. The baseball gods came down, and made a complete gift of this skill set to you. You had no knowledge it existed and I don’t think even the player knew it existed.

      Teams that deny such gifts from the baseball gods eventually pay for it in terrible ways.

      • Chris F
        February 23, 2014 at 4:48 pm

        Well put JG. I could not agree more. And at 24 or 25 he needs to play AT&T his level every day. Although there is disagreement amongst us on when the Mets become real players, I believe the stakes are lower this year than the next two. I give him 600 ABs and leave every team out there with one simple thought: I dare you to take that next base.

        I hope he is playing CF every day this year.

        Special note about the image used to head the article: if you look closely at the tail of his jersey, you can see the Majestic authentic tag. Virtually all major leaguers are measured for custom uniform tailoring, and that is another tag that sits above the authentic label which contains size and year specs. Last year Lagares wore the exact same jersey as you and I could buy off the Mets.com web page. Knowing the Mets, it wouldn’t surprise me if they made him buy his own uni’s off the web page! I recently won an auction for game used Lagares jersey from last season for much less than you can actually buy a jersey!

        • Chris F
          February 23, 2014 at 5:02 pm

          Autocorrect depresses me…

          AT&T = At this

          Sorry.

      • TexasGusCC
        February 24, 2014 at 1:12 am

        +2
        I think certain positions like CF, SS, and C can benefit more from elite defense and so-so offense, than the other way around. Teams will take liberties for nine innings. How does that compare to four at bats for EY, rather than four at bats for Lagares?

      • mikeb
        February 24, 2014 at 6:10 pm

        Very well said, JG. I agree entirely. Defensively, when was the last time someone was better in NY? The think you don’t hear much which I think he deserves credit for is how shallow he plays. When you play shallow, you get more balls. Sure, you get burned once in awhile, but you get more balls and you get more assists, esp on singles with guys on second trying to score. In back to back games this year, he got assists throwing out guys at the plate. How often does this occur? How often has it occurred in Mets history? To me, this is the mark of a great center fielder.Some of the greats who played shallow include Tris Speaker, Willie Mays, Paul Blair, Andruw Jones, Jim Edmonds. I’m sure there are others, but other than Speaker, I saw all those guys, and they played shallow and took away hits. IMO, we have a guy right there with that group, at least defensively.

  4. Jim OMalley
    February 23, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    This really is a tough issue. Last year, we were looking at the appalling lack of speed on the team and EY, Jr solved this single-handedly. Lagares though was crazily electric. Unlike the Davis-Duda dilemma, however, we can go into the season with four OFs. With his ability to play out there plus his ability to play second, he should get a sizable share of playing time…..

  5. Dan Stack
    February 23, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    Like the aspects both bring to the field and would prefer EY Jr’s speed coming off the bench. Let’s give Lagares at least the chance to duplicate what he did in center last year.

  6. Captain America
    February 23, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    Lagares defensive metrics come mainly from his awesome arm.

    But year over year historically the arm ratings fluctuate wildly.

    Runners challenged the rookie last year and he mowed them down. This year given the opportunity runners will respect lagares and run on him less.

    His defensive metrics should regress.

    If that happens he is not a 3 war player – not even close.

    • NormE
      February 24, 2014 at 8:00 am

      Here’s the problem with Lagares’ defensive metrics, as I understand the issue:
      1. As runners respect his arm they will be more conservative—good for the Mets but bad for Lagares’ defensive metrics.
      2. With Grandy and CYoung surrounding him Lagares will not have to get to as many balls in the gaps—good for the Mets but bad for Lagares’ defensive metrics.

      Thus, Lagares may be as good or even better in CF but his metrics will not reflect that and may even get worse. Am I missing something?

      • Chris F
        February 24, 2014 at 10:08 am

        Players are players and just because Lagares is out there doesnt mean that you dont try. Everyone is too competitive. Maybe after a few years perhaps.

        The OF at Citi is huge. there is a ton of room out there that needs to be covered. lets not pretend every ball hot to the OF can be caught.

      • February 24, 2014 at 10:49 am

        Potentially, that’s true but it’s probably not to the degree you might fear. Here’s a little snippet on how UZR is calculated:

        “As well, outfield arm run values are also computed separately from “regular” UZR. They are based on the speed and location of batted balls to the outfield and how often base runners advance extra bases (advances), don’t advance the extra base (holds), or get thrown out trying to advance (kills). Park factors are used in arm ratings.”

        So, while the “kills” section will go down, the “holds” section will go up. Also, there’s a very good chance that more runners will hold than would have been thrown out.

        http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-fangraphs-uzr-primer/

        • NormE
          February 24, 2014 at 4:58 pm

          Thanks, Brian.
          But, what about the issue of the ground covering ability of the corner outfielders as to how it impacts a CFer’s defensive metrics?

          • February 25, 2014 at 4:30 am

            There’s a rather lengthy passage on this very topic in the link I supplied above. It doesn’t lend itself well to cut and paste and I recommend reading the whole thing.

            Essentially, there are safeguards built in against what MGL calls “ball-hogging,” where the CF catches every fly ball that he possibly could. Now, I recognize that this is not what you’re suggesting that Lagares did, since you’re saying he did it out of necessity rather than vanity. But the same principles apply. The CF gets credit for catching a ball that normally one of the corners would get but it’s not a tremendous amount of extra credit.

            I think it’s also important to keep in mind that these plays are pretty rare. Lagares had 257 putouts in 108 games in CF last year, a little less than 2.5 caught balls per game. Our minds remember the spectacular plays and you can probably think of six or eight that Lagares made last year without too much trouble. But most of the outs are lazy fly balls and a good portion of the spectacular plays are ones where the CF is the only one who could make the play.

