An update on Juan Lagares and his batted-ball profile

A lot has been made about how injuries to two infielders has made it more likely for Pete Alonso and J.D. Davis to make the club. But it seems that not many people are talking about another direct beneficiary and that’s Juan Lagares. Now, Lagares is sure to be on the Opening Day roster. But it seemed like Jeff McNeil would be taking away playing time from him. But if McNeil is moved back to the infield, that would mean more starts for Lagares, too.

This time last year, the big news surrounding Lagares was that he spent the offseason with a new batting coach, one known for introducing hitters to the launch angle and hitting more balls in the air. My take was that was a much-needed thing for Lagares. Previously, Lagares was an excellent defender but one who offered next to nothing offensively. He didn’t hit for power, he didn’t run much and he walked even less than he ran. His whole offensive profile was dependent on the hits falling in. If he carried a high BABIP, he was an acceptable offensive player for his position.

His best offensive season when he played at least 100 games occurred in 2014, when he posted a .341 BABIP and produced a .703 OPS. That year the average center fielder recorded a .719 OPS. For a fun comparison, old pal Daniel Murphy notched a .341 BABIP in 2017 and that year he put up a .928 OPS. When the hits fall in to the degree that they did for Lagares in 2014 and Murphy in 2017, your offensive production needs to be better than “if he stands on his tiptoes we can call it league average for his position.”

From afar, it seemed like Lagares was stuck in his mind between two offensive profiles. On one hand, he frequently tried to bunt for hits, even if 99.5% of the time the attempted bunt went foul. On the other hand, he made sufficiently hard contact on his balls in play and despite being a groundball hitter, he had produced a .141 ISO in 2016.

The decision to sell out for power seemed like an excellent choice for Lagares.

The early results were mixed. In Spring Training last year, Lagares had just one extra-base hit in 50 ABs. But his GB/FB ratio improved from 1.76 in the regular season in 2017 to 1.40 in Spring Training action in 2018. The hope was that if someone who makes the solid contact that Lagares does, if you hit the fly balls, the XBH will follow. But that’s not what happened last year during the regular season.

Lagares was limited to just 64 PA last year before coming down with a season-ending injury. But in that time span, he hit even more balls on the ground (56%) compared to what he did (50.8%) in 2017. The result was a whopping 2.55 GB/FB rate. As you probably expect from that, his ISO was a paltry .051, which was the 11th-worst mark among the 254 non-pitchers in the NL in 2018 to amass at least 50 PA.

Yet the hits were falling in. Lagares had a .392 BABIP – the sixth-best mark among our 254 NL hitters – which led to a shiny .339 AVG. And there are still enough people who look no further than AVG in their evaluation of hitters to lament the early loss of Lagares. You never want to see a player get hurt. But Lagares’ early injury last year helped pave the way for full-time duty for Brandon Nimmo, who responded with a .150 OPS+. Despite a 76-point advantage in AVG, Lagares posted a 118 OPS+ last year, 32 points worse than Nimmo.

At the start of this just-passed offseason, most Mets fans considered Michael Conforto and Nimmo to be locks as starters for the 2019 club, hopefully in the outfield corners. A.J. Pollock was their hope to be the new center fielder, with Lagares being the fallback option. The Mets didn’t sign Pollock, but they did import numerous infielders, with McNeil being shifted to the outfield.

Currently, Lagares is tied for the third-most ABs (MLB.com’s stats list ABs rather than PA) on the team in Grapefruit League play. While they’ve only played a handful of games, the early results are not promising. Lagares is just 1-14, a single if you were curious, and he sports a 5.50 GB/FB mark. Now, it does not take long for GB% to stabilize, but we’re still well shy of the 80 balls in play that FanGraphs indicates is the stabilization point for this metric.

But if you count the 34 balls in play for 2018 Spring Training, the 51 from last year’s regular season and the 14 from this year, you get 99, which is above our stabilization point. And the results are not good.

Maybe the fly balls will start coming the remainder of his time in Grapefruit League play. Perhaps what he did in 2018 shouldn’t be added to what he’s doing now. But if he continues to hit grounders at anything remotely like his current pace, we’ll have to conclude that his dalliance with the launch angle approach as a failure.

10 comments for “An update on Juan Lagares and his batted-ball profile

  1. March 3, 2019 at 11:07 am

    I love Juan…I root for Juan… I believe he has great offensive talent.

    I’ve always thought that his lack of Approach was more important than his Swing Path. I turned the game on and there He was…. with 2 strikes on Him.

    He’s a Pitchers’ Victim, first and foremost. He’s almost 2000 ab’s into this and it never changes. He’s missed a lot of time, so I’m still hoping on Growth and a big change.

    Maybe the Stats don’t back Me up on approach, as I think he ends up in too many “Pitcher’s Counts”, with weak defensive swings. I don;t know if He knows His Pitch to Hit—I think Not….. certainly the results are less than good.

