One unintended side effect of the New York Mets' outfield rotation was that the best defender of the bunch, Juan Lagares, seemed to be getting the short end of the stick. After Eric Young Jr had a good run at the beginning of last week, manager Terry Collins kept putting him in the lineup to try and generate some runs. Lagares drew the short straw last week, sitting in four out of five games and getting fans angry enough to get #FreeLagares trending on Twitter. Collins angrily told reporters prior to Sunday's game against the Washington Nationals that Lagares was the center fielder. The Mets need to go one step further and commit to playing Lagares every day.
Of the Mets' outfielders, Lagares is the best defender by far. Lagares played Gold Glove caliber defense after he was called up last season, and has done the same this season. Lagares' problem last season was his bat, which was light to say the least. Lagares hit only .242 with four home runs and 34 RBI's in 395 at bats. Lagares' on base percentage also wasn't great, at .281, but he did show some power potential with 21 doubles and five triples. Lagares has managed to improve dramatically with the bat so far in 2014.
Lagares is hitting .302 in his first 29 games of the year with two home runs and 14 RBI's. Lagares has also added nine doubles, a triple, and scored 14 runs on the year. Lagares' on base percentage has also improved to .348, indicating he has improved his eye at the plate. Lagares also has drawn six walks in 29 games, a significant increase in walk rate after he drew only 20 walks in 121 games last season. Lagares is also one of only two Mets' regular players to enter play Tuesday with a batting average above .300 (the other is second baseman Daniel Murphy). Lagares has also been clutch, batting .316 with runners in scoring position and .333 with runners in scoring position with less than two outs.
Given his production at the plate, it is confusing why Collins benched him for three straight games last week, including Friday night when he gave 40 year old Bobby Abreu a start ahead of him. Our guess lies with the fact that Lagares is just a solid hitter who doesn't fill in a particular role within the lineup very well. Collins has been using both Youngs with Curtis Granderson a lot, and there are reasons to use either Young in the lineup. Eric Young is the closest thing the Mets have to a leadoff hitter, while Chris Young offers some power for the Mets. Neither one of them, however, is hitting as well as Lagares. EY is hitting only .221 on the season, while Chris Young is hitting .211 with three home runs and 11 RBI's. With neither one tearing the cover off the ball, the Mets shouldn't be running them both out at the same time in an attempt to generate offense.
Ideally, the Mets should play Lagares and Granderson every day in center and right field and leave left field as a battle between the Youngs. Whichever one of them hits should be in the lineup, with the other serving as a super sub to fill in when someone needs a day off. Eric Young is probably better suited to hit off the bench right now, and the Mets could try and get Chris Young going by hitting him in the leadoff spot. Daniel Murphy has been red hot to start the season, and the Mets could get Young some good pitches to hit and drive. Having a guy with power in the leadoff spot isn't illogical either, as Alfonso Soriano was a power hitting leadoff hitter for years.
The problem with the above scenario is the fact that the Mets gave Chris Young seven million dollars in the offseason. The Mets have likely assured Young he will get every chance to contribute, but don't view him as a leadoff type due to his high strikeout figures. Collins also loves Eric Young's hustle and wants to use him to energize the team, which has played .500 ball since he arrived last June. There are creative ways to find him at bats, but they should not come at Lagares' expense. Lagares has surpassed expectations so far and has shown he could be a part of the answer for the Mets going forward. He shouldn't be rewarded for that hard work with a seat on the pine.Tags: Baseball, Chris Young, Curtis Granderson, Eric Young Jr, Juan Lagares, MLB, New York, New York Mets, Terry Collins