Lagares Should Only Play CF
The Mets are in the midst of a stretch of 17 straight games without a day off. On Thursday, they’re flying out to the west coast for an eleven game road trip. Madison Bumgarner was on the mound. With all these factors present, it’s difficult to take umbridge with Terry Collins’s lineup on Sunday. There were many factors to consider.
With that said, his outfield alignment was inexcusable.
The Mets had Michael Conforto in left, Yoenis Cespedes in center, and Juan Lagares in right. Collins put the 2015 American League Gold Glove leftfielder in centerfield and the 2014 National League Gold Glove centerfielder in rightfield. With the exception of maybe Conforto, everyone was out of place.
First off, it should be acknowledged Cespedes isn’t a good centerfielder. By his own admission, he prefers to play left. He averages a – 3.2 UZR in and a -4 DRS in center. Coincidentally, those were his numbers playing center for the Mets last year. Long story short, Cespedes is a below average centerfielder. He’s only out there because the Mets value his bat over Lagares’ glove.
Lagares’ glove? It’s transcendent. When he won the Gold Glove in 2014, he had an 18.6 UZR and a 26 DRS. Those numbers are all the more incredible when you consider this was his second best defensive season. However, Cespedes’ problem is his bat. He’s a career .262/.298/.365 hitter. Against righties, he’s even worse hitting .253/.285/.339. It’s hard to justify keeping that bat in the lineup everyday. It’s why the Mets not only traded for Cespedes, but it’s also a factor why the Mets re-signed him.
When Cespedes and Lagares have played in the outfield with Curtis Granderson, Cespedes has been in left while Lagares has been in center. That’s perfect. Each player is playing their best defensive position. Even better, you have three plus defenders in the outfield. This only works because Granderson is a rightfielder. Conforto is not.
Neither Conforto or Cespedes have played rightfield in a major league game. In fact, despite his appearance in the 2015 Future’s Game, Conforto has only played in left. Therefore, Lagares was left as the only outfielder with any experience in right. Coming into Sunday’s game, he has exactly 16 games and 89 innings of experience in right. Fourteen of those games were in 2013 when Collins actually believed Matt den Dekker was a better defensive centerfielder than Lagares.
It doesn’t make sense for Lagares to play anywhere other than centerfield. It makes less sense that Collins considered the idea in Spring Training and is following through on it. When Collins put Cespedes in center last year and put Lagares in right, he explained Lagares was the only one who played there previously. While that excuse might’ve worked in 2015, it should not work this year.
The Mets had an entire offseason andSpring Training to prepare for this situation. Either Conforto or Cespedes could’ve received some rightfield reps to permit Collins to have some level of comfort in placing them in rightfield. It’s what the Mets did with Wilmer Flores in teaching him first base. Now, Flores has shown the Mets they can feel comfortable putting him at firstbase. It’s what the Mets needed to do with Comforto.
No, instead the Mets decided to ignore the issue despite them being very aware that moments like this would arrive. The Mets actually believed that Lagares in right was a better idea than teaching the position to Conforto. Why the Mets foresaw this issue and decided it was in the team’s best interests to play their Gold Glovers out of position is beyond logic.
Fortunately, this decision didn’t affect outcome of the game on Sunday. Hopefully, this will be the last time we see that happen. The Mets shouldn’t weaken their team defense due to a 14 game sample size.