When you make something look easy, sometimes people forget how hard that something is. It is extremely difficult to play center field at the Major League level — Juan Lagares makes it look easy.
After winning the Gold Glove Award for National League center fielders in 2014, Lagares was hampered by injuries for the two following seasons. He came back healthy this season, however an overcrowded outfield featuring Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson further impeded his playing time.
The thing is, I will remind you, this guy is good. Despite playing only 556.2 innings in center field this season, let’s take a look at why I believe he should win his second Gold Glove Award.
First, let’s look at his toughest competition. Using defensive metrics courtesy of Fangraphs, my best guess for the winner of the award (aside from Lagares) would be Nationals’ center fielder Michael Taylor. In 940.1 innings, Taylor led NL center fielders not named Lagares with a 10.1 UZR and 16.9 UZR/150. He also tied Billy Hamilton with 9 DRS on the season.
Before we go forward, it is important we all understand these metrics. Fangraphs says UZR “puts a run value to defense, attempting to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up through their fielding prowess (or lack thereof).” UZR/150 “is simply UZR scaled to an average number of chances for a season.” DRS, or Defensive Runs Saved, “indicates how many runs a player saved or hurt his team in the field compared to the average player at his position.” Got it? Awesome.
Juan Lagares, in just 59 percent of the innings Taylor played, registered 15 DRS compared to Taylor’s 9. Lagares also had a 10.4 UZR compared to Taylor’s 10.1, but before you say that’s comparable, remember how Lagares played much less innings than Taylor. This is where UZR/150 comes in, leveling the playing field, so to speak.
Taylor had a 16.9 UZR/150. For orientation purposes, next best after him was Billy Hamilton with 10.0, then Odubel Herrera with 9.3, Manuel Margot with 6.9, Ender Enciarte with 2.6, Albert Almora Jr. with 2.3, and A.J. Pollock with 0.9. Nobody else in the National League registered a positive number — except Juan Lagares whose UZR/150 was an amazing 24.7. This is the highest mark in the whole of MLB, with the best American League mark being Byron Buxton‘s 13.1.
If you need further metrics to convince you, Lagares also had the best arm rating in the National league with 7.3, followed by Hamilton at 7.0, Taylor at 5.7 and Keon Broxton at 2.1. This was also the best rating in all MLB center fielders.
The only thing standing in the way of Lagares winning his second Gold Glove is the mere fact he didn’t play enough innings to qualify. In order to be considered for the award, you must have played 698 total innings and because Lagares only played 556.2, he will not be considered. The defensive metrics predict Michael Taylor will win, but a big part of the process is the coaching staff vote which leaves room for someone like Billy Hamilton to sneak in.
Regardless of who wins, at least in my mind, Juan Lagares reclaimed his title of best center fielder in the National League — if not the MLB. He might not have the hardware to signify it, but the metrics certainly prove it.