Juan Lagares deserves a thumbs up season

Mets’ center fielder Juan Lagares has had some recent thumbs down years, due his thumb being in a cast. In June of 2016 he tore the ligaments in his left thumb attempting a diving catch, then in June of 2017 he broke the same thumb, again on a diving try. The injuries lead to much abbreviated seasons in both cases. Then this year he changed it up a bit when he crashed into the outfield wall on May 17, leading to a toe injury that required surgery, ending his 2018.

When Lagares is healthy, we know he can be an excellent contributor to the team. In 2014 his slash line was .281/.321/.381, and he won a gold glove. In 2015 he had an off year, but he did come alive in the postseason as he batted .348 and scored seven runs in that pennant year.

This past season he was off to a fine start, he assembled a .339/.375/.390 slash line in 30 games, then the season ended due to the toe injury. The speedy outfielder also reduced his strikeout rate to 14.1, best of his career.

Lagares has been used at times in a platoon role. Looking a little deeper into his 2018 by examining the FanGraphs’ splits tool, Lagares hit right-handed pitching quite well. His BA was .379 in 29 AB. Against lefthanders he hit .300 in 30 AB. These are obviously small samples, but still those numbers show an encouraging trend.

Lagares seems to be recovering from his latest injury pretty well. Anthony DiComo reported in September that Lagares was participating in sprinting drills, and was running at full-speed. That sure sounds like the toe has healed well. DiComo also said Lagares was planning on playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, another good sign.

The Mets’ outfield situation for 2019 is somewhat in flux. Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo are budding stars in the corner outfield slots, and Nimmo plays an acceptable CF as well. Yoenis Cespedes is recovering from double heel surgery and is expected to miss at least half the season, and few would be surprised if he misses the whole season. RF Jay Bruce is coming off a down year and could end up being used more at 1b. So there certainly is a pathway for Lagares to get plenty of playing time, if he stays healthy and plays anywhere near like he did in his abbreviated 2018.

There is a little extra motivation for Lagares in that his contract expires after the 2019 season. Not that he seems to need much motivation, any player who crashes into the wall late in a runaway game (like Lagares did against Toronto resulting in his toe injury,) seems plenty motivated.

The Mets have said they want to improve their defense up the middle, they want more right-hand batters, and they want to improve speed. A healthy Lagares would help in all those areas. Perhaps for a change 2019 will be a thumbs up year for Lagares.

13 comments for “Juan Lagares deserves a thumbs up season

  1. TexasGusCC
    November 6, 2018 at 10:29 am

    The only thing hold Lagares back is the low and away slider. Even last year, he struggled identifying that pitch. Going into his contract year, he will be 30 years old and approaching the end of his prime years. In fact, defense peaks at 26 and last year we saw him not reach certain balls. Having said that, I hope he can have a good year as that would help the Mets immensely, but I worry about the need to “take care of” Jay Bruce.

    Bruce’s really a LF/1B guy now and this team is kind of full at those positions. Can we do a poll of Sandy’s most redundant signings? Like signing Chris Young after extending Lagares? Or signing Adrian Gonzalez after signing Jay Bruce to help out at first base and play right field?

  2. TexasGusCC
    November 6, 2018 at 10:46 am

    Of all the Terry-isms that have caused my blood pressure to hit the 170’s, the most memorable one is still Collins putting Colin Cowgill in CF as a defensive replacement over Lagares against the Phillies, and having a bomb by Howard land on the CF warning track because Cowgill got a late break giving up the tying and winning runs, so the next day after putting Cowgill in CF as a defensive replacement against the Phillies, again, over Lagares, again, a short fly ball landed in shallow CF for a game winning hit, again.

  3. November 6, 2018 at 10:48 am

    I would chase a Legit RH Bat for this Lineup–maybe an OF platoon bat, depending on how things shake out. I would begin with an assumption of Juan as a 5th outfielder–That’s what he’s earned. That certainly won;t stop him from earning more, but the Platoon/4th outfielder needs to be a legitimate player–not a guy who merely “owes you” a $9 million dollar performance…one that He has never provided.

    Count The Major Leaguers!—thant’s my Mantra for 2019

  4. TJ
    November 6, 2018 at 11:12 am

    I have always been a fan of Lagares…watching him play CF in person is a thing of beauty. Gus makes a good point about peaking defense, and at 30, I doubt Juan can play to the incredible level that he did back in his gold glove year. Still, diminished 30 year old defense from him is most certain to be a plus and better than any other player currently on the roster can provide.

