In an opening 16 games that has had its fair share of pleasant surprises, the last two nights notwithstanding, one of the most eye-opening is Juan Lagares’ success at the plate.
The outfielder’s ineptitude with a bat has been written about to the point of absurdity (I wrote about it twice this offseason), but early results so far this season are encouraging. After a bad Spring Training, Lagares lost the interim starting centerfield job to Brandon Nimmo. However, to his credit, Juan took this pseudo-demotion in stride, and seems to have bounced back from his rough preseason.
Lagares reached base three times on Tuesday (2-for-3 with a walk). In seven starts and 30 plate appearances so far this season, Lagares has slashed an impressive .385/.433/.385 with four walks (one intentional) to just three strikeouts. Considering how baffled he looked at the plate at times in Spring Training, the low strikeout number is especially encouraging.
He’s also been aggressive on the base paths and already has two stolen bases on the season. Granted, his second SB would have likely been an out if not for a Wilmer Difo misplay at third base, but the fact that he’s running more often speaks to a confidence in his speed he hasn’t displayed very often throughout his career, so these attempts should be encouraging. What’s also encouraging are his lefty/righty splits: though the sample is small, he’s hit well against both lefties (.300/.462/.300) and righties (.438/.412/.438), and if that can continue, Mickey Callaway can find more playing time for his Gold Glove outfielder.
Now, allow me to pump the breaks on myself just a little bit. Though we should be encouraged that Lagares is frequently getting on base, it’s concerning that he has yet to have an extra base hit. Much was made of the work he did during the offseason in order to join in on the launch angle revolution, but so far all of his hits have been singles.
According to FanGraphs, his fly ball percentage is currently at a career-low of 21.7 percent. However, if we’re looking for a silver-lining, Lagares’ line drive percentage is up to 34.8 percent compared to his career 18.5, so if that remains the same or even regresses a little, there’s still a fair chance that we get that slight uptick in BA and OBP we’ve been hoping for.
And if we do indeed get that uptick, the Mets will have yet another serviceable bat on the bench, something they’ve already shown is a strength for them. This may be an oddly-shaped pill (like a tetrahedron or something) to swallow for Mets fans who have been burned by Lagares before, but something may be clicking for the Gold Glover. It’s too early to say for sure, but what we’ve seen so far is very encouraging.
Photo credits: Paul J. Bereswill