    • March 3, 2019 at 1:44 pm

      There were 185,139 PA in MLB last year

      20,193 of those resulted in a ball in play/HR on the first pitch
      72,723 of those resulted in a 1-0 count
      92,223 of those resulted in an 0-1 count (49.8%)
      There were 38,168 0-2 counts (20.6%)
      There were 54,203 1-2 counts (29.3%)

      In his career, Lagares has had 1,834 PA
      149 of those resulted in a ball in play/HR on first pitch
      665 of those resulted in a 1-0 count
      1,020 of those resulted in an 0-1 count (55.6%)
      He had 439 0-2 counts (23.9%)
      He had 571 1-2 counts (31.1%)

      I don’t have anything to compare this to in order to see if it’s a big difference. My guess is that 5.8% more 0-1 counts is at least enough to raise your eyes but not quite the case for 0-2 or 1-2.

  2. Metsense
    March 3, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    When healthy he is a “Jaunderful” center fielder, a joy to watch and the price of the ticket to see him play defense. When he plays, the Game Chatter always turns to “how low can Lagares’ OPS go before the great defense becomes a wash”. I remember around .650 (but my memory isn’t as good any more).
    This is Lagares’ last year on his contract. He has not made the proper adjustments with his offense and base stealing skills. It is time to cut bait. Why? Because Broxton is a similar player, not as good defensively but a plus glove, is a better base stealer and has better power. Broxton, as a 5th outfielder, can be used as a pinch runner and as a Hail Mary Home Run hitter late in a game with a plus good glove. He is more valuable and younger than Lagares.The Mets can cheaply control him for for next four years but he his out of options. The Mets can’t afford to go north with Lagares and Broxton. Trade Lagares (he is a sunk cost) and pay his salary and maybe to get something of value. We suffered through the Ike and Duda debate so don’t repeat the same mistake.

  3. Chris F
    March 3, 2019 at 12:45 pm

    As one of the longest running supporters of Lagares, it is clear the crossroads has long passed.

    If you look at the ’14 and ’15 seasons for defense with 15 DRS, and you squeeze .700 ops out of Lagares, you can squint your way to keeping Lagares active. That said, the offense has not happened despite the JD Martinez’s-swing-coach-taining-camp run, and worse, the defense can no longer be counted on with all the injuries. As a result, my impression of the centerfielder I loved watching as much as any in my life is now a memory of times past. There is no rational expectation for improvement on offense and the defense is no longer plus plus.

    As far as offense goes, my sad knick name at home is “Mr zero and one”. He is almost always in pitcher counts from the start, and he does not have the discipline to avoid the outside trash to lay off. I think the “upper cut” experiment was a total waste placing an already defective “eye” into a eggs-in-one-basket approach that was doomed from the second it started. He needs a strong, level swing path, with gap-to-gap doubles power to suit his build. But alas…

    • Eraff
      March 3, 2019 at 3:31 pm

      Brian… it’s an interesting statistical breakdown and it doesn’t seem to support my hunch. Still, my perception is that there’s something to his lack of selection, and maybe we’re back to observing that he’s a no walk guy who doesn’t know his own hit zones—// or maybe he’s not as talented as I think he is

      Braxton…. it’s notbhard to imagine the. guy cutting his strikeouts by just 5-7 percent and driving a 230-260 average to a 750 plus ops. The lack of minor league options may hurt Broxton…. he needs some abs in an advanced non environmentally aided environment

  4. Mike Walczak
    March 3, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    Ok, let’s say Lagares all of a sudden hits a ton of balls in the air. Most of them will probably be fly outs. I like defensive minded outfielders to be able to run and steal bases.

    With Harper joining the Phil’s, this division just got more competitive.

    What we need is Ces back.

    Slap Happy Juan is limited in what he can do.

    • March 3, 2019 at 6:01 pm

      I mean the guy has a career wRC+ in the 80’s so yeah him hitting grounders galore has been a fail.

  5. March 3, 2019 at 4:23 pm

    Wow…saying a player is “limited” is not really saying anything—all players are limited. The fact is that the players who do best are those who know their limits very well, and conpensate around those limits. I think that captures Juan’s difficulties well—he doesn’t know his limts or his strengths at the plate–My Guess.

    • Mike Walczak
      March 3, 2019 at 10:13 pm

      If Lagares contract was up this off season, would the Mets have resigned him ? No.

      Sure, he will give you some good defense, but that is about it.

      Do you want Lagares coming up in the ninth, down by a run and needing at least a double ?

      The role of pinch hitter and late game defensive replacement has really diminished.

      Utility players and backups need to do a lot more.

  6. NYM6986
    March 4, 2019 at 12:27 am

    Would like him to have a good spring along with dArnaud and then package them for another player and give Broxton the backup job. Good defender, questionable bat but a more durable player. Both to KC who needs a catcher but what do we get in return? I’m personally tired of waiting for some offense from Lagares.

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