An MMO Fan Shot by yfern328
Fresh off an ALCS MVP where he batted .533 (8 for 15) with two doubles, two walks, and a stolen base, Lorenzo Cain has catapulted himself from “that-guy-who-plays-baseball-for-the-Royals” to an oft mentioned name in the national spotlight of the World Series. In addition to his sound batting, Cain has not disappointed with the glove either as he’s played spectacularly in the outfield tracking down balls in the gaps while making highlight-reel catches. Simply put, watching Lorenzo Cain during this postseason has been a treat, and if anything, it affirms my belief that stars can be born with organizational patience and commitment. As a Mets fan, I couldn’t help but wonder how awesome it would be to have a player like Cain leading off for the Mets. And then suddenly it dawned on me—perhaps the Mets already have a similar breakout candidate on the roster? Maybe that player is Juan Lagares?
Considering that Cain broke out big time in 2014 with a line of .301/.339/.412, I figured that maybe Lagares had a shot to best his STEAMER projections for 2015 if he too could take a similar step forward. When I began comparing Lagares and Cain, the first thing I was drawn to was Cain’s 2013 season and Lagares’ in 2014.
In 2013, Lorenzo Cain posted a triple slash line of .251/.310/.348 along with a wRC+ of 80 in 115 games. In many ways, Lagares had a better season in 2014. Lagares posted a triple slash line of .281/.321/.382 with a wRC+ of 101 in 116 games. Going back just another year, I found that in 61 games in 2012, Cain posted a line of .266/.316/.419 which was slightly better, but roughly just as bad as the .242/.281/.352 line Lagares had in 2013 over 121 games. Looking at just the stats from the past couple of years, it was clear that Cain had a slight edge in his ability to get on base, so I wondered if Cain had that reputation in the minors as well.
Turns out that was true. When I compared the cumulative minor league stats of Cain and Lagares, I found that Cain had a .294/.366/.430 line over 728 games which was just a notch better than Lagares’ .281/.322/.403 in 633 games. The interesting thing to note however was that while Cain performed pretty well at all the levels he played in the minors, Lagares seemed to show improvement over time. For instance in all levels below A+, Cain posted a .311/.387/.446 line in 206 games while Lagares only had a .255/.297/.372 line in 327 games.
However, Lagares showed marked improvement in the minor leagues from A+ onwards as compared to Cain who continued to produce stats in a similar fashion—in 728 games Cain hit .294/.366/.430 as compared to Lagares’ line of .308/.347/.435 over 306 games. If we consider these numbers, Lagares and Cain actually have a lot in common. Considering that Lagares improved over the course of his minor league career to eventually be comparable to Cain at the high minor league levels, is it that unreasonable to believe that Lagares could continue to make improvements at the plate in 2015 like Cain did this past year? It’s certainly reasonable to speculate that with Lagares’ steady improvement over the years, maybe he starts to trend more towards the hitter he was in the high minor leagues moving forward.
Again comparing Cain’s 2013 to Lagares’ 2014, what can be noted is that the two had nearly identical strikeout rates (20.4% vs 19.2%) and isolated power (.098 vs .101) while posting the same line drive rates (21.9%).
While Lagares did have a slightly higher BABIP compared to Cain (.341 vs .309), overall Lagares’ numbers were slightly better as a whole, so even if his stats regressed a little bit, the point is that Cain still ended up breaking out in 2014 with slightly worse numbers in 2013. One thing to note is that Cain had a much higher walk rate in 2013 (7.5%) compared to Lagares in 2014 (4.4%). Oddly enough though, in Cain’s breakout year he ended posting a 4.8% walk rate, so maybe there is hope for Lagares after all.
Additionally on the base paths, Lagares compares quite favorably. In 2013 and 2014 Juan Lagares stole 6 and 13 bases respectively. In 2012 and 2013 Cain respectively stole 10 and 14 bases, and in his breakout season Cain managed to steal 28 bases.It’s not crazy to think that Lagares could be a mid-20’s steal candidate in 2014 considering the ability he showed late in 2014 when he was given the green light. In fact, Lagares was no slouch in the minors either. Over his minor league career Lagares managed to steal 100 bases compared to Cain who stole 140.
Lastly there’s defense: both players are quite adept defensively, but Lagares is arguably the best centerfielder in baseball. Among qualified players, Lagares was the only one in baseball to be in the top 5 in DRS, UZR, and UZR/150 besides Alex Gordon. So assuming his defensive value remains constant, I don’t think it’s too lofty to believe that Lagares can have the same impact as Cain next year if his bat improves. In 2014 Cain was a 4.9 fWAR player while Lagares was pretty good himself at 3.8 fWAR. But what exactly does Lagares need to work on?
To me the big thing that stuck out was Lagares’ performance versus RHP. In 2014 Lagares hit a whopping .349 against LHP but only .264 against righties. While he showed improvement from his 2013 numbers where he hit .241 against LHP and .243 against RHP, Lagares has got to improve against RHP to even out his splits.
In 2013 Lorenzo Cain hit .238 against LHP and .256 against RHP but drastically improved on those figures this year by hitting .313 against LHP and .297 against RHP. If Lagares could hit righties with more authority, there’s every reason to believe that he can post similar numbers to Cain considering he already hits southpaws better. Outside of June and July, Lagares had a pretty solid year, but he’s got to build on this past season to really break out.
What is encouraging is that Lagares had pretty even Home/Away splits, so I’d continue to hope that Lagares can be a consistent player for the Mets in 2015. Another thing I do like about Lagares is that he had slightly better numbers with men in scoring position this past year, and that has been a trademark for Cain this postseason. That said, Lagares has got to improve upon hitting off-speed pitches. With more exposure to the league, and with more experience, I think Juan can greatly improve in this facet of his game as well. Moving into 2015, if Lagares continues to make steady improvements, he could be a very valuable hitter at the top of the Mets lineup.
Overall, do I project Lagares to become the next Lorenzo Cain? No. But what I am saying is that it isn’t out of the realm of possibility to assume that Lagares can breakout like Cain did this past year. Currently STEAMER projects Lagares to hit .256/.298/.360 with a 2.6 fWAR in 2015. I think those figures are shockingly low. Lagares has the potential to put up that level of fWAR defensively alone. He’s a good bet to approach the 4.8 fWAR Cain posted this year, or at least get into 4.0 fWAR territory with some moderate improvement.
In closing, Lagares has always shown steady improvement at the minor league level, and has made adjustments while continually improving at the major league level as well. Everything points to a player that’s gaining experience and continuing to develop and evolve as time passes. Nothing would make me happier than to see Juan Lagares take that next step and become every bit as good as Lorenzo Cain – and that he can pull it off as soon as next season. Let’s Go Mets.
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This Fan Shot was contributed by MMO reader yfern328. Have something you want to say about the Mets? Share your opinions with over 30,000 Mets fans who read this site daily. Send your Fan Shot to FanShot@MetsmerizedOnline.com. Or ask us about becoming a regular contributor.