    Given his hitting history, I agree with Eraff that he cannot be defaulted as the RH part of a CF platoon; he’ll need to hit his way into that role. Salary aside (which makes it more difficult to include him in a trade), building with him as the 5th OF makes sense. But, as is always the case, a lot of it has to do with what happens with other players. The Bruce-Conforto-Nimmo trio requires the addition of another RH bat to the OF. The quality of that bat depends on what they do elsewhere…if they were to add Machado and Ramos, adding a RH 5th OF with a good glove and speed on the cheap is fine, even preferred. Adam Jones is interesting, as he carries a great rep and is a solid pro, but his defensive grades in the last two seasons scare me, especially given that half of his games were in a small CF in Camden. BVW has claimed to focus on strength up the middle, but as we know that is easier said than done.

  5. Pete from NJ
    November 6, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    The odds of Juan getting an injury fielding fly balls three years in a row has to be low. So he’s a much needed right hand bats so he’s in. He’s over due for some positive results.

    For Gus: Largares played right field due to Matt den Dekker’s perceived dominance in center field

    • TexasGusCC
      November 7, 2018 at 2:44 am

      http://irfast.blogspot.com/2012/12/juan-lagares-scouting-report.html

      Check this scouting report out; this is the fourth paragraph:

      “Lagares played mostly center in 2012, but also 47 games in right-field as well in 2012. He was previously a shortstop, and batted ball data said he was good there as well (he made a lot of errors though, which may be why there was a positional change).Matt Den Dekker was ranked as the best defensive outfielder in the system by Baseball America on Friday. Den Dekker has only had negative FRAAs, and (while Lagares’ sample size is only about half as much in center as Den Dekker) Lagares’ Range Factor is much better. While the sample size is somewhat noisy obviously, Lagares would have been the top centerfielder in baseball according to Range Factor. Obviously Range Factor is crude and simple, but he has shown good speed on the bases, with 21 steals in 2012 and 25 steals in 2010 (6.3 speed score in 2012). I got him at 4.27-4.28, which is averagish for a right-handed hitter, but the video I saw of him may not have been him running all out.”
      ————————————-
      You’re right in that MDD’s reputation blocked Lagares, but Lagares was occasionally put in RF because of his strong arm. MDD didn’t have the arm for right.

  6. Mike Walczak
    November 6, 2018 at 5:42 pm

    Juan Lagares can play an important role on the 2019 team.

    I just hope they get rid of Jay Bruce.

  7. November 6, 2018 at 7:48 pm

    I’ve never been a Lagares fan.

    But having said that, I was very interested to see what happened after he spent last offseason working with new swing coaches. He absolutely needed to embrace the fly ball revolution and working with the guys who helped transform JD Martinez was a good thing, in my mind.

    But Lagares hit *more* grounders last year than he did before. Yes, he had a shiny average but it was all singles because all of the hits were falling in. In other words – same old Lagares.

    I’d give him Spring Training to see if he can hit more balls in the air. But so far there’s been no indication that anything has changed.

    • TexasGusCC
      November 7, 2018 at 2:48 am

      Brian, might you give some time for him to learn that swing we’ll enough to use against MLB pitchers? When JD Martinez first changed his approach, the first 64 at bats were worse than Lagares. But then, Martinez blew up hitting .345 two months in a row and the power started coming. Maybe Lagares was ready to blow up, but we don’t know that.

      • November 7, 2018 at 7:58 am

        Martinez had 7 XBH in those 64 PA compared to 2 for Lagares. But that still doesn’t address the point – did Martinez’ groundball percentage go up those 64 trips like Lagares’ did? If you want to comb through the box scores and let me know, I’d be interested in finding out.

        • TexasGusCC
          November 7, 2018 at 9:35 am

          Like you said, you’ve never been a Lagares fan. I can understand that he’s a frustrating player. It’s hard to be optimistic about players you don’t like.

  8. November 6, 2018 at 10:34 pm

    It doesn’t matter what the swing path … Juan is easy prey for a good pitcher—he ends up in too many defensive pitchers counts. Injuries aside, He’s 1700 ab’s in, and they all look the same. He’s simply not talented enough to swing at Everything.

  9. Metsense
    November 7, 2018 at 8:41 am

    At this point, the out field alignment is Conforto , Nimmo and Bruce. Lagares is the fourth outfielder and should get plenty of at-bats.Van Wagenen has come out and said that Alonso could secure the first base position this spring. Callaway likes to rests is players. Bruce’s foot issue could also flare up again.If Alsonzo doesn’t make the starting day roster then Bruce will be at first base and Lagares with then be the starting center fielder. He is a great defensive player which goes with the dominant pitching of the Mets. He also is fragile and a weak bat. Van Wagenen can’t rely on the health and bounce backs of Bruce and Lagares if he wants to win now. He needs to add another outfielder. The Mets don’t put $13m and $9m on the bench and usually would wait for another $29m to recover. Maybe Van Wagenen will change this philosophy.

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