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2016 Mets season preview: Juan Lagares

How's your elbow, Juan? Hopefully good. Please say good.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

So, which Juan Lagares is the real one? Is it the 2014 version, who lit the world on fire with his defensive play in center field and showed an improved prowess at the plate? Is it the 2015 version, whose injuries made him a shell of the aforementioned player in all facets? Or is it the 2013 version, the excellent defender with the punch-less bat, like a center fielding Rey Ordoñez? The answer is probably some hybrid of a three, based on the available information.

Lagares's balky elbow was certainly not right at any point in 2015, as his fantastic arm became a liability. His bat regressed, partly due to not replicating what was an unsustainable .341 BABIP from the season before. He triple-slashed .259/.289/.358 and walked even less. Depending on your preferred WAR calculation, he was anywhere from barely above replacement level to 4th outfielder. Certainly this was not the player the Mets extended for $23m over four years. Luckily, the defensive side seems to be on the rebound.

By most all accounts, Lagares is back to his old self in center field. His excellent range, his greatest calling card and what largely earned him his Gold Glove, will be a welcome sight. The gains he made at the plate may never have been very real, but even a Lagares hitting with a tennis racket is a quality major league player in defensive value alone, plus some speed to boot. If he can turn some of his ground balls into line drives now that he's healthy, and leg a few out in addition, there's upside for sure. It really can't get much worse than last year, at least.

Consider that Lagares put up a 3.0 fWAR season his rookie year despite a 76 wRC+, and it's fair to say that he'll be a valuable piece of the 2016 Mets. What his role will be is to-be-determined. If the Mets embrace the platoon, he could see at-bats in place of Curtis Granderson against lefties, moving Cespedes to a corner. Ditto Michael Conforto, but the Mets will likely let him prove he can hit left-handed pitching, and Granderson has one of the most pronounced platoon splits in baseball. If the bat is working, pinch-hitting duty is certainly possible, and he's guaranteed to be a popular late-game defensive substitute. He'll be a fourth outfielder, but he will get opportunities. Hopefully, the good and healthy Juan Lagares will be there to dazzle us in center this year.

2016 Projections

PECOTA 231 3 0.257 0.293 0.365 0.8
Steamer 344 5 0.256 0.296 0.364 1.2
ZiPS 505 6 0.261 0.297 0.369 1.9