What can we expect from Juan Lagares in 2019?

If you recently became a fan of the Mets, particularly since May 16th 2018, then you may not be familiar with Juan Lagares. It is because the oft-injured center fielder has been on and off the disabled list over the past three seasons, appearing in fewer than 100 games in each of them. May 16th of last year is when a foot injury ended his season.

Now to the other 99% of us that chose to follow this team some time long before their horrific 2018 May-June slumber, Lagares is a well-known exciting player to watch, that is with a glove in his hand.

Not long ago I would be freaking out during a heart attack-inducing Jeurys Familia save opportunity until a ball was hit anywhere to the middle of the outfield, because I knew the converted shortstop would effortlessly drop back and make the put out. He plays so far in he rarely has to run forward to catch a ball, which is most certainly not the easy way to do it.

In 2017 Lagares led National League center fielders with 15 Defensive Runs Saved in just under 100 games. He also led the majors in average UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) for all players with at least 300 innings. He posted similar numbers in 2013 when he had 15 outfield assists (before teams learned to not run on him) and then also had similar numbers in 2014 during his Gold Glove season.

Many were uncomfortable with the thought of little protection to Lagares, but the weekend addition of Keon Broxton solved this. Which defensive-minded right-handed center fielder starts in DC on March 28th remains to be seen, but let’s take a look at what Lagares might give the Mets if employed in center.

FanGraphs’ Steamer projections have Lagares playing in just shy of a half season which would be unfortunate, but understandable given the recent injury history for the 29 year old. Even in that short time one would think he would provide terrific value in the field, so let’s take a look at the other side of the game.

Last season in 64 PA he posted a .339/.375/.390 slash line which shows some hope he can produce above his career relatively light-hitting numbers; however those small sample size numbers came with a BABIP of .392, showing extreme fortune.

His career numbers of a .260 AVG with a low OBP and a high K% are probably more reasonable. These numbers leave much to be desired, but perhaps the new swing he developed last spring training led to his improved contact.

Either way, his defense alone makes him an important player. The best hope for Lagares is that he is able to make his spectacular plays while avoiding injuring himself in the process, and make enough contact to be productive in the lineup. Mickey Callaway also appeared to favor defense in the early going of last year, writing Lagares’ name in the lineup often over Brandon Nimmo.

My feeling is that these hopes will hold true, and the new management trot out to center their defensive stud to protect the strong pitching staff.

11 comments for “What can we expect from Juan Lagares in 2019?

  1. January 10, 2019 at 9:12 am

    I don’t recall Lagares playing over Nimmo often because both guys were mostly on the bench the first six weeks before Ces got hurt, and then Nimmo played everyday. Lagares vs Broxton being called a redundancy by some is false since they have very different offensive profiles, but Broxton is younger and healthier. I don’t see Juan giving the Mets much on the offensive end honestly.

    • Brendan Vachris
      January 10, 2019 at 5:25 pm

      You are completely right about Lagares and Nimmo being on the bench. After checking the box scores Lagares often found his way into many games as a PH or defensive replacement but not as often as a starter, at least not over Nimmo. My mistake on that, and perhaps I did oversimplify the comparison of Lagares and Broxton. The point there was that neither are expected to be praised for their bat over their glove. It is interesting how they profile as very different hitters, and while Broxton appears to have more upside with the bat due to his youth I believe there is a least a smattering of optimism for Lagares’s bat in 2019.

  2. TexasGusCC
    January 10, 2019 at 9:21 am

    Welcome to the team Brendan.

    Every off season we clamor about what Lagares can be if he would have been healthy. I’m not saying he’s to blame for the injuries, and unlike others I hope he never changes because it’s what makes him “Jaunderful” as Gary Cohen loves to say. However, his body can’t seem to handle the diving around the outfield and he may need artificial help in staying healthy. I’ve wondered if those shots that Zack Wheeler took to make his bones stronger were legal, but Lagares seems to need the same. The glove is a game changer and would be welcome on every team.

    However, the bat is an unknown and if he can’t do it in his walk-year, then when? A few months back for a discussion here, in looking up JD Martinez’ results the year he changed his swing with the same coaches, I noticed his power started showing around the 70th plate appearance. Lagares, in true form, got hurt just as he was approaching that number. Even in winter ball, we haven’t seen much offense so far. The BABIP will always be higher because of his great speed, so let’s not look at that as unusual. I’d love to see a .270/.330/.420 batting line and 450 plate appearances. If the Mets get that production – or even better! – his defense will carry him to a 4.0WAR player and the Mets will benefit greatly.

    • Brendan Vachris
      January 11, 2019 at 11:08 am

      Thank you I’m happy to be writing here! I hope Juan does not change defensively either as his superb defense has been so much fun to watch over the years.

  3. Chris
    January 10, 2019 at 9:46 am

    I expect a pulled hamstring.

    • Pal88
      January 10, 2019 at 9:33 am

      In the 6th game of the season!

  4. Eraff
    January 10, 2019 at 10:02 am

    I am much more concerned about projecting Juan’s Bat versus his health.

    I’m a Big Juan Fan, and I believe he has offensive talent. Is it the Injury “Breaks”?….is it his “Brain”?

    Juan has almost 2000 MLB Plate appearances…667 OPS. He doesn’t seem to know what a “Juan’s Pitch to Hit” looks like. They all seem to look good to Juan– swing path is effective the moment he stops being a Swing Victim.

    He’s a 4th outfielder on this team because he’s RH…he’s a 5th outfielder by his historical performance. I would be delighted if he would make me a Happy Juan Fan.

    Juan is an “If”.

  5. Pete from NJ
    January 10, 2019 at 11:13 am

    Nice topic. The subject of Juan’s injuries seem strange and further “not chronic.” Two injuries were torn thumb ligaments on his glove hand which is really hard to do. Last year’s toe injury against the outfield wall is almost unheard of.

    An injury free year to go with his .260 BA.

  6. steevy
    January 10, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    LUL keep dreaming,that is what the offseason is for.

  7. January 10, 2019 at 6:42 pm

    I expect a good spring training and decent start to the season. Unfortunately I think he’ll have some type of season ending injury prior to the All-Star Game.

  8. MattyMets
    January 12, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    One of my favorite players on the team and I’d
    love to see a healthy and productive season out of him. Realistically I fully expect at least one of him, TDA or Matz to suffer an injury in spring training and start the season on the DL. I’m glad BVW recognizes this and is bolstering team depth.

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