|Photo Courtesy of ESPN.com|
For the purposes of this argument, let’s set aside for the moment the fact that the winner of this competition would likely be whoever produced more at the plate. Championship teams have boppers in the outfield. Neither den Dekker nor Lagares are boppers. There is room for only one of them in a championship outfield. This argument applies to right now, in the Mets current configuration, where they are not yet ready to present a championship team and thus, both can play. Who should play center? Lagares or den Dekker?
Let’s start with Lagares since we have major league playing time to evaluate. Juan has been the starting center fielder since late April and has excelled defensively. According to Fangraphs, he has the 10th best Ultimate Zone Rating (“UZR” – meant to measure overall defensive production) of any major league player with 300+ innings played and the 3rd best amongst center fielders (behind Carlos Gomez and A.J. Pollock). However, the 91 games Juan has played this year is a very small sample size and UZR, in particular, is a stat that should be viewed over several years to be considered reliable. Lagares is also 2nd in the league in assists, second only to Alex Gordon of the Royals, a two-time Gold Glove award winner. We have all seen the spectacular plays he has made this year and there is plenty of chatter about him winning the Gold Glove if not for his lack of name recognition and offense. He was known as a plus defender in the minors and has more than impressed at the major league level.
den Dekker is a more difficult analysis. We have virtually no Major League experience to work with. What we have are scouting reports and highlights. He was named the best defensive outfielder in the Mets system in 2010, 2011 and 2012 by Baseball America. Before he even played a major league game he was a regular on Sportscenter’s top ten plays list. His defense has been bandied about for years in the Mets organization. We have seen he has plus speed and a great first step that enables him to cover a good deal of ground and that his athleticism allows him to make awe-inspiring catches. He has an above average arm, not great, and is decently accurate. The fact is, den Dekker is a great athlete with the ability to do amazing things in center and could contend for a Gold Glove himself one day.
If you were to base the decision on who the organization was expecting to be the better center fielder all along, you’d put den Dekker in center. If you are basing the decision on performance and contributions at the major league level, you’d put Lagares in center. In the end, you have to do what is best for the team. While I would understand if Lagares feels he has earned the position and the prestige that comes with it, I would put den Dekker in center field in the Mets current outfield configuration. Lagares has logged 180+ games in right field in his minor league career (not including 190 in left field) while den Dekker has played exactly 2 games in right field and 6 games in left field throughout his minor league career. To me, Lagares is a victim of his own versatility. You can’t lose with either player in center, but you can lose with den Dekker in right. Sorry Juan.
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