Juan Lagares' Defense is a Problem?

Juan Lagares- Spring Training 2015. Photo by Stephen Guilbert.

News to me. However, if you have read the blogs, articles and announcing of many media personalities paid to cover baseball, you would think it is.

I don't get paid to do this. Therefore, I have no investment in getting followers, clicks, hits or financial gain from manufacturing drama. It also gives me a bit more freedom to call people out when they say stupid things.

The narrative that Juan Lagares is not the defensive player he was last year was sporadically mentioned until this past week. During Friday's game, a bloop single fell in no-man's-land between Lagares, Flores and Tejada. That run eventually came around to score and turned out to be the difference in the game. Later in the game, Lagares failed to make a circus catch on a deep fly ball off of the bat of Jason Heyward. Lagares made it to the wall in time and seemed to have it lined up but could not put it in his glove.

Most rational fans would look at one play as impossible (the bloop) and the other as a "Aw man that would have been awesome to see caught" but understood the degree of difficulty.

However, the pundits took a different approach. Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez spent an entire inning of Saturday's broadcast discussing both plays and opining that Lagares just is not the same this year. Michael Baron, formerly of Metsblog, took to his spin-off website (called "Just Mets") to devote 1000 words to how Juan Lagares is "a problem in the outfield".

I took to Twitter to address the misconception that Lagares is a problem in the outfield and Michael Baron responded. His response was...let's just say it was less than analytical.

Michael Baron of Just Mets responding to a couple tweets about his article on Juan Lagares' defense. 

In short:

Michael Baron- Stats say Lagares is a problem in the outfield.
Stephen Guilbert- Here are what the stats say.
Michael Baron- Forget the stats.

Perhaps it is unfair to criticize Michael Baron for abuse or misunderstanding of advanced metrics and maybe I try to hold the people who get paid to do this for a living to a higher standard than I should but this is inexcusable. You cannot claim that statistics say something then combat the actual evidence with a rejection of the very statistics you used to defend your point.

I am probably more irked at Gary Cohen than anyone else. Michael Baron clearly does not understand sabermetrics and Keith Hernandez clearly does not understand sabermetrics but Gary Cohen does. And it would not take long to look at Juan Lagares' defensive metrics and see that he has been an insanely valuable defensive player in 2015. No, perhaps not other-worldly like he was in 2014 (the arm has a lot to do with that but more on that later), but still one of the best in baseball.

So, to combat the inaccuracies spewed by the blogosphere and our analysts, here is the evidence we actually do have when it comes to Juan Lagares' defense in 2015:

UZR: 6.3
UZR/150: 12.2
DRS: +4
rPM: +5
Assists: 2
Fielding %: .995 (1 error)
ARM: -1.9 (career 17.3 total coming into 2015)
rARM: -2 runs saved (career +17 coming into 2015)

The last two metrics are vital to this discussion. Juan Lagares likely has a ligament tear in his elbow which has clearly affected his ability to gun down runners (or keep them from advancing). This drags his overall defensive value down which you might not be able to see unless you look closely.

But what if you didn't? What if you simply went on Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference and looked at the overall defensive value for outfielders in 2015? Well, you'd find this:

Filters: NL, qualified innings played. If filtered to include every NL outfielder regardless of playing time, Lagares still ranks 5th out of 105 (Michael Taylor and Jon Jay sneak into the top five with him).

The above metric includes arm ratings. Even with the elbow problem and the below average arm ratings, Juan Lagares still ranks third in qualified NL outfielders and fifth out of 105 outfielders to take the field for NL teams in 2015. That is not just "good". That's elite. That is how good his range is. Want to know how good his range is?

There is a metric that determines the average "zone" for each position. In short, it is the area the average MLB player covers. If you make a play outside that average zone, it is called an Out Of Zone play, shortened to OOZ. Here are the rankings for OOZ plays made in the NL this year, regardless of position.

Those rankings are regardless of position. Juan Lagares has made more plays out of the average CF "zone" than Andrelton Simmons has at shortstop or Jason Heyward has in right. That is how good his range is.

"Well he has missed some plays he should have made".

