Can Juan Lagares be an MVP candidate next year?

mangan avatarBrian P. Mangan (MetsBlog Contributor): Mets OF Juan Lagares has been the ninth-most valuable player in all of baseball this season (fourth in the National League). Earlier this week, ESPN’s SweetSpot named him the league’s best Defensive Player for August.

“He might be the best center fielder in the National League,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said last week (Knobler, Aug. 27).

Lagares will have to start hitting better if he wants to put himself into any kind of MVP conversation, but his historic defensive performance probably makes it a lot closer than people realize… and a lot of fun to talk about.


Lagares Is Already a Star, Has Been a Revelation Defensively

Lagares has exceeded expectations this year, both offensively and defensively; but it’s his defense that has turned him unquestionably into a cornerstone of a franchise. In fact, Lagares has been so good this season that some have legitimately questioned whether he has somehow “broken” defensive statistics.

How good has Lagares been, exactly? He leads all Mets in WAR (wins above replacement) according to Fangraphs with 3.7, with Daniel Murphy a distant second at 3.1. Fangraphs might actually be underselling him. According to Baseball-Reference’s version of the statistic, Lagares has been even more  extraordinary, with a 5.6 WAR (trailed by Lucas Duda’s 3.1).

My favorite part about Lagares is that it’s not an old school vs. new school debate, since everyone agrees that he has been amazing…

  • MLB: New York Mets at Miami MarlinsLagares is among only 19 outfielders since 1961 to earn a defensive WAR (dWAR) of three or more, and he’s done it twice.
  • Andruw Jones, Barry Bonds, Paul Blair, Devon White, Michael Bourn and Lagares are the only outfielders since 1961 to post two or more seasons of 2.5+ dWAR.
  • Lagares also leads the league this season in dWAR, ahead of Andrelton Simmons and Jason Heyward.
  • Lagares is the only player since 2002 to record back-to-back seasons of 25 or more defensive runs saved — and both years he’s had 30 or more

So, Can A Glove-Man Win MVP?

Believe it or not, there are only four players since 1965 to win the National League MVP with a slugging percentage of .500 or less.

The most recent, Barry Larkin, won the MVP in 1995 with a .319 batting average, .394 OBP and .492 slugging percentage. Larkin was actually fifth in the NL in WAR that season, but he did not turn in a good defensive season. The same goes for the other three, Kirk Gibson in 1988, Steve Garvey in 1974, and Pete Rose in 1973, all had weak years in the field.

Perhaps the strongest comparisons to Lagares’s sustained defensive excellence, Ken Griffey Jr. and Andruw Jones, both failed to win MVP awards while posting their incredible defensive seasons. Ken Griffey Jr. won his only MVP award in 1997 on the back of his offense, in 1996 he posted 3.4 dWAR and finished fourth. Jones failed to enter the MVP conversation when he posted 3.9 or 3.8 dWAR.

Juan LagaresIn other words, MVP winners are usually among the best hitters in their respective leagues, even if they were excellent on defense as well.  Even Jimmy Rollins, when he won the MVP in 2007 posted only 1.2 dWAR.


Lagares’s Bat Will Ultimately Determine His Ceiling

That said, an amazing defensive season can certainly help you get into the discussion when your bat is pretty good. A strong narrative can help as well. Who can forget Ichiro’s MVP victory in 2001 (he was 4th in WAR behind Jason Giambi, Bret Boone, and Alex Rodriguez) or Jimmy Rollins in 2007 (he was 7th in WAR behind Albert Pujols, David Wright, Chase Utley, Chipper Jones and Troy Tulowitzki).

Lagares has hit a very respectable .282/.321/.389 this year for a .710 OPS, thanks in part to Tuesday night’s 4-for-4 performance. That .710 OPS is good for an OPS+ of 103, or slightly above league average.

Can Lagares tick that OPS upward from .710 this season to .750 or better in future seasons? His minor league resume includes a .779 OPS at Single-A, a .764 OPS at Double-A, and a .943 OPS in his cup-of-coffee at Triple-A; and he hit .300 or better at all three levels from 2011 to 2013. It may well be that Lagares is a true-talent .775 OPS kind of player.

If the Mets come alive, and if Lagares can hit .300, while continuing to rewrite the defensive record books, you never know… MLB has likely only seen back-to-back defensive seasons like this once since integration (Andruw Jones’s historic 1998 and 1999), so it remains to be seen how the narrative might shift.


The High Five counts down the top five defensive plays from Juan Lagares in the month of August >> Watch on SNY.tv


Brian Mangan is an attorney who lives in New York City.  His writing can be found at The Read Zone.  Follow his Mets-related thoughts on Twitter: @brianpmangan




185 comments
simbad
simbad

I don't care about MVP. I just want the Mets to have one less question mark in the field. Which, for like six years now, is still a rarity. Who's in leftfield? Will Granderson ever hit again? Should they platoon Lucas? If he doesn't get traded, can Murphy impersonate a 2nd baseman again? Who's at Short stop? What's up with David Wright? Can D'Arnaud hit? Will Matt Harvey be healthy? Can Wheeler throw more strikes? Can Gee go a whole season? Can Niese? Is Montero a AAAA pitcher? Will Colon's age finally catch up to him? Familia pitched over 70 games last year. Last person to do that was Pedro Feliciano. Doh! Can Meijia stay healthy?

