I found this article recently posted on the AA main page by Mike Bates to be an interesting perspective on the Mets from an outsider. Of particular interest was the comments section, in which commenters with more familiarity with the team poked holes in Bates's main points. Of particularly particular interest was the comment by metsgiants3380:
I wouldn't say Juan Lagares is a "terrible" hitter
The guy had a .280 minor league batting average, and while his BA and OBP last season were well-below average, they weren't terrible, and weren't even close to that. His average was actually up in the .270s as late as September 7th, and then he went on a slump in the last 20 games or so of the season.
Terrible is Rick Ankiel. Lagares was far from that. The guy's got a bit of offensive ability, and while his hitting is not astounding or promising, the guy's got an idea up there...
I follow the Mets minor leagues casually through Toby Hyde's metsminorleagueblog.com and I remember for years hearing about Juan Lagares, minor league line drive hitter with no patience, with every update essentially saying "Juan is hitting .370 in July, but his .444 BABIP seems to be unsustainable." When he came up and suddenly was an elite defender, my imagination saw Carlos Gomez--yeah, he can't take a walk, but he can rake and play elite defense! Those sillies who say he can't hit just haven't seen him figure out major league hitting and spray line drives all over the field.
Well... is it true? Like, am I making this up? Do I really know more than a guy who writes for SB Nation, or am I like the stoner in the back of a high school physics class who KNOWS he just figured out why quantum physics is wrong?
Thinking about this question, I was reminded of this excellent Fanpost by the excellently named Blame-everyone-else, posted just before the 2012 season and the Lucas Duda as full-time rightfielder failure. He figured Duda was gonna hit, but give back runs in the field, so he took a pretty stable offensive profile for Duda going forward, and then projected his value at various levels of sucky defense to see just how much of his offense he would negate. His basic conclusion is wonderfully masochistic to read in hindsight:
So if Lucas Duda can hit like the most optimistic projections have him hitting, as long as his defensive runs are above -20 he should be fine. Anything closer to the median is gravy.
In just 450 PAs in 2012, Duda put up a laughable -28 Def (his offense also tanked, but nothing short of Bautista production was going to make up for that defense). Take the time to check out the Fanpost, it's all kinds of awesome, both at the time and in hindsight.
I thought I would try the same thing with Juan Lagares. What do we know about his skill set? His defense is clearly elite. He was scuffling offensively in the first half, adjusting to the majors, but I felt like what we saw in the second half was the real Juan. Turns out he had just enough PAs in the second half--around 300--to use Fangraph's Bradley Woodrum's ShouldHit wRC+ projector to project some offensive value going forward.
References: When Sample Sizes Become Reliable / Should Hit
At 300 PAs, BB%, K%, and HR% are stable, and that is all we need going forward to project his wRC+. To add further weight to this methodology, Lagares's BB% and K% were remarkably stable in the 2nd half, hovering right around 6% and 21% each month (in September his BB% and K% stayed the same, but his BABIP cratered to .222 and his wRC+ collapsed to to 21, which, you know, kinda illustrates the point of this post). It is reasonable to say he won't walk or strike out much more than that.
His BABIP is more interesting. He seems to be, like David Wright, someone who has the speed and hit tools that will enable him to drive his career BABIP above average. His BABIPs in the minors in seasons of 300 PAs or more are as follows: .265, .329, .379, .337, and .310 in MLB.
Assuming his defensive-independent hitting stays as it was in the second half of 2013, how high would his BABIP have to be to make him a league-average hitter?
Ouch. Well, maybe not Carlos Gomez after all. I guess a light hitter who strikes out in 20% of his at bats and doesn't really walk is not a very valuable offensive piece, sprayed line drives be damned. Seeing as there is only one player not named Ty Cobb with a career BABIP over .370, it's pretty safe to say that if Lagares wants to be a consistently league-average bat, he needs to shed some strike outs or find some walks and home runs.
The good news is, of course, that with only a 75 wRC+ last year Lagares dropped a 4.8WAR/650PAs bomb last year. That number includes his crappy first half hitting. What can we expect from Juan Lagares going forward? This is my prediction:
- He will not put up 25+ Def value most seasons, but it will still be really high
- He will have some years where his BABIP is in the .330s and his defense is clicking on all cylinders he has all-star numbers, though never gets elected to an all-star game (the line drives they will be a-spraying)
- He will have some years where his BABIP is below .300 and he is a sinkhole in the offense (look for the ill-washed masses to grumble when his name is mentioned those years, even if he is a league average player by WAR)
- If his defense takes a major step back, or if he hurts his legs or throwing shoulder, he will end up back in AAA. If that happens, I will definitely post on here that Sandy should have traded for Craig Gentry when he had the chance.