Where Have You Gone, Juan Lagares?

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Having not started 4 of the last 5 games, Mets fans have begun to wonder, what has happened to Juan Lagares? When Lagares returned from the disabled list on May 1st, speculation began about how the Mets would divide the playing time in the outfield among Lagares, Curtis Granderson, Chris Young, Eric Young Jr., and Bobby Abreu. Terry Collins made it quite clear that Lagares was his center fielder and it seemed that Young Jr. was the odd man out. Lagares had a big series in Colorado, going 8-20 with four doubles, three runs scored, and two runs batted in. The next day in Miami, Lagares was on the bench with Collins’ citing the need to rest Lagares’ hamstring as the reason he inserted Bobby Abreu in the lineup. Since then, Lagares has struggled with the bat, going 5-27 (.185). But slumps happen to even the best of hitters, and what Lagares is able to bring to the table defensively still makes him a valuable, everyday guy in the Mets lineup. Instead of giving the promising outfielder everyday playing time, Terry Collins and the Mets have put the 25 year old on the bench, only starting one game this week. To put that in perspective, 40 year old Booby Abreu has two starts this week. 

I don’t get it. I have tried to understand where Collins is coming from but I do not understand. The Mets look to have what appears to be a center fielder in Lagares that can be part of the solution. Defensively, besides Carlos Gomez, there might not be a better defensive center field in the National League. Instead, Collins insists on playing the likes of Eric Young Jr., Chris Young, and Bobby Abreu. And this is not to say that these three guys can’t help the Mets win. Eric Young Jr. can be your primary left fielder, batting leadoff and bringing speed to the lineup (though I do not think Young Jr.’s OBP is high enough to bat leadoff every day on a winning team). Chris Young can give all three of the outfielders a day off here and there and play against lefties, who he has hit well against in his career (career .833 OPS vs. lefties compared to a career .709 OPS vs. righties). And Abreu can be a valuable bat off the bench in late innings, getting one start every two weeks or so. Instead, it is Lagares who is getting the occasional start. How are the Mets going to be able to find out if Lagares can be part of the core going forward without throwing him out there everyday, whether he is hitting or not, for 150 games?

In today’s New York Post, Mike Vacarro wrote an article titled, The latest example of Mets stupidity? Sitting Juan Lagares. In the article, Vacarro brings up several good points as to why Lagares should be playing, which include:

“Lagares isn’t hitting .236 (as Eric Young is) or .220 (as Chris Young is) or .240 (as Bobby Abreu is, after two walks and a single) or .189 (as Curtis Granderson is). He sits at .296, 56 points higher than any of the options Collins has utilized in those four Lagares-free lineups.”

AND

“Lagares did not start in either of those shutouts against the Yankees.”

The last point that I highlighted above is the one that makes no sense. Before last night’s game against the Nationals, Terry said that his lineup, which did not include Lagares, was about putting more offense on the field, giving the Mets the best chance to score runs  and the he was more concerned about offense than defense. Well Lagares has been the Mets best option in the outfield BOTH offensively and defensively. In addition, when your team is struggling offensively, it makes it even more imperative that you are strong in the other areas of the game, like pitching and defense, so that you give yourself a chance to keep it close and hope that you get a couple runs across. Instead the Mets make themselves weaker defensively by sitting Lagares. And what happens last night? The Mets have a number of early defensive miscues that allow the Nationals to get out early, all but putting the Mets away until the last at bat of the game. One of those defensive miscues came on Eric Young Jr. missing the cut on his home throw, allowing both runners on base to advance. It should be noted that Young Jr.’s overthrow was his second defensive miscue of the week that has cost the Mets runs. A .329 OBP will not make up for the defensive miscues.

When Matt Harvery went down in the second half of the season last year, the hope that 2014 would be the year the Mets get back to the postseason all but went away and it became all about 2015. This season should be about being competitive and learning how to win and putting a full season together without completely falling apart in the second half. But it should be done with getting your prospects experience. It should be done evaluating if certain players can be everyday player going forward. It should be done playing your best players as often as possible. Juan Lagares has been one of the best players on the Mets this year. It is time to start treating him like one. So Terry Collins, Sandy Alderson, and anyone else making decisions inside the Mets, it is time to #FreeJuanLagares.

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