Bill Myatt
Bill Myatt

Let's get through this disappointing season before we look ahead!!! The fans want Wally!!!!!

Mark Swiss
Mark Swiss

Um ... no?  If Mike Trout can't win over enough of the baseball writers with the value he brings to his team in the field, on the bases, and with his bat why would Lagares even have a chance?  BA, HR, RBI on a winning team -- that is just about all that matters in their eyes.

lagaresfamiliafan
lagaresfamiliafan

ummm well for him to win mvp next year the mets have to make the playoffs...

lindro88
lindro88

Lagares is starting to look like he could turn into a similar player to Carlos Gomez. Gomez isn't as good defensively, although he's very good. He hits in a much better park, surrounded by better hitters. I'd take the Citi Field version of the real Cargo.

iamwilpon
iamwilpon

Seriously?!? I like Juan Legares and think he'll get better. But in 2006, Carlos Beltran hit 41 hrs, drove in 116 runs, played a stellar outfield for the Mets and wasn't even close to MVP. And Legares is no Carlos Beltran. This has got to be an article straight from the Onion!

Macacawitz
Macacawitz

He'll need to catch the ball, hit 30 homers, drive in 120 runs and hit over .280.


Forget it.  Citi Morgue isn't built for MVPs. 

Michael Leiman
Michael Leiman

Lagares has begun to emerge as a solid offensive player. We'll see if it continues, of course, but looks to me that he's swinging at less bad pitches and hitting the ball hard to the opposite field. And he's begun to use his speed and steal bases. If this continues, combined with his amazing defense, he could certainly work himself up to be an MVP contender.


What I would like to see more of in your articles that focus on the new stats, Brian, is the underlying meat and potatoes that back them up. Defensive WAR and runs saved has no meaning for me; I don't see a great defensive player when I hear such statistics. On what is it based? I don't mean the equations. I mean the things that actually happens in a game that determines victory or defeat...for a defensive player, putouts, assists, preventing a running from taking an extra base, avoiding errors. Hopefully these are also the things that determine dWAR and runs saved.





Sean Andrew Ingram
Sean Andrew Ingram

And this is the guy that Collins benched for a week earlier in the year. He should be fired and banished from ever manging even a lemonaide stand!

7up17left
7up17left

The equivalent of the house is on fire, but the drapes look nice....

Gabe Menna
Gabe Menna

If you would have said all star then maybe you can start there but he isn't even at that level yet.

BerryBeltran
BerryBeltran

I think this is definitely pre-mature..however there is no reason to think that based on potential alone that he can't be. He is already the best defensive CF in baseball. He is the best clutch hitter on the team. He is showing his ability to steal, he can spray the ball across the field...he is big slump prone and he is a hustler. He has almost 50 RBI's and that includes 2 DL stints and Terry's stupid idea of benching him. He has a lot to do before he is in the MVP talk. He is definitely the best player and MVP of this team by far. 


People bashed me for labeling him a potential superstar and a potential 5 tool player...so far..he looks like one. He just needs to up the home runs...


But look at it like this...minimal home runs and may end the season with over 60 plus RBI's. That says a lot

flmetsfan
flmetsfan

This is what you write about when you team is 65 and 74 on September 4.

While he's at it, perhaps  he'll marry Kate Upton next year since now he (with the rest of us) knows what she looks like in the nude.

rf04
rf04

I don't see him getting much MVP consideration... it's voted by the writers, isn't it? You really have to watch the games to see how he affects it... allowing his pitchers to pitch up unafraid, covering weaknesses of other OFs, stopping baserunners from advancing, and deflating opposing hitters who are certain they've put one in the gap.

I agree that maybe someday he SHOULD be in the conversation, but I don't know that he ever will. In the meantime, he makes watching the half innings when the Mets are in the field way more fun. I used to feel equally excited to watch Rey Ordonez play short. Lagares is at least as good defensively.

cyjabeli
cyjabeli

10 home runs....65 RBI's....will be just fine next year.....

chiescuela
chiescuela

I think MVP talk is a little ridiculous. He could lead the league in WAR, but if 80% of it is defensive value, he won't get serious consideration. However, I wouldn't be shocked if he put together some hot streaks in the first half and made an all star team or two in his career.

Shinowa Macca Abeyta
Shinowa Macca Abeyta

Juan Lagares is a fine young center fielder and will hopefully be the cornerstone for years to come. But here is another example of a sports writer with nothing better to do except blah-blah-blah his useless opinion in print because that's what he's paid to do.

ventura_4
ventura_4

No. Damn MetsBlog propaganda. Gold gloves forever, though.


