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Juan Lagares has shown he deserves Gold Glove, but he may not have the votes

Mets centerfielder Juan Lagares comes down with the

Mets centerfielder Juan Lagares comes down with the catch on a fly ball by Washington Nationals' Denard Span during the seventh inning. Credit: AP / Nick Wass

Near the batting cage before most games, Terry Collins likes to chat with his counterparts on other teams. Based on this informal polling, the Mets manager insists that word has spread about the defensive wizardry of centerfielder Juan Lagares.

"When you go to the ballpark, people are asking about him," Collins said recently.

For Lagares to have any chance of winning his first Gold Glove, Collins has to be right.

Despite recent reforms to improve the selection process, Gold Glove voting has been the subject of debate, panned by critics as a glorified popularity contest that rewards reputation over performance.

This season's race for the NL Gold Glove in centerfield could provide a litmus test for those recent voting changes, and whether they actually have taken root.

Objectively, Lagares should be a lock for his first piece of hardware. According to the SABR Defensive Index -- the metric added by Rawlings last season to help decide Gold Glove voting -- Lagares ranks as the best centerfielder in the National League.

Lagares' 17.9 rating ranks ahead of notable competitors such as the Reds' Billy Hamilton (11.2), the Nationals' Denard Span (1.7), the Brewers' Carlos Gomez (0.3) and the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen (-6.5). For the second straight year, these defensive numbers were included in the packet sent this week to Gold Glove voters around the league.

Defensive metrics, however, account for roughly 25 percent of the Gold Glove vote. The remaining 75 percent falls to coaches and managers, who will cast ballots at season's end to rank players in their respective leagues.

This may hurt Lagares, despite a personal highlight reel of circus catches.

Many coaches and managers rely primarily on their eyes alone to determine their Gold Glove winner, meaning that one standout game might be enough to form a lasting impression.

"Many people that vote only get to see somebody six games or nine games," said Mets bench coach Bob Geren, who suggested that voting might be helped by including scouts and front-office personnel. "That doesn't give you a big enough sample size."

Even voters who consciously try to work around such biases often face a time crunch. So they must make do with their own first-person insights, while filling the gap with statistical data on hand or through conversations with other coaches.

"That's all we have to go on," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We're not going to go and sit in the video room and watch [the Rockies'] Nolan Arenado play 45 games at third base and decide if he's worthy of winning a Gold Glove."

But voters often default to making selections based on reputation and profile. An egregious example came in 1999, when Rafael Palmeiro made it a three-peat at first base, even though he spent most of the season as the Rangers' designated hitter.

With Lagares, prestige might be the problem.

Gomez won the award last year and has the advantage of being an offensive force while McCutchen reigns as the NL's Most Valuable Player. The veteran Span plays for a contender and Hamilton's stolen-base prowess in the minors made him a household name before he stepped on a big-league field.

"Major League Baseball and baseball fans knew who Billy Hamilton was before he got here," said Price, who naturally backed his own player for the Gold Glove award.

By contrast, as a rookie a year ago, Lagares wasn't even a finalist for the Gold Glove.

Yet, it's Lagares, not Hamilton, that metrics pegged as the best centerfielder in the league. And it's an assertion that has been backed by several National League scouts, who rave about Lagares' range, instincts and powerful arm.

"A lot of people say I might win," Lagares said. "But I really don't want to think about that. I just want to keep doing what I'm doing. If I win it, that's great. For anybody, that would be great."

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