Juan Lagares looks to shake empty .260 hitter label

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.

27 comments for “Juan Lagares looks to shake empty .260 hitter label

  1. LongTimeFan1
    November 16, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Hopefully the new approach works as it did for Martinez and Justin Turner who also made radical changes through another coach and Marlon Byrd. Juan Lagares should be a far better offensive player than he is – he has the athleticism, speed and strength but not fine tuned skills.

    If Lagares is transformed, let’s hope the Mets see it before any trade consideration. We certainly don’t need another ex Met finding greatness on another team after altering approach, batting stance and mechanics.

  2. Jimmy P
    November 16, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    I’ve often wondered where was the line for Lagares to be a plus everyday player. At .750 OPS, it works. At .700, surrounded by the right situation, it could work.

    A team in today’s baseball should be able to get away with one defense-first player at a critical position.

    We look at these players in isolations, but it’s a team game.

    • November 16, 2017 at 2:12 pm

      According to fWAR, the answer to when Lagares becomes an every day player is answered by his defense, rather than his offense. When he fields at a Gold Glove-type level (’13, ’14, ’17) he’s worth playing and when he doesn’t (’15, ’16)…

      • Jimmy P
        November 19, 2017 at 2:13 pm

        I don’t believe in fWAR to that degree, I’m afraid.

  3. Pete In Iowa
    November 16, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Lagares is the poster boy for not giving multi-year contracts — no matter how “team friendly” they may appear to be — to a young player after one good season.

    • November 16, 2017 at 2:17 pm

      I can’t agree with this.

      If Michael Conforto was willing to sign the contract Lagares did, I’d certainly sign him to that right now in a heartbeat.

      • Pete In Iowa
        November 16, 2017 at 2:24 pm

        In Conforto’s case, I’d say — despite his epic collapse during 2016 — what he did in late 15 and the post-season, coupled with his outstanding (not just good) 2017, I’d lock him up as well.
        Lagares hadn’t come close to those accomplishments before the Mets locked him up.

  4. William Seres
    November 16, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    I have always been a Lagares fan, but the only way he will improve as a hitter is to leave the Mets – keeping in the spirit of the successes of Jeff Kent, Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner…

  5. Eraff
    November 16, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    Lagares has always looked talented, but without an approach…often defeated by his own lack of pitch recognition.

  6. Steevy
    November 16, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    I might point out that Lagares has never been able to stay healthy for a full season either.

  7. Chris F
    November 16, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    I only hope there is a way to fix him. If he can be a .350 OBP the look changes. I dont see him as a HR hitter, but a doubles gap hitter would be great.

  8. Rabbit
    November 17, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    The old mantra,defense up the middle, i buy it. Rosario, Lagares, and a Gordon, Kinsler type at second sound good to me. Flores/Smith at first might work.

  9. Name
    November 17, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    It’s great that Wallenbrock has a success story in Martinez, but obviously he hasn’t been his only client.

    So how many other baseball players has he worked with and tried to fix and had zero impact on their performance? Is it in the hundreds? Thousands?

    One success story doesn’t make that person’s method great or noteworthy

  10. Metsense
    November 17, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    The Mets front office wants to to improve their defense this offseason and they already have one of the best defensive center fielders in the majors. Lagares had a 1.8 bWAR based on his defense in only 254 at bats. Over a full season he would have around 3.5 – 4.0 WAR strictly on this defense. That is great as long as he the is the only offensive hole to the lineup and he has the durability to make it through the season.
    If they want him in center then they should need sign Carlos Santana for first.
    The other alternative is to sign Cain and trade Lagares. The Mets would fulfill the need of an impact, high OBP, speedy, lead off man. That would be my preference.

    • Jimmy P
      November 18, 2017 at 12:05 pm

      I remain dubious about the trade market for Juan Lagares, who is overpaid and has not yet proven himself to be an everyday player.