Really? Has he? Because we have ways to track that as well. Fangraphs tracks how many plays were made and the likelihood they would have been made based on what other fielders around baseball typically convert or do not convert. They separate these into groupings:

Impossible (0%)
Remote (1-10%)
Unlikely (10-40%)
Even (40%-60%)
Likely (60-90%)
Routine (90-100%)

Lagares has had 208 "chances" above 0%. He has converted all but nine of them. Of those nine, four came in the "Remote" (1-10% odds of making the play) category, three in "Unlikely" and two in "Even".

Another way to word this is: Of plays that the average center fielder makes, Juan Lagares has made every single one of them and he has made a handful of plays (one in "Remote" and two in "Unlikely") that the vast majority of center fielders do not.

To review:

Juan Lagares' range is one of the best in the NL.
Juan Lagares' out of zone ability is the single best in the NL regardless of position.
Juan Lagares has made all of the routine plays and a few spectacular ones.
Juan Lagares' arm has taken a step back but it hasn't been bad enough to knock him out of the top defenders in the league.

Juan Lagares "is a problem in the outfield"? Are you kidding me? Juan Lagares' outfield defense is about as much a problem to the 2015 Mets as Jacob deGrom's fastball command or Curtis Granderson's patience.

Wait, but Jacob deGrom's fastball command and Curtis Granderson's patience aren't problems at all. In fact, they are two of the best things about the 2015 Mets.

Very good, italicized inner monologue, you nailed it. Juan Lagares' outfield defense is not a problem. I will repeat that. Juan Lagares' outfield defense is not a problem. In fact, it has been so good, it has dragged his overall WAR total to +0.8, good for 6th on the Mets, despite one of the worst offensive profiles in all of baseball this year.

If you want to get on Juan Lagares for his offense, go ahead. It has been abysmal this year and his inability to be patient at the plate and take a walk when he is not striking the ball well might ultimately determine whether or not he remains the starting center fielder on a major league team.

However, if you are going to get on the guy for his defense, at least come to the table with better arsenal than what Michael Baron, Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez did. I get it if a fan says things like this. We're fans. But the people who get paid to cover the game of baseball and the Mets in particular need to have a better sense of what they are talking about. I doubt this article ever finds them but if it does, hopefully it can help.



Mack Ade said...

Stephen -

Oh, I guarantee this article will find one of them.

Stephen Guilbert said...

I could always tweet it...

Mack Ade said...

Stephen -

I would if I were you.

Charles said...

Stephen, this is one of the best articles I've read all season and I sure hope it does get to one of these guys.

I think the reason people think he isn't as great as usual is because we haven't seen many fantastic catches like we used to.

That could be because his range is so good he usually gets to balls quickly and there isn't a need to make a leaping catch.

Or possibly because baseball isn't predictable. One player can make three leaping catches in one game and then not have to make another for the rest of the season.

I'm sure there are 50 plays at the end of the year that Lagaras makes look routine that other players would need to dive for. That's why defensive metrics is important in identifying how good he is. Because the eye test Baron talks about can fool even the most seasoned baseball fan there is.

Stephen Guilbert said...

Thank you, Charles. Your last paragraph is exactly what I want people in baseball to understand: Stats are valuable because they tell us what we might not be able to see. They are an output. They are the numerical representation of what has happened....not what should have or will but what already has. Understanding their nuances and intricacies is important but it's not difficult, either.

Anonymous said...

Before the injury, Juan had a plus-plus arm that was a factor in nearly every game he played. This season, hurt, he can't throw nearly as well, and his defensive value has obviously suffered.

James Preller

Stephen Guilbert said...


The writers on this site and Mack himself are all fans. None of us get paid to do this. We are fans. Some of us buy into the advanced metrics and others don't. I have an issue with the Hawk Harrelsons of the world who get paid to cover baseball and do it in such a prejudiced and sensational way that it makes you not want to follow the game (at least the way its covered by certain people). I shut the game off yesterday in large part to their comments about Lagares. I am tired of seeing "experts" talk about matters that they should know and don't. We are not those experts on this site. THAT is the difference.