            The bottom line for me is that Lagares may very well see some decline in his defensive numbers in 2014 but the reasons you bring up will not result in huge swings of value.

            • Captain America
              February 25, 2014 at 11:35 am

              Lagares will come back down to earth in the defensive valuations and his war will then be negligible

    • Stephen Guilbert
      February 27, 2014 at 11:19 am

      It’s hilarious to me that not only fan comments like this but even respected, academic FanGraphs articles are being written about how, because of a player possessing a good arm, he will somehow be less valuable once people stop running on them.

      If you want to argue that his arm run values will be lower and thus his wins above replacement will be lower, go on ahead. FG already did. To then make the assumption that he will be a less valuable defensive player is poor analysis.

      Does anyone ever look at Yadier Molina and go “Well no one’s running on him…must not be as valuable a catcher anymore”. ?!?!

      No.

      If Lagares gets run on less, that means fewer bases are being taken (sure, some outs are lost, too, but think about how many bases are taken relative to total throws and total throws vs. outfield assists). Fewer bases means fewer runs. Fewer runs means more wins. Just because there isn’t a tool to quantify an outfield arm threat, does not mean his value diminishes. In fact, his WAR will be lower and he’ll be a chronically undervalued player.

      Plus, with so much focus on his defensive regression, I have yet to see one comment, article, or even insinuation that his offensive output could undergo a similar *positive* correction. You’re looking at a guy who was awesome with the glove and going “Well that can’t stick” and ignoring a guy who was terrible with the bat and assuming it will.

      I wish people would either make statistical assumptions both ways or stop making them. It’s like a few of you above (Brian) going “He had a hot month, man must mean he’s a bad hitter” instead of “He showed for a full month that he could hit .353, which shows potential”. You know why neither of those are good arguments? Nothing Lagares has done in the big leagues is statistically significant. So you think the defense is going down? Great. You could say that his offense is going up just as much.

      What I know? He was a very good defensive player in 2013 and a poor offensive player. Neither of these sample sizes were statistically significant and I don’t think any of us are good enough scouts or player profilers to say that either were out of the norm. So we are left with the player we saw in 2013. Nothing more, nothing less. The 2013 Juan Lagares was very valuable and deserves a starting job in 2014 to prove nothing was skewed to make him look better or worse than he really is.

      I’m leaving it at that.

      • Jerry Grote
        February 27, 2014 at 2:11 pm

        I’ll just put it out there:

        Juan Lagares doesn’t have that great an arm. He doesn’t. His throws are all over the place, and the velocity is good but not incredible.

        What he does, is get to the ball faster than most and then compounds that with a release that seems about .25 seconds faster than most. It’s a deadly combination.

        That said, I think he’ll get just about as many opportunities this year as he did last year. Because he’s not accurate (and surely other teams see this), runners and 3rd base coaches will continue to challenge him.

        My bet is that Juan Lagares has twice as many errors in 2014, and that reduces his value as much as anything.

  7. Old Dude
    February 24, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    How about giving the kid a chance to see if he can improve at the plate. It’s not like you’re sitting an All-Star if E.Young doesn’t start every day. If Lagares improves to .260-.270 that would justify him in center. Last year he was at .273 in mid Sept when he went into a real bad slump, (I think 1 for 30 or so)and that made his numbers look worse than they should. If he hits .240 again, then he’s not worth keeping out there.

    • Jerry Grote
      February 24, 2014 at 1:45 pm

      With his glove, if he gets all the way to .270 he’s probably on the cusp of being a corner OFer … sort of our version of Carl Crawford.

      At .270, you have to think he’s .330/.430 … a .760 OPS with that glove goes a long, long way.

    • Captain America
      February 24, 2014 at 6:16 pm

      He had a hot streak and the rest not so hot.

      Glove solid.
      Bat question mark.

  8. Patrick Albanesius
    February 24, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    Excellent point Brian, it seems UZR is a little more comprehensive than I thought. If Spring Training doesn’t solve this dilemma, I would hope one of them wins the job by the beginning of May.

  9. Eric Kench
    February 24, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    TSK! TSK! Lagares made five errors playing centerfield and unlike Eric Young Jr. he was not a Gold Glove Finalist. Left field is the most difficult of the three outfield positions and Eric Young Jr. was voted as the third best LF.

    • Name
      February 24, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      Lol

  10. Metsense
    February 25, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    Let us determine how the manager can maximize each player’s strengths.
    Lagares’ strength is his superior defense. Eric Young”s strength is his superior base running.
    Which does a manager have more control over, base running or defense? In base running, as long as a player is on base, a manager can choose to steal. This speed weapon can be very beneficial late in a game. The manager can choose when he wants to pinch run and when he wants to steal. The manager’s decision can influence the outcome of the game. The manager can control this.
    A great defensive play can occur in any inning and a manager can’t control when a defensive gem will occur that might influence the outcome of the game. An outstanding catch in the second inning or a throw that cuts down a runner in the third inning will reduce the pitch count of the starting pitcher allowing him to remain the game longer. In order to maximize the odds, a manager should have his elite fielder playing the most innings. If both players remain offensively similar throughout the year then I would start Lagares over E Young for this reason.

    • Name
      February 25, 2014 at 9:28 pm

      And when both fail to post 600 OPS by the end of April we can finally cut EY and bring up Mdd*, to platoon with Lagares like we planned at the end of last year.

      *I forgot he stole 4 bases with the Mets last season in just month. It looks like he has 20 SB potential.

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