In most respects, Juan Lagares’s 2016 season was a success. His offense rebounded a bit, driven by the highest walk rate and line drive rate of his career. There’s an argument to be made that his 84 wRC+ was actually a bit of an underperformance due to a deflated BABIP as well. More importantly, Lagares’s defense rebounded to elite levels, as his 17.6 UZR/150 would have ranked sixth among major league center fielders had he played enough innings to qualify. After missing his defensive wizardry for a year in 2015, Met fans were treated to plays like this one:
Or plays going to the fence, like this:
However, the scale of Lagares’s bounceback was greatly limited by another injury. His elbow stayed healthy in 2016, but a torn thumb ligament necessitated two DL stints, one of which lasted more than a month after he underwent surgery. The injury, combined with Lagares’s status as a fourth outfielder, limited him to only 170 plate appearances and a meager 0.9 fWAR.
For Lagares, 2016 was his third consecutive season limited by injury. In 2014, he spent time on the disabled list with a hamstring strain and a hyperextended elbow. That elbow issue lingered into 2015, and he suffered from a prolonged rib issue as well. Given that he depends so much on his athleticism to produce value through his defense, Lagares’s growing injury history is concerning.
Despite all these roadblocks, Lagares has managed to make good on the contract the Mets awarded him in early 2015. With the market price for 1.0 WAR rising to somewhere between $8 and $9 million, Lagares’s 0.9 fWAR came at the measly cost of $2.5 million. Fangraphs’ Steamer forecasting system projects a bearish 0.4 fWAR in 190 plate appearances for Lagares in 2017, but if his defensive rebound is real he’ll shatter that projection and give the Mets another solid chunk of surplus value.
Barring an unexpected move or three from the Mets’ front office, Lagares is currently lined up as the Mets’ platoon center fielder, presumably spelling Curtis Granderson against lefties and providing a defensive boosts late in games. That scenario assumes that Terry Collins doesn’t decide he’s better off platooning Lagares with Michael Conforto instead. Hopefully Lagares can stay healthy and continue making defensive highlights in center field for the 2017 Mets.