In response to Lagares: Look at the two points I returned to Baron with...these metrics have wild fluctuations and they are dependent on what other center fielders do. Center fielders in baseball this year have been ridiculously good (Marisnick, Kiermaier, Taylor, Hamilton, Pollock...you could make the case that this is the best defensive CF class we've had in decades) and still he ranks right in there with him. Personally I don't like DRS and I've written on why. I prefer the UZR method but even that is flawed. His UZR is definitely lower than what 2014/15 was but that does not tell me everything. What you try to do is look at the data in context and understand its relevance to the entire data set. What I see is a player who is having an elite defensive season amidst good competition and positive defensive numbers. I can't confidently say that his UZR and DRS are lower than last year because of his play instead of statistical variation. However, I CAN say definitively that someone who says, "My eyes tell me he is a lesser defender" are not speaking from a place of knowledge. It's conjecture. The data tells us he has been a spectacular fielder (not thrower, but fielder). THAT I can report on.

Stephen Guilbert said...

The other thing to consider is that Curtis Granderson is having a very very very nice season in left field and his increased range has taken outs away from Juan Lagares. That affects those defensive metrics too, you know, even though Juan Lagares has not changed as a player.

James Preller, yes, his arm has dragged down his defensive numbers. So much so that he's third in the entire NL outfield class. Abysmal.

Excuse the sarcasm. I just don't understand why this is a battle that should ever be picked by anyone, ever. It's like getting on Curtis Granderson for not having many RBI. 1.) That's not his game or role right now and 2.) He is not the problem on this team. Maybe a poor example, but I'll stick with it. There are problems on this team and there are areas that shouldn't even be talked about. Lagares' defense is something that is so obviously not a problem that it blows my mind when it's even talked about.


Stephen Guilbert said...

Sorry right**** field. Granderson.

eraff said...

Lagares is one of the bigger stumbling blocks going forward because he's one of the young guys that they have some investment in..... and his offense is non-responsive to the experience of almost 1200 ab's.... if not in regression.

He's young and sort of on the cusp..... talented guys who don't improve their underlying skills GO AWAY. The opposition gets a book on them..... Lagares 8 low contact without much pitch recognition. He has no approach and he's become and easy ab for oitchers. You're seeing lack of progress..... possible injury does not explain the instant pitchers counts in which he is easily placed and victimized.

The guy has massive ability, but he's becoming a Failure to Launch

Anonymous said...

Dude. You can throw out asany stats as you want, but we have eyes. He's simply not as good as last year. He's still good. But he has slipped a bit. Add that to his dead arm and dead bat, he is not an asset right now.

Stephen Guilbert said...

I don't deny what you're saying eraff, but it's both analyzing his offense (which we're not doing here) and indicting a player who hasn't really been the problem this year. You can take everything you said above and apply it to Wilmer Flores who doesn't play elite defense and doesn't run well. Why isn't that what's being dissected endlessly by the pundits? Why are these people so backwards? I don't understand something special about the game. This is readily available information that is easy to access and simple to understand.

Stephen Guilbert said...


The reason you need stats is because your eyes trick you. Fans are biased. You cannot deny that. That is why statistics are valuable.

I cannot wait until the day in which the rejection of statistics is considered taboo instead of the acceptance of them.

ZachBoyer said...

If you delete my comments for no other reason than to preserve the appearences of you coming out looking better than me, then, I'm sorry, those are the actions of a fraud and a coward.

I told you: This is not my job. I don't have to be professional. I'd rather be honest.

ZachBoyer said...

If you delete my comments for no other reason than to preserve the appearences of you coming out looking better than me, then, I'm sorry, those are the actions of a fraud and a coward.

I told you: This is not my job. I don't have to be professional. I'd rather be honest.

Ernest Dove said...

This is the game that neeeever ends. It goes on and on my friend.......

Hey Zach, its a fan website, writen by fans. I assume ur commenting on here because u already know that if u comment on a big website nobody will care or respond, especially the paid writers who post their articles on it.
Just say LGM and call it a day my friend.

ZachBoyer said...

I started coming here because I liked the emphasis on the minors. And TBH I don't give any thought to what would happen on a "big' site. I never thought the person whose name is on this site would lack so little self-esteem as to delete my comments so he could come out looking better than me. That is really a low move. And if the blog is so small, why are you so worried about keeping up the phoney appearance of it?

ZachBoyer said...

I didn't curse. I didn't call him any bad names. Nor would I ever do that. He just deleted my commets (and keeps doing so) because he came out looking wrong/bad.

Ernest Dove said...

