Juan Lagares could be the best defensive CF since Willie Mays

Juan LagaresThat’s a pretty blasphemous headline to some people. It’s hard enough to compare the offensive and pitching stats from one era to another, so imagine how hard it is to do with defense. We don’t have the ability to really watch an extremely large portion of Willie Mays career because baseball wasn’t televised as it is now. We don’t have the luxury of advanced defensive statistics, with most of them having only been tracked for the last 50 or so years. Most of the offensive stats can be made up other stats already recorded on offense. We know that gold glove voting isn’t the most reliable metric to measure defense, as Derek Jeter has a few, and he is not a very good defensive shortstop. The best I can do is state my case, so here goes.


According to FanGraphs, Lagares is the only OF to ever have consecutive seasons of 25 or more Defensive Runs Saved. Defensive Runs Saved is a stat that only goes back about 10 years. There’s a very full and extremely thorough explanation available on the FanGraphs page, but the extremely simplified answer is it “indicates how many runs a player saved or hurt his team in the field compared to the average player at his position.” The only other player that even has 2 consecutive seasons of 25 plus is Adam Everett, and he plays SS (The other players that have more than 2 are Adrian Beltre and Jack Wilson). There are only 32 individual seasons of 25 or more DRS, and not only has Lagares done it in his rookie season and this season, but I even had to lower the amount of innings on the Fangraphs search to 700 IP before Lagares would even show up. He doesn’t have enough plate appearances in either season to even qualify for a batting title, but he’s among the best defenders in all of baseball. That’s insane. Brett Gardner had 26 DRS in 906 innings played in 2010. Lagares had 26 n 819.2 innings played last season (that’s just about 10 games less). Even better, Lagares has 28 this season in just 738 innings played. That’s more than Gardner’s 26 in 168 less innings played (18 less games). If you create a stat based on how many innings it took for a player to achieve just 1 Defensive Run Saved, Lagares has both the 1st and 3rd best seasons (Gerardo Parra in 2013 is #2). Lagares has even done it more than one way. In 2013 he was able to get a bunch of extra outs with his quick and accurate throws. Now that teams know about his arm, they don’t run on him as much (and if they do they are asking for trouble), but this year his range is responsible for most of his value.


Unfortunately for Jack Wilson and Adam Everett, they played just before the era of heavy defensive metrics. It’s extremely possible that Everett would have had another chance to have even more seasons of 25+ DRS, but he couldn’t hit to save his job. I think in 2014, he would absolutely still be playing.


Because this is a much more recent statistic, I can’t use it to do the early years of Andruw Jones’s career. In 2003 Jones had a DRS of 14. He never had a season higher than 19. He was also famous for playing every inning of almost every game, he very rarely missed time until later in his career. Jones was only 26 in that 2003 season, so that is the meat of his prime. Lagares isn’t even 26 yet. Jones had 69 DRS from 2003-2007 over 6705.2 innings played. Lagares is already at 54 in just 1642 innings played. Thats almost 5,000 less innings played. Many said  Jones was the best defensive CF since Willie Mays. So far, Lagares is trending even higher than Jones.

23 comments for “Juan Lagares could be the best defensive CF since Willie Mays

  1. Metsense
    August 23, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    I was fortunate to see Mays play live (1962 and later) and on television so when I rack my brain to find a comparison for Lagares that is who I keep coming up with. I too think of it as blasphememous but Lagares is incredible. After seeing him live, sprint across the expanse of Citi Field center field, and turn a sure double into an unremarkable routine catch has convinced me to blaspheme.

  2. Chris F
    August 23, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    I agree. What we see simply is astounding. He reads angles so good, he goes back as good as anyone, except maybe Jim Edmonds, he makes people decide to have to turn the corner at third every time. And while it’s is easy poke fun at his hitting inconsistency, he is saving so many runs that whether we score more or they score less means nothing, expect ally in the run differential world if you like that.

  3. Wilponzi
    August 23, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    There were many other great defensive center fielders between Willie and Juan. New York is not the center of the universe, baseball and sports. Comments and articles like this are nonsensical is the reason why New Yorkers and there sports teams are disliked.

    • za
      August 23, 2014 at 8:25 pm

      Do you have any evidence to the contrary? I have been watching baseball for over 20 years and Lagares is on a level I have never, ever seen before. He’s that good.

    • Marc melton
      August 23, 2014 at 8:46 pm

      I mentioned Andruw Jones, who played in Atlanta and also Mays played more years in san Francisco than in New York.

  4. August 23, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Andruw Jones came up at 19 and was a full-time player at age 20. There’s strong evidence that a player’s defensive peak happens before their offensive peak. It’s my strong belief that UZR did not capture the prime of Jones’ career.

    I would take Jones going back on balls and I would take Jones moving laterally. But Lagares is the best I’ve ever seen at charging balls and throwing on the run. I think anyone who’s watched the game for awhile would not have any trouble listing guys who covered a lot of ground in center or who made a bunch of HR-robbing grabs.

