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Mets’ Juan Lagares is Truly Baseball’s Most Underrated Star

Dismissed because of his offensive numbers, Mets centerfielder Juan Lagares is the unheralded superstar of the new pitching-and-defense focused MLB.

Juan Lagares

Guys with 44 RBI and 44 runs don’t get any attention, especially if they play for a laughingstock fourth-place Mets team. So, while the likes of Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton get much-deserved praise as some of the best young players in the game, Juan Lagares’ true value is quickly dismissed. But in a league increasingly focused on pitching and defense over the home run ball and runs batted in, Lagares is a superstar.

Lagares leads the league in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) among players in their first two seasons. Among MLB hitters 25 and under, Lagares ranks fourth in WAR, only behind Trout, Stanton, and Jason Heyward. He’s 10th overall when looking at the entire league.

But he’s batting .283 with 28 extra-base hits though, how can that be?

Lagares’ defense is downright elite. And that’s coming from a Mets fan who scoffed at the idea of a defensive specialist manning center at CitiField as recently as a season ago.

Lagares isn’t a just a defensive specialist. His 46.8 runs created rank him 27th among players 25 and under, not great but not horrific either. His defensive numbers, however, are truly special.

Among all centerfielders, Lagares leads the league running away with a 3.6 defensive WAR. Second-place Lorenzo Cain is at 2.3 and just six other players have a DWAR above 1.3, one third of Lagares’.

Among all outfielders, Lagares is third in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which essentially measures how many runs a player saved, behind only Heyward and Alex Gordon.

He’s second only to Heyward in RangeRuns (RngR), which basically measures how many balls a player gets to above the average level.

He’s sixth in the league among outfielders in Out of Zone Plays Made (OOZ) which measures… how many plays a player made out of his zone.

Last year, he finished third in WAR among rookies, behind only Yasiel Puig and Nolan Arenado. He finished third among all centerfielders in DWAR, behind only Carlos Gomez and Gerardo Parra, and led all centerfielders in assists.

Juan Lagares covers centerfield, and parts of the other fields, like a heat-seeking missile, ready to track down balls and make plays other defenders wouldn’t dream of.

The league has quickly shifted away from offense and has become one focused on pitching and defense – a league in which someone like Lagares should be praised as the Clayton Kershaw of what he does, not merely dismissed as a mediocre hitter on a subpar team.

As the Mets head into 2015 after yet another disappointing season, Lagares will be equally important to the Mets’ success as the young arms of Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, and Rafael Montero.

He may not create the run production that someone like David Wright or Lucas Duda can, but his impact on the score sheet is seen on the other team’s stat line as runs that never came to be.

Lagares has proven to be the best position player on the Mets despite ranking fifth on the team in runs, fourth in hits, eighth in home runs, fifth in RBIs, and fourth in OPS.

Now he is proving that he is a top-25 player in all of baseball – one whose elite status is overlooked because it is seldom seen on paper, much like the opposing team’s would-be runs.

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs.

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