      Maybe a team would like to have him on their roster, but I just don’t see anyone giving up much for him.

      Add Cain and Dozier and a couple of bullpen arms. That kind of thing has to happen. But at this point, there are so many ways to go that I’m not personally married to any single approach. I simply want to see management *try* to turn this into a highly-competitive team and I think there’s a dozen different ways of addressing it.

      But my take has always been that they won’t do enough. Half-hearted. Toes dipping into the water. No splash.

      Hey, with only Smith & Rosario on BA’s top 100 prospects, is it possible for the Mets to have 0 players listed in the next go round? Seems so.

      • Metsense
        November 18, 2017 at 1:34 pm

        “But my take has always been that they won’t do enough. Half-hearted. Toes dipping into the water. No splash.”
        The splash was Cespedes last November 16th and last year they put together a team but the pitching fell apart and then the season fell part. There was an effort made, just not successful due to the pitching

        • Jimmy P
          November 19, 2017 at 2:25 pm

          The Cespedes signing is emblematic of the Wilpon Way. They went big on Yoenis in an impressive move. But now they are pulling back, cutting payroll, and leaving Cespedes out to dry. Just watch as the fans start to blame him for everything because of his disproportionate salary.

          It is dumb to spend huge on one free agent and then not support that move with corresponding roster moves. But that’s the Mets. One step forward, two steps back.

          If we knew then that they intended to back away from a competitive payroll to the bottom half of MLB, then the Cespedes deal would have made no sense at the time. Now we’re a team with multiple needs and an unwillingness to address them — partly because they have a $27 million player in LF.

          Oh, and I don’t believe the Mets did enough to put together a team last season. They signed Yoenis, it is true, but did nothing to upgrade the everyday roster and, most especially, limped into the season with a subpar bullpen. They were shooting for the 2nd WC — and, yes, they had a shot. But those Mets were not designed to overtake the Nationals and win the Division.

          • Chris F
            November 19, 2017 at 3:04 pm

            Ive said this sort of thing a number of times too, especially with the 2018 season in front of us. We are neither rebuilding nor going for it, leaving the team and its fans in a sort of suspended animation where the FO can intimate that the team is engaged, but never really showing the commitment that going for it entails.

            Meanwhile, the best teams are getting more athletic and younger. Our younger kids are not particularly gifted and, overall, not athletic. Furthermore the pipeline is dry. So we have a team of mixed aging guys that arent the necessary super “glue” guys (Reyes, Cabrera, Ces – and not Grandy, Bruce, Wright etc) and low talent/athletic young guys (sure, Rosario, I get it…but look beyond that). The Joel Sherman article the other day really laid out the rough situation the Mets are in.

            So here we are facing 2018 with little cash for top FA acquisition, virtually empty pipeline to trade with, and “hope” for injury recovery and staying off the DL. As the Harper article says, perhaps the biggest hires for 2018 are outside the lines with Callaway and this new “Director of High Performance” positions.

            Seems like a lot of hope to me…

            • TexasGusCC
              November 19, 2017 at 6:30 pm

              Chris, as I said yesterday, the Astros going into the year had players like Josh Reddick, Evan Gattis, Marwin Gonzalez and a 40 year old Carlos Beltran in meaningful, everyday roles. But they won.

              The Mets may not have superstars everywhere, but it’s a more rounded team if:
              – They add a good second baseman;
              – They add a good bullpen piece for the back end;
              – They add a reliable starter that can give 175-190 innings.

              Why do you insist that it’s all hope?

              • Chris F
                November 19, 2017 at 7:12 pm

                100% hope on pitcher health, and that of Ces and Conforto. After that, there is not an average major leaguer on the team.

                You seem quick to forget Altuve, Correa, Bregman, Springer. The Mets dont even have 1/2 of one of those players you can actually bank on. And look at those positions, anchor the middle IF and CF. Vet catcher that get it done. Strong athletic guy at 3B. That matters. You are proposing getting an aging vet for 2B, Rosario (a rookie), and a washed up Cabrera…yikes.

