Who’s Batting Leadoff?
By Michael Lecolant
Rumors of Daniel Murphy‘s departure change several things, mostly of which revolve around Eric Young. Should Murphy indeed be traded, Young can slip into second base, his natural position, and bat lead-off. Otherwise, Eric Young projects to come off the bench as the fourth outfielder behind an assumed arrangement of Curtis Granderson in left, Juan Lagares in center, and Chris Young in right field.
On the strength of his defense, many agree that Juan Lagares has so far seized the day, earning the inside track on center field. The club is hopeful his offense improves to more representative levels.
Aug 31, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; New York Mets teammates Eric Young (22) and Juan Lagares (12) celebrate after a game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. The Mets defeated the Nationals 11-3. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
Lagares will turn 25 years old next March, and before 2013, was an eight year minor league veteran. Over the past few years, he has provided indications that he might be a late bloomer. Between playing rookie league and low-A ball, Juan Lagares compiled 1,220 at-bats and amassed 313 hits for a .256 bating average. In 1,180 total at-bats accumulated between high-A through AAA, he amassed 363 hits, for a .308 batting average. That makes him a career .282 minor league hitter. However, he also owns a minor league career .322 OBP, which is not overly impressive when coupled with his batting average.
Juan Lagares is not known as a slugger, and therefore might have surprised some in the organization by slugging an even .500 in 2011, during a split season between PSL and Binghamton. In fact, his .512 slugging average for AA-Binghamton was the first time Juan ever slugged above the .500 mark. He posted his highest mark ever last season while playing for the Mets AAA affiliate in Las Vegas, where he slugged .551 over the span of 74 at-bats before being summoned to Flushing. Otherwise, Lagares is a .405 career minor league slugger.
Unlike last season, the Mets are no longer in dire need of slugging. Heading into 2014, David Wright, Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda, and Chris Young will be charged with supplying the power. What’s now needed of Juan Lagares is to get on base.
The Mets lack a lead-off hitter, and unfortunately, Juan Lagares does not meet traditional standards. He will get his chance to affect some opinions next season, but he’ll need much more plate discipline in his approach. In 2011, he made 505 plate appearances and only drew 26 walks. In 2012, he made 547 plate appearances, and only drew 37 walks, and in his brief stay at Las Vegas last season, he only drew 4 walks in 84 plate appearances.
In his MLB debut last season, Juan Lagares made 421 plate appearances, and had 392 official at-bats, in which he only drew 20 walks. He batted .242 for the season, with only a .281 OBP.
Juan additionally only stole six bases in nine attempts last season. So, he does not possess the type of speed I would ideally like at the top of the batting order. In 625 career minor league games, Juan stole a grand total of 100 bases. Eric Young stole 46 bases last season alone. But speed is one of the few clear advantages Young enjoys over Lagares.
Eric Young is a .258 career major league hitter, with a .325 career OBP, but draws a considerably higher rate of walks than Lagares. In deciding between Juan Lagares and Eric Young, the choice to play center field boils down to a preference between superior defense or disruptive speed on the base paths. As currently constructed, which do you think could benefit the Mets more?
The decision tentatively has been made. Barring a horrendous Spring Training, and no lingering effects from a minor injury sustained playing winter ball, Juan Lagares will be the starting center fielder. That’s fine. I’m in his corner, and hope he does well. Should he stumble, I’d gladly still keep him around as the fourth outfielder.
But, instead of handing the job outright to Eric Young, I propose a platoon between Eric Young and Matt den Dekker.
Eric Young is a switch hitter, but is better from the right side of the plate. Last season from the left side versus right-handed pitching, he batted .244, with a .305 OBP. When hitting right-handed against lefties, his batting increased to .259, with an improved .319 OBP.
Enter Matt den Dekker, the left-handed part of this proposed platoon. He is older than Juan Lagares, yet, less experienced. Matt will be 27 years old in August, and is only a veteran of four minor league seasons.
Defensively, the Mets would lose very little. Matt den Dekker is a fine defensive fielder. Offensively, he owns a minor league career .279 batting average covering 1,431 official at-bats. Last season in the minors, he batted .301 in 226 at-bats versus right-handed pitching. Against lefties, he only batted .188 in 69 at-bats.
With regards for den Dekker’s potential to lead-off, he has a .338 career OBP, and last season for Las Vegas, posted a .366 OBP in 202 plate appearances. It is not beyond Matt to steal the occasional base either. In a 2011 split season between PSL and Binghamton, he stole 24 bases in 139 combined games. In a split season between Binghamton and Buffalo in 2012, he stole 21 bases in 135 combined games. Last season however, was spent cautiously returning from injury. He managed 67 games between PSL and Las Vegas, before being summoned to Flushing on August 29th. But frankly, I see no reason to include his call-up last season, which covered 27 games, and 58 at-bats.
Lastly, Matt den Dekker owns a minor league .456 career slugging average. There potentially is a small measure of power to be enjoyed at the top of the line-up with Dekker in place. Give him credit for consistency. In 2011, he hit 17 home runs in 539 at-bats. In 2012, he hit 17 home runs in 533 at-bats. In 474 total AAA at-bats, he has 15 home runs.
How ironic is it that trading Daniel Murphy would lend clarity to the Mets lead-off dilemma? Allowing the Mets to move Eric Young to second base would do just that. But if Murphy is retained, then the club’s tentative plan is to give Juan Lagares first crack at center field.
After thinking this over, I wonder if a change of plan in center field is warranted. I personally would like to add the element and threat of speed at the top of the order. By himself, Eric Young does not compel me to make the switch away from Lagares’s opportunity in center. But as I laid out, I feel the Mets can maximize the position through a shared effort.
Platoon situations can, and have worked very well. The 1969, 1986, and 2000 Mets all proved that veterans and/or rookies can pair up together with great effectiveness.
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