Take HR's away, he would need a .300+ AVG, 390 OBP, 20-30 steals, 100 runs, plus his defense. I don't ever see that happening. Prove me wrong Juan.

11gilkey
11gilkey

When I was a kid I loved the stats part of the game.  But now I could care less.  The only thing I care about is winning.  I'm so tired of all the sabermetric geeks and their posts as to why this player is valuable and this player isn't.  Watch the games.  Stop worrying about whether Juan Lagares will win a MVP someday.  And to you answer your questions, he will never even be int he conversation.  

mike23
mike23

Sell Wilpons and take Sandy and Terry with you.... FREE THE Mets for 2015!

mike23
mike23

Lagares is a very good player right now and should improve upon his offensive numbers next year to go with the great defense but its way tooo soon to think MVP etc.... just have to get him to be a consistent player year in and year out for a while than other individual award talk can take place (he does deserve a gold glove this year though).......Mets need new owners, new gm, new manager and NEW PLAYERS for 2015!

Jack Butler
Jack Butler

Are we serious right now? He has one 4-for-4 game and we're talking MVP? When was the last time defense was even a factor in picking MVP?

1craigswan
1craigswan

If it hasn't already been said, I'll say it here:


"Juan Not?"

Steven Molello
Steven Molello

Geez, every time a Met gets more than one hit in a game we're off to the Hall of Fame. Can we stop our childish over enthusiasm every time a Met has a decent game? This is moronic.

shinjoooo
shinjoooo

@lindro88 I don't think Lagares will ever have the power Gomez has... which is fine because he plays better defense.

Brian P. Mangan
Brian P. Mangan

@iamwilpon You're wrong that Beltran "wasn't even close to MVP"

Beltran finished 4th that year behind Ryan Howard's 58 HR, Albert Pujols 49 HR and 1102 OPS, and Lance Berkman's 1041 OPS and 45 HR.

Guys aren't putting up the same #'s today as they were in '08 .. and not for nothing, Beltran should have been #2 that year, behind Albert only.

lindro88
lindro88

Not gonna see guys put up numbers like that much anymore. Toddy I read why Josh Harrison should be considered for the MVP award.

shinjoooo
shinjoooo

@iamwilpon You're just saying that so you can get him on the cheap... I'm onto you, Wilpon!


Brian P. Mangan
Brian P. Mangan

@Michael Leiman Thanks for the comment!

You can read up on Defensive Runs Saved here as a primer: http://fieldingbible.com/Fielding-Bible-FAQ.asp

Here’s the question that we try to answer with the Plus/Minus System: how many plays* did a fielder make above or below an average player at his position?

That’s what you should think to yourself when you’re looking at all those plus and minus numbers. The average is zero. If a player makes one play more than the average, that’s +1.

Every MLB play is entered into the computer where we record the direction, distance, speed, and type of every batted ball. Direction and distance are recorded on a computer screen by simply clicking the location of the ball on a replica of the field shown on the screen. Speed is scored as either soft, medium, or hard, while different batted ball types include bunt, groundball, liner, fly, and “fliner”. Fliners, introduced in 2006, are balls that are somewhere between flies and liners.

Brian P. Mangan
Brian P. Mangan

@BerryBeltran Juan Lagares's season, if it were pro-rated to 162 games:

.282 average, 163 hits, 68 runs, 7 HR, 70 RBI.  Not bad for a first full season.

Sean Andrew Ingram
Sean Andrew Ingram

Unfortunately I also know what Verlander looks like in the nude. But it was worth it to see Kate Upton!

7up17left
7up17left

@flmetsfan Its Sept 3rd, but I get easily confused as well when I think of Kate Upton....

flmetsfan
flmetsfan

@chiescuela Mangan is just trying out for a public relations job with the Mets next season.

And I only thought Sci Fi geeks wrote fan fiction to get the attention of his idols.

Brian P. Mangan
Brian P. Mangan

@11gilkey Sounds like you're a lot more "worried" than I am. 

I enjoy watching, I enjoy learning.  You're free to enjoy the game any way you want to also.

Brian P. Mangan
Brian P. Mangan

@Jack Butler Defense is a factor every year in picking the MVP. 

He also didn't have "one" good game ... his seasonal OPS is already above league average.  It's not impossible to get into the discussion -- the premise of the article -- by hitting .300 and playing world class defense.

Brian P. Mangan
Brian P. Mangan

@Steven Molello Lagares has 103 hits, 28 XBH, in only 103 games. 

He's hitting .314/.357/.432 since July 28th.

It's not one game -- he's a MLB-caliber hitter with an above-average OPS already.

Jack Butler
Jack Butler

yeah you're gonna need more than 4 HR. And really? Because Miguel Cabrera plays great defense right?

j0sHi328
j0sHi328

And to be honest I'm pretty sure he's gonna grow into 15-20 homer pop, at least his frame looks that way. But we'll see, if he can pull all those things off, he can definitely win an MVP