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Juan Lagares proving defensive value to Mets
The Mets have found their very own Brett Gardner.
Centerfielder Juan Lagares has improved his hitting recently. However, even if he reverts to his early-season struggles at the plate, the numbers say it's still beneficial for him to be in the lineup every day.
Well, at least in the field.
Wins Above Replacement is an advanced stat used to quantify a player's total value over that of a typical replacement player. Baseball-Reference breaks down the number into offensive WAR and defensive WAR.
Lagares, who entered Saturday with a .273 average, .307 on-base percentage and two home runs, has an 0.7 oWAR which puts him in the same league as backup catcher Wil Nieves, backup outfielder A.J. Pollock and injured Yankees backstop Francisco Cervelli.
But Lagares' true value comes through his dWAR, which Baseball-Reference lists as 1.3. Despite playing in only 68 games, that ranks him tied for 17th in MLB among all defensive players. His 1.3 dWAR is tied with the likes of Gardner and Royals slick-fielding shortstop Alcides Escobar.
Defensive Runs Saved, another advanced metric, is the key defensive evaluation in WAR. In 448.1 innings in center, Lagares has 11 DRS. For comparison, Gardner, who's widely viewed as one of the finest centerfielders in baseball by old-school and new-school alike, has nine DRS in 875.2 innings.
Part of the reason for Lagares' success is his ability to quickly cover a wide swath of ground. Ultimate Zone Rating measures a player's ability to get to balls hit in his fielding zone. Lagares has a 7.4 UZR this season. Going back to his crosstown comparable again, Gardner has a 2.9 UZR.
But it's a good thing Lagares is so superb with his glove, because the bat is a different story.
Lagares made his MLB debut on April 23, and in 25 games from then until June 1, hit just .146 with a .180 OBP. Since June 5, however, he's been a different player, hitting .315 with a .348 OBP and staking a firm claim to the centerfield job.
But there's plenty of legitimate skepticism over whether that level of production can continue. During his hot streak, Lagares has a .412 batting average on balls in play, a giant red flag. BABIP varies by a player -- those with more speed generally have a higher number because they can beat out more grounders. But even quick players like Mike Trout (.367) and Michael Bourn (.357) don't approach Lagares' bloated BABIP. In the minor leagues, Lagares' full-season BABIPs tended to fall in the mid-to-upper .300s. In short, regression is expected.
There's also the issue of his plate discipline.
Lagares is not a power hitter but still strikes out in 24.5 percent of his plate appearances. He's struck out 51 times and walked just eight times, a 6.3 K/BB rate. Even during the last two months, when he's been hitting better, Lagares has barely trimmed that rate to 6.1.
But plate discipline is often a work in progress for young players. And Lagares, with his defense alone, has given manager Terry Collins a reason to write his name in the lineup every day.