Late in the 2011 season, Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron wrote an article entitled “Casey Kotchman as Luck Example.” In the piece, he lays out how Rays first baseman Casey Kotchman‘s basic results were more or less unchanged from 2010 to 2011, yet a random fluctuation of luck turned him from an abysmal player into a solid one.
Subscribe to Cameron’s methodology? Then you probably aren’t a big fan of Mets outfield prospect Juan Lagares.
Lagares is a pretty divisive prospect. Minor League Ball’s John Sickels rated him 20th in the system, whereas Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein rated him 5th, for example.
One thing’s for sure: Nobody thought much of him entering 2011. He wasn’t on Baseball America’s top 30 Mets prospects or Goldstein’s top 20 before the season; after all, he had just hit .279/.296/.404 in A-ball and mostly played left field.
That all changed in 2011, as Lagares suddenly surged to a .338/.380/.484 line in High-A and then a .370/.391/.512 line in Double-A. His combined line between the two levels was .349/.383/.500; even as a left fielder, that’s more than playable.
Here’s the problem:
2010: 62 strikeouts in 444 PA (13.96%); 9 walks (2.03%)
2011: 76 strikeouts in 515 PA (14.76%); 26 walks (5.05%)
In his Mets system writeup, Sickels says that Lagares’ plate discipline went “from abysmally awful to merely poor,” which is a pretty apt description. His walk rate went from nearly historically low to just quite bad, and he also struck out slightly more often.
Furthermore, his power didn’t change. In 2010 in Low-A, Lagares’ Isolated Power was .152 (it did collapse to .083 in High-A). In High-A in 2011, it was .156. In Double-A, it was .142. He hit just two more homers and one more triple in 20 more games, although he did have eight more doubles.
So why did he break out?
2010 BABIP: .314
2011 BABIP: .396
It’s pretty simple. Lagares puts the ball in the field of play around 83-84% of the time, so if his BABIP randomly goes up 80 points, his batting average goes up about .08*.84 = .67. Lo and behold, the difference between his 2010 and 2011 batting averages was 70 points.
It doesn’t seem that Lagares was rocketing the ball around the field in 2011, either: per Minor League Central, his line-drive rate was just 12.1%. Now, minor league batted ball data is notoriously unreliable, but Lagares ranked eighth in line-drive rate among regular batters on his High-A team and tenth on his Double-A team. There certainly seems to be little reason to believe he was significantly better at making hard contact in 2011 than 2010.
What are we left with, then? An impatient left fielder without much home run power, and whose declining speed (15-for-23 SB in 2011) isn’t helping him either. Don’t get fooled by the gaudy batting average, as it appears to be very illusory; Lagares isn’t much of a prospect.
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