|From Juan Lagares' Instagram: Off-season downtime with his son.|
Juan Lagares, in fewer than 1.5 seasons worth of baseball, ranks 40th amongst active players in defensive Wins Above Replacement, as calculated by baseball-reference. The only other player with 2 seasons or fewer of playing time remotely close to Lagares is two-time Gold Glove winner Nolan Arenado who is a full win behind Lagares. No other player with two seasons of playing time ranks in the top 100.
Sometimes I wonder about the true value of Juan Lagares. After 2013 I heard many arguments--some from brilliant baseball minds--who vehemently argued against Juan Lagares as a starting player. The defense could not possibly be that good. He will regress. The bat won't play. He was never a top prospect. Defensive statistics are flawed. Runners will stop challenging him which will make his defensive value plummet. Some of these statements were from well-respected baseball minds in the Met blogosphere and even outside it. It goes past the petty arguments on the chat boards of Facebook and Mets360. Fangraphs ran an entire article about how Juan Lagares would regress defensively in 2014. He didn't. In fact, he was even better.
Defensive metrics are flawed. I am a full believer in advanced statistics but I understand the limitations of UZR and DRS. Data loggers look at every batted ball. If a ball hit in a certain spot falls for a hit 75% of the time and the outfielder makes the play, they get .75 added to their value. If they miss it, they lose -.25. Not only does this methodology not account for situation (were there runners on? Was the batter speedy? Would it have been a triple in the gap or a bloop single?) but it also completely ignores defensive positioning and subjects the player to the ubiquitous factor of human error. How does this relate to Lagares? Well, a lot, actually. He plays the field differently than any other center fielder in baseball. He plays a shallower center, he charges faster, and he also makes more errors than most center fielders. Yet, he is judged the same way as a slower-footed CF who plays deep. We have yet to get to the point where an analyst can say, "Juan Lagares made this out when zero other current major league center fielders would have and it resulted in 1.1 runs saved based on the situation". I hope we do, eventually.
Given what I know about baseball data collection and the game of baseball itself, Juan Lagares might actually be undervalued, especially on this team. We forget that Michael Cuddyer, a truly awful fielder with abysmal range, would have been an unlikely signing if it weren't for the presence in Center where "Extra base hits go to die". However, that's not all I'm talking about. FanGraphs and Baseball Reference continue to try to compare Juan Lagares to his peers and I am not certain he has any. When I hear, "Defensive metrics are flawed. He is not a 5-WAR player", I think, "You're right, he's better". I just think, given the tools we have at our disposal, that the quantification of Juan Lagares' value is not properly measured. Reality could be harsher to Juan Lagares or kinder. It's this amateur analyst's opinion that it would be kinder.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who asked me about the Mets pursuing Alex Gordon and/or Jason Hayward in 2016 if Gordon opts out and Hayward does not sign an extension. He then fantasized about an outfield of Gordon in left, Nimmo in center, and Hayward in right. We started to talk about Lagares and he mentioned that Lagares' value peaks at 4 WAR, if that. How do we know that? If he is a league-average hitter--something advanced stats has a very good grasp on--he's a truly elite defender. Perhaps the game's best. That sort of extreme is difficult to properly quantify given the ability we currently have. The Mets won 79 games last year with a largely rag-tag team. It would be a mistake to assume a large component--perhaps the single largest in 2014--to the team's success was not Juan Lagares.
|Via Twitter: d'Arnaud in Arnaudville, Louisiana.|
Is Travis d'Arnaud being taken for granted a bit? Much of the positive chatter in the off-season I heard applauded the pitching. Pitching pitching and more pitching. Shiny new toy in the outfield. Two TJS recovery pitchers coming back. Wright bouncing back. Granderson bouncing back. Duda smashing more homers. Murphy playing for a contract.
What about our 26-year-old catcher? Yes, the master pitch-framer who smacked the ball after his stint in Triple-A early in the season. The one our golden staff loves throwing to. The one who is a power threat in the lineup and only getting better.
The critique of Travis d'Arnaud seems to be louder than appreciation of his true value. Perhaps it is just the circles in which I find myself or the articles I choose to read but it seems like there is a vast under-appreciation for TdA. Let me give you a couple stat lines to ponder:
The first line is the MLB average for catchers in 2014. The second line is d'Arnaud's full 2014 season. The third is d'Arnaud in the second half.
The 126 wRC+ is particularly ridiculous. Only 36 qualified players had a wRC+ of 126 or better in 2014 and only two were catchers (Posey, Lucroy).
Needless to say, the offensive bar is very low for catchers and we have a rare gem in a solid defensive catcher who can hit and hit for power. His .474 slugging percentage in the second half would have been second to only Buster Posey had TdA accomplished it over an entire season. Think about that for a second. Remember, if you have better players around the diamond than your opponent, good chance you're going to win. There are few teams who will have a better two-way catcher than the Mets in 2015.
Before the contrarians come out in droves to critique my lack of sample size significance or to remind me that "d'Arnaud has to prove he can do it over a whole season first", let me remind you that those are exactly the reasons d'Arnaud is undervalued and under-appreciated.
Let me start the hype machine now, then. Travis d'Arnaud makes the 2015 All-Star team. He is worth between 4 and 6 WAR by season's end and he hits 20+ home runs. Mark it down.