Juan Lagares is a terrific defensive player. Unfortunately, he’s not much of a threat with the bat in his hands. He doesn’t walk and he doesn’t hit for power, making him totally dependent on the singles falling in to be a productive player. In his best offensive year to date, Lagares needed a .341 BABIP to produce a .703 OPS. Last year old pal Daniel Murphy had a .341 OBP and he produced a .927 OPS.
It’s long been my position that Lagares has to sell out in one of two directions. He either needs to perfect his bunting technique – does anyone try to bunt for a hit and foul it off more than Lagares? – and learn to take walks or he needs to give up bunting completely, not worry about his average and go for doubles and homers. My preference is for the latter.
It seemed like Lagares was making strides in this direction in 2016. He upped his FB% to 35.3 percent, a career-best and it was 37.5 percent from June 1 to the end of the year. It wasn’t just lazy fly balls either, as he also was hitting the ball with more authority in the second half of the year. But he did not follow up on that approach in 2017, as his FB% fell to a career-worst 28.8 percent and he produced just a .115 ISO, down 26 points from the year before.
So, it was with great satisfaction that I read this tidbit in the bottom of Mike Puma’s column today:
In an attempt to revitalize his swing, Juan Lagares has been working out in Los Angeles with Craig Wallenbrock, the instructor who helped J.D. Martinez change his mechanics.
As you probably know, Martinez is the most sought-after hitter in free agency this year and agent Scott Boras has even hinted at a $200 million deal for him. It wasn’t always like this for Martinez, who was a generic, forgettable hitter until he hooked up with Wallenbrock and revamped his swing. In his first three years in the majors, Martinez had a .251/.300/.387 line in 975 PA. In the last four years, he has a .936 OPS with a .274 ISO over his last 2,143 PA.
So, what did Wallenbrock do with Martinez?
They repositioned Martinez’ hands and made an emphasis on hitting the ball in the air. Additionally, he was drilled to hit fastballs the other way while looking to turn on and pull breaking balls. In a terrific article about Martinez’ work with Wallenbrock, Nick Piecoro of azcentral sports quoted this from Martinez about Wallenbrock and his coaching partner Robert Van Scoyoc:
“I kind of feel like I owe them and they deserve (the credit),” Martinez said. “They observe the swing of great hitters and they observe your swing, and they see the difference. There’s no one way or wrong way of hitting, but they’re really good at pointing things out that great hitters do and things you don’t do and try to line you up with those guys.”
Of course, just because Lagares is going to see the same hitting instructor that worked wonders with Martinez doesn’t mean that he’ll enjoy the same results. The article noted how committed Martinez was and how he embraced all of the changes the coaches suggested. Hopefully Lagares will do the same and enjoy at least some of the same success that Martinez has.
But the reason to be excited today is that Lagares and his camp (and possibly the Mets) have identified that he can’t keep doing the same things and hope for vastly different results. Keith Hernandez is on record as saying that if Lagares hits .260 that his glove makes him a full-time player. Lagares has a lifetime .257 AVG in the majors and isn’t viewed as a starter by many people, including the Mets.
In 2015, Lagares hit .259 but had just a .358 SLG mark and a dismal 79 OPS+ in the season he’s had the most playing time to date. Hopefully Hernandez and everyone else will recognize that Lagares needs more than an empty, mediocre AVG if he hopes to be a starting CF in the majors.
Right now the most important thing is that Lagares has recognized that fact.