A DiComotorial: Free Lagares!
Twelve days ago, shortly after Juan Lagares’ return from the disabled list, Mets manager Terry Collins called him his “everyday” center fielder. The statement came as Lagares was in the midst of an 8-for-20 run at the plate in Denver, entrenching himself as the team’s early-season MVP.
That stretch ended when Collins benched Lagares on May 5, part of his plan to cycle all four of his outfielders in a regular rotation. Fine. Collins did not bench Lagares again for another week, but then he did so again two days later. Then again Thursday, keeping his “everyday” center fielder out of the lineup for the third time in four games.
No doubt Lagares is scuffling a bit, batting .185 with a .541 OPS in nine games since leaving Colorado. But he still entered Thursday’s play ranking third on the Mets in batting average, second in slugging and third in on-base percentage. According to both the systems used by Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, his Wins Above Replacement total ranks top three on the team.
When asked about benching Lagares, Collins typically discusses the spark that Eric Young is capable of delivering from the lineup’s leadoff spot. And it is true that the Mets own a far better record in games that Young has started than they do in all others.
But little in the underlying numbers suggests that is uniquely Young’s doing. The outfielder plays above-average defense, but nothing approaching Lagares’ premium level. He has scored 28 runs in 35 games, but that is largely because of his gaudy plate appearance total and the fact that those at-bats have mostly come directly in front of the Mets’ two best hitters, Daniel Murphy and David Wright. Young’s .336 on-base percentage ranks 104th in baseball; his .672 OPS is 172nd. Most of the production that Young has achieved is cumulative — a result of his playing time, not an argument in favor of it. He is 28 years old and has already been designated for assignment once in his career.
The one area in which Young has unquestionably excelled — baserunning — is an asset that Collins could best use off the bench. With Young at his disposal in the seventh or eighth inning, Collins could routinely dispatch him in the highest-leverage baserunning situations possible.
At the least, the manager must make good on his promise to play all four of his outfielders — not bench the one with the most potential to remain part of this team four years from now. Chris Young, another right-handed hitting outfielder, entered Thursday’s play with a .233/.298/.407 slash line — including a .292 on-base mark against right-handed pitching. Lagares’ production on both sides of the ball has been better.
There is a chance Lagares is not a good enough hitter to play every day in the big leagues. But considering that the potential does exist, why not find out now?
In talking about his closer situation Thursday, Collins said it is important that his players know and understand their roles when they arrive at the ballpark each day. As the “everyday” center fielder in name only, it is impossible for Lagares — a 25-year-old with as bright a future as any position player on the team — to know where he stands.
The Mets might be a better overall team if he did.
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