Nah, my friend I believe its because the head of this site prefers friendly and respectful banter.
Ok, maybe some bouts of sarcasm and minor team/player/ownership digs, but nothing too harsh.

Stephen Guilbert said...

Yea Zach, I was out for the past few hours but that's what it looks like as well.

Let's just change the tune here and get back to a productive conversation. Let's be honest...we're all "watching" the game in the background trying not to cringe every at bat.

ZachBoyer said...

Until he deleted my comments what did I say that was disrespectful?

He deleted my comments. At which point I accused him of fraudulence and cowardice. Nothing more, nothing less.

ZachBoyer said...


How would you know that if you were gone for 3 hours? That's a contradiction.

Mack Ade said...

Zach -

Well, this doesn't look like it's going to stop.

I didn't delete your post because I was trying to look better than you. I deleted them after calling you out for attacking Christopher Soto and I.

I also;however, apologized to you for my stance on Cuddyer playing CF which you made such as issue out with Stephen Guilbert.

Zach, I never cared about ever 'looking bad' because all I did was give my thoughts on a subject. You disagreed with it, but you chose to personally attack me and insult me on my OWN blog.

Yes Zach, MY blog.

Look... it's been a long day and it's really shitty being a Mets fan this year. I'm not going to delete anymore of your comments, but I am going to ignore them in the future.

I am also going to try and find someone who would like to takeover writing the Friday Morning Report. I'm close to turning 69 years old and my spin on this game is closer to Clint Eastwood in 'Trouble With The Curve'. Guys like you, Chris, and Stephen have a completely different spin on this game these days.

Lastly, I apologize for my actions today.

Stephen Guilbert said...

The thing is, Mack, though you and I differ on our approach of the game, I respect where you come from. It has value. Lots of it. That's why I read this blog religiously then decided to write for it.

There are a lot of people who get paid to cover the game of baseball who don't care to learn about an approach to the game that is more accurate. That's better, analytically. You're open to that. The fact that you mention BABIP every so often is indicative of that. You're definitely an "old school" fan but you've adapted more than you might think.

If you all of a sudden adopted my "spin" on baseball, Mack's Mets wouldn't be Mack's Mets.

Zach, there are times to just let it go. This would be one of them. You can engage with me in a discussion about the topic or you can stop responding. Up to you.

Ernest Dove said...

And its the game that neeeeeever ends. It just goes on and on my friend. ..............
Long live Sean Gilmartin !!!!!!

ZachBoyer said...

But I told you I didn't attack you. All I did was quote your comments from 3 days ago. Maybe it felt like an attack because they were dumb comments? Either way, you deleted mine for no good cause.

And, yes, if you keep deleting my comment I'm going to keep posting it. I don't care. That's dishonest. Apparently I'm going to be here for another 40 innings anyway!

Ernest Dove said...

Gilbert Gomez raised his average to .150 today with Bingo.
I say we shut Lagares down and call up Gilbert.

Stephen Guilbert said...

Zach, let it go. Or I'm taking this article down. Let it go.

eraff said...

"I don't deny what you're saying eraff, but it's both analyzing his offense (which we're not doing here) and indicting a player who hasn't really been the problem this year. You can take everything you said above and apply it to Wilmer Flores who doesn't play elite defense and doesn't run well. "

Stephen, I'm not trying to be Perry Mason....and I'm not sure I understand your comment....but Lagares IS a Problem.... and he's 1200 ab's and a fairly large financial commitment into looking like he's a ? going forward.

PS...Love Stats...and Love the EYE TEST as well. Not a big Fan of Defensive SDtats, but they're evolving. There are some subtleties to the game, especially Post BIG-OFFENSE. There is situational defense being played---and too little situational Offense. The Shift, and "moving runners over" are parts of the game that are not well analysed statistically---as of now.

I like using Stats to confirm my eyes.....and Using my eyes to understand stats. I do lean to watching rather than extrapolating---The EYES have it!!!

Stephen Guilbert said...

eraff, the point of this piece is not to evaluable Juan Lagares' offensive contributions this year. We all agree there haven't been many. Defensively he has been outstanding and the stats, and the "eye test", if you must include it, back that up.

eraff said...

Yes...he's an excellent Defensive Outfielder

Mack's Mets © 2012