    But I’d love to see a video compilation of someone better than Lagares playing the ball hit in front of him on the ground.

    • waltcoogan
      September 19, 2014 at 9:40 pm


      For as good as Andruw was going back on balls, I think that he might have been even better on shallow balls. Since he excelled at going back on balls, he played shallow and rubbed out all kinds of would-be bloop singles and would-be flare singles. Maybe Lagares does not play quite as shallow and thus has to charge harder, which creates the appearance of him being better in that area; I don’t know.

      Not only do players’ defensive peaks tend to end (and emerge) sooner than their offensive peaks, but Andruw exacerbated this tendency by eventually playing at too large of a weight for a center fielder. He did not tend to his diet and conditioning in the off-season and, starting with the 2001 season, his body really thickened. His jumps, reads, and natural athletic ability were so good that he could carry the extra weight and remain an elite center fielder, but the extra weight probably shortened his defensive peak or prime.

  5. norme
    August 23, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    I grew up in NYC at the tail end of Joe D’s career. Mays, Snider and Mantle were an everyday presence in my living room during the season. I’ve seen such outstanding CF’ers as Maddox, Blair, Jones and others.
    Comparing players of different eras without today’s advanced stats is impossible.
    Edmonds and Puckett were exciting but, in my view, weren’t as good as the others I have mentioned. But, that’s my viewpoint.
    To fans of an earlier era, especially in NYC, DiMag was unequaled. Yet, some older Bosox fans may tell you that his brother Dom was better. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    Mays was a joy to behold in CF. So is Lagares. Let’s just enjoy him while we

    • Chris F
      August 23, 2014 at 4:55 pm

      “Mays was a joy to behold in CF. So is Lagares. Let’s just enjoy him while we can.”

      Of anything said so far, I like this the best.

  6. blaiseda
    August 24, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Do we have to decide who’s best? Cant we just marvel at how good Lagares is? at how good those others were…and say they are all in the same company.

  7. Patrick Albanesius
    August 25, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    I don’t think the article was attempting a who’s better than who, but rather making general statistical comparisons to highlight what a remarkable player Lagares is turning into. No, we’ll never know if Lagares really compares to Mays, Jones or Edmonds defensively, but he’s got the skills to be considered elite at a fairly young age, and in today’s game. That’s amazin’!

  8. Pete
    August 26, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    All Lagares does is spit sunflower seeds (everywhere) Mays was a great ball player and a gentleman…..

  9. Chris F
    August 26, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Marc and Brian

    You should look at this link to an article “published” today, then perhaps contact the kind folks at MMO.



    • August 26, 2014 at 3:38 pm

      Wow – that’s blatant plagiarism!

      I think we should state for the record that this was written by an MMO fan and not one of the regular writers at the site. I’ve contacted MMO and alerted them to the theft. Thank you very much for pointing this out.

      • Chris F
        August 26, 2014 at 3:39 pm

        yep. Just part of my regular duties at Art Vandalay’s importing, exporting and architecture.

        • Marc melton
          August 26, 2014 at 3:57 pm

          Wow, I dont know whether to be honored that someone thought highly enough of my stuff to blatantly steal it, or annoyed that they stole it.

          • Chris F
            August 26, 2014 at 4:19 pm

            either way, it aint cool, but you should be upset. I would be. Hopefully MMO will address the matter appropriately.

            • Marc Melton
              August 26, 2014 at 4:24 pm

              Yeah, i did all that research! Not this guy.

              • August 26, 2014 at 4:33 pm

                Hi Marc,

                I apologize for what happened here. I’m very upset that a fellow Met fan would do something like this to a fellow fan.

                Just so you know, this was his first ever Fan Shot submission.

                I have his contact info if you want it.

                Thanks to you and Brian for handling this like professionals.


      • August 26, 2014 at 4:24 pm

        Hi Brian,

        Was just alerted to this and received your email.

        I’m about to take down the post and let the fan who wrote it know that he will no longer be allowed to submit anything as a fan shot.

        My apologies.

        Would you like the person’s contact info?


  10. JMF
    August 26, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    Want to apologize for having used your research as part of a fanshot post on MMO. I hope you will accept my apologies I assure you it won’t happen again.

    Best Regards

  11. waltcoogan
    September 19, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    As a Braves’ watcher, Andruw Jones was still an elite defensive center fielder in 2003, but he was unquestionably past his defensive peak by that time. He had put on a lot of pounds by then and did not quite possess the range that he had shown from 1997-2002. Circa the late nineties, and maybe in the early 2000s (pre-2003), Andruw was probably the best defensive player in the game.

    … thing is, the young (twenty-five and under) Andruw Jones was so good defensively that he could drop a couple of notches later in his twenties and still constitute arguably the best defensive center fielder in the game.

  12. tony rip
    November 3, 2014 at 7:44 am

    i am a willie mays fanatic–i am 66 years old and have been following Willie all my life—he is my hero–enough said….the Mets have the next Willie Mays defensively only–no one comes close all around

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