The Mets won a barnburner in Miami on Tuesday night, and a lot of that burning came from the bat and legs of Juan Lagares. Lagares went 4-4 with three runs, two RBIs, and two stolen bases. It is the steals that that come as the most welcome development; in his past five games, Juan has swiped five bags, bringing his season total to nine.
Lagares’s newfound boldness on the basepaths may mean he has finally cracked the code on how to steal bases consistently. If he has, the Mets have found their leadoff hitter.
We all knew Lagares had speed. No one could hit .280 and be top ten in the National League in WAR without some wheels in the outfield. The way Juan gets jumps on the balls out to center field is already legendary. What was baffling was, despite his increased stealing smarts (he has not been thrown out since the end of May), how Lagares was unable to conjure that quickness from base to base. Until now.
Desperate for any kind of offensive spark, Terry Collins put Juan back into the leadoff slot on Thursday. The next day he stole a base. Since then, Lagares has more than doubled his stolen base total for the season. Maybe it’s playing to the moment, but maybe it’s that since his last stint at the top of the order, Juan has learned the art of the stolen base.
Does this mean Lagares will become Eric Young, who has 28 stolen bases as a part-time player this season? Probably not. More likely, Juan will take the form of a Daniel Murphy or David Wright, stealing 15-20 bases a year and always with a high success rate. With better speed than Murphy or Wright, that number could figure closer to 20-25 steals a season.
What it also means is that New York may finally have a leadoff hitter with the right combination of speed and average. The top of the order has been perhaps the most glaring hole in the Mets’ offense this season and arguably since Jose Reyes’s departure after 2011. This season, Eric Young tried but failed to stick. Curtis Granderson also tried and failed.
Lagares tried in in May but thanks to lack of baserunning confidence and injury, he couldn’t hold the slot. While his on-base percentage is still underwhelming, he has the average (.282), he has the gap potential (21 doubles in 103 games, matching his total from last season), and now it appears he has the speed. Call it a match made in first-inning heaven.
Juan Lagares has been one of the most exciting Mets of the 2010s. If this week sets the trend, he may have just added one more dynamic to that excitement, and one that means Flushing will see him excite even more often than before.