                Like I said, we are far closer to the Padres than the Nats. Let me repeat, *far closer*.

                • TexasGusCC
                  November 19, 2017 at 8:23 pm

                  The Astros had a bunch of #3/4 type starters, a #2, no ace, and not a strong bullpen. However, they won the World Series. Don’t take leadership for granted and don’t always expect a perfect roster.

                  BTW, the Nats are indeed very deep. But, let’s play the games and see what happens. The Mets can add a player at the deadline if needed.

                • Chris F
                  November 19, 2017 at 8:40 pm

                  We see the world very differently. That is clear. This is a team with some of the best position players in all of baseball. They have solid pitching, now including Verlander, who is better than every pitcher on the Mets. You seem to make it sound like the Astros were a ho-hum team that lucked its way to the WS. Im telling you flat out, that could not be further from the truth. Houston led the MLB in almost every offensive metric, meanwhile the Mets were between 15-20 on almost everything. As far as pitching goes, the Astros were in the top third of the league in things, which the Mets were bottom third. So add a couple avg major leaguers to the Mets and all you get is a 75 win team unless magic happens on the injury front, then you maybe get 80-85 or so wins.

              • Jimmy P
                November 20, 2017 at 8:20 am

                Gus, there is always hope. MLB has rigged it that way, brilliantly and cynically. The Mets can be at .500 on 9/1 and still have a solid shot at the WC2.

                And, yes, things can break exactly right and they can win 90 games.

                Then you get on a run, win a short series, win another, and there you are in the World Series. It can happen. But that’s a story they are selling in Milwaukee, too, all around the MLB. And it’s true for most teams. There’s hope!

                And I will be right there hoping for them. But the Astros are in an entirely different league. One team won 101 regular season games and the other bagged 70. You have to squint awfully hard to see similarities.

                • November 20, 2017 at 9:16 am

                  And if you’re giving odds on the Astros winning 100+ games again, I’ll gladly take them. This time last year everyone was talking about a Cubs dynasty and then they finish with the fourth-most wins in the NL.

                  Yes, the Astros were the favorite to win the division but let’s not pretend that the Rangers and Mariners didn’t have support in the preseason. It’s not like they were preordained to win. And whether it’s unpopular or not, Gus’ point that things broke right for the Astros is true. You don’t win 101 games without that.

                  Houston finished with 31 more wins than the Mets in 2017. I don’t believe that’s the true talent level between the clubs. The difference is likely double digits, which is huge. But if their 2B misses 43 days before 8/11, their 3B misses the season, their two best OFers miss 123 days and six of their top seven SP miss 550 days, I don’t think they’re making the playoffs, either.

                • Chris F
                  November 20, 2017 at 11:35 am

                  Of course things “break right” for any team that wins a WS. But to couch that in “luck” would be a huge mistake. Most no hitters have some element of a great catch to maintain the no-no, but that is not the signature of a spectacularly pitched game. By all measures the Astros team was outstanding, and substantially better than the Mets on offense, defense, and pitching. They did not luck themselves to the trophy. I believe the Astros took first place in mid April, and never let go. Is that luck? I believe the Nats were similar, was that luck? Cy Young winners, Silver Sluggers, MVPs etc are not “breaking right”.

                  Whether a team wins 100 games in succeeding years, or takes the pennant in succeeding years requires many things to occur. Baseball is such difficult sport the odds are against back-to-back championships, but if you ask me today who is the better team for 2018, I’d say the Astros over the Mets by 20 games. Not even in the same league.

  11. NormE
    November 18, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    For top 100 don’t forget Jeff Wilpon. Just ask his father.

  12. MattyMets
    November 19, 2017 at 8:06 am

    My biggest hesitation with ever giving Lagares the starting CF nod is not his bat,but his injury history.

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