Yesterday, I wrote about Brandon Nimmo‘s emergence as a potential every-day outfielder for 2018. He is not the only option for Mets outfield, however, and his competition already has a Gold Glove Award under his belt.
Juan Lagares won a Gold Glove Award in 2014 when he posted an amazing 18.6 UZR and 26 DRS. He emerged as possibly the best defensive outfielder in the Majors at the time, but injuries have continued to limit his availability. His playing time was also limited this season with an outfield jammed by Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto, and Yoenis Cespedes.
Those four players are gone now, and Lagares is all but cemented in center field for the rest of this season. With Cespedes and Conforto both still part of the Mets’ 2018 plans, Lagares understands that now is the time to show what he’s capable of.
“I don’t see myself as a backup outfielder,” Lagares told Kristie Ackert of the NY Daily News. “I still feel like I can play every day. This is the time for me to show that.”
Defense has never been the concern with Lagares. Everyone knows he’s as good as it gets in center field — It’s how successful he is at home plate which is a concern. Since Lagares has played every day because of Conforto and Cespedes’ injuries, he has shown what he can do with consistent playing time.
Since August 25th, Lagares has hit .281/.313/.453 with one home run, one triple, and six doubles. In those 17 games he has 18 hits, eight of which are of the extra-base variety, and has reached base safely in 13 of those 17 games.
“All I can do now is try and use this time to do what I can do,” Lagares said. “I am trying to make them see that I can play every day. I don’t think I am a backup.”
Hitting is not the only way to produce for a team. For example, Lagares has a 7.1 UZR and 14 DRS this season, providing much more value defensively than any other Met. On a team built around pitching, defense becomes all the more important. One person in the Mets organization shared with Ackert what he thinks about Lagares.
“He’s kind of what he is,” said one Mets source. “He doesn’t walk much, he doesn’t hit for power, he doesn’t really steal bases. But you definitely want him in the outfield late in games defensively.”
I agree with the source saying he doesn’t walk much, doesn’t hit for power, and doesn’t steal bases; Those are facts. But if you say you want him in center field late in the game, why not say you want him out there every inning?
If Lagares hits close to or above his career slash line of .259/.298/.369 and plays his typical Gold Glove defense in center field, he could be far more valuable than a .300 hitter who plays a mediocre center field. Scoring runs is just as valuable as preventing the other team from scoring them.
Brandon Nimmo is just about average in center field with a -0.6 UZR and -1 DRS in 67.1 Major League innings. However, he has been playing great offensively, slashing .282/.413/.409 this season. If both Cespedes and Conforto are healthy, Conforto would likely be in right field while Lagares and Nimmo fight it out for the center field starting job. One is offense first, one is defense first.
It will be interesting to see which type of player the Mets want roaming around center field in 2018. The more runs you save on defense, the less you have to score on offense. The logic goes both ways, however, because the more runs you score on offense, the less you have to save on defense. The Mets will have to decide which path they want to take — Play Nimmo so they can score more runs? Or play Lagares so more runs would be saved?