That’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.