|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.|
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:
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:
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.
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.