As the old saying goes, you'll hit zero percent of the pitches you don't swing at. Perhaps someone should remind Terry Collins of this adage. After again leaving Juan Lagares out of the lineup on Friday, Terry Collins explained that the benching was because Lagares was going through a slump and the team was desperate to generate more offense, even at the cost of defense. Despite the lack of starting time Lagares has received this week, Collins insisted that "Juan is the center fielder, but we've got to somehow get his stroke back". Based on the #FreeLagares Twitter hashtag, which has been trending all day, how keeping Lagares on the bench will help get his stroke back is a matter of some debate.
To briefly play Devil's advocate for Terry Collins, Lagares had struggled somewhat in his previous six starts, going 5-for-25 with three runs, two walks, and two RBIs, for a six-game slash line of .200/.280/.280, dropping his season line to .296/.336/.439. Overall for the month of May, Lagares has an OPS of .731. Admittedly these are not All-Star numbers, but lets look at what he's up against.
Bobby Abreu is currently putting up a .217/.269/.435 slash line in limited plate appearances so far this season. Speedy leadoff hitter Eric Young Jr. is currently batting .236/.326/.325 after considerable playing time, managing the rare feat of surpassing his slugging percentage with his mediocre on-base percentage. Then there's Chris Young, brought in to provide some power and center field depth, whose .222/.286/.389 line is inferior to Lagares in every facet. Finally, we take a look at our major offseason acquisition Curtis Granderson, whose .194/.294/.338 slash line makes Eric Young Jr. look like Tony Gwynn.
A brief glance at these numbers shows that on the season Lagares is leading all Mets outfielders in average, on-base percentage, and slugging. It seems that any argument based around building a lineup that provides optimal offensive output logically has to start with Lagares, and should leave only the question of which of the other three below-average outfielders should flank him. When paired with Lagares's elite defensive skills, it becomes increasingly puzzling as to why he is not starting every day.
Perhaps looking deeper in the past we can find some trend in Terry Collins's behavior that would explain the apparent contradiction. Does Collins tend to hold players back while they're slumping in an attempt to get their swing straightened out off the field? If that's the case, it's a new strategy for Collins. Last year, during a prolonged Ike Davis slump, Collins stated
"He's got a track record of doing it. I know if we keep getting him out there, he's going to eventually find it".
You might think this is an isolated case of letting a player get plate appearances in the middle of a pronounced slump, but he was similarly adamant that players need to get playing time to break out of a slump when discussing the Curtis Granderson's struggles this very season. When Granderson slumped, Collins knew
"he's struggling but he doesn't want to sit. He's on the same page. The only way to get out of this thing is to get out there and keep swinging".
Why the approach with Lagares has been substantially different remains largely a mystery. It's possible this means that unlike Granderson, Lagares just really wants to sit, but that seems extremely unlikely.
It's hard to imagine how Collins can continue to show such cognitive dissonance between his desire to get Lagares's bat going and to score as many runs as possible and his continual sitting of Lagares in favor of players who are less effective both with the bat and the glove. Collins may be looking at the potential ceiling of his outfield options as opposed to their output so far this season, which would slant things in favor of Granderson or Chris Young who have demonstrated more long-term success with the bat.
It's also possible that there is some other factor we are unaware of beneath the surface motivating these decisions, but given the information available, the logic of not starting Lagares based on the premise that the team will generate more runs without him appears to be demonstrably flawed. Collins has stated that Lagares will get a start on Saturday, but given his inconsistency between what he says and what he does, it remains to be seen if that's the way things play out.
Hopefully when Lagares does return to the lineup, he has a solid day at the plate so Collins can be satisfied he got his bat back on track, and we can stop watching one of the Mets' most entertaining players sit on the bench while the team continues to flounder without him.