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The Next Juan Lagares Is In Tampa Bay

AP

Juan Lagares has provided some excitement in center field for the Mets. Can Kevin Kiermaier do that for the Rays? The numbers don’t lie.

As a Mets fan, I love Juan Lagares and it is my adoration for this center fielder that prompted the research into this article. The young center fielder sets himself apart because of his work ethic and dedication on defense, and for that, he was rewarded with a Gold Glove in only his second season. At only age 25, Lagares still has room to grow offensively, as his speed and ability to hit to all fields could help him develop into a top-of-the-order player.

As I was exploring the PITCHf/x pages on Brooks Baseball, something that I do too often occasionally for fun, I slowly realized that I had stumbled upon the league’s next Juan Lagares, and I’m going to show you why.

Meet Kevin Kiermaier

Tampa Bay Rays fans already know a lot about Kiermaier, but for those of you who haven’t heard of the young outfielder, here’s some background.  In AAA last year, Kiermaier managed a .305 AVG and .362 OBP with 11 steals and 28 runs scored in 128 ABs. After an injury to Wil Myers, he made his debut in the Majors, and actually hit 10 homers to go with a .263 BA in 331 ABs. The rookie opened the eyes of many, and I think that he certainly won over the front office; I would argue that his play was the reason why Tampa Bay now has Steven Souza and Wil Myers is opening the season in San Diego.

More importantly, if you’ve never seen him in a game, Kiermaier is known for doing this:

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Does this look familiar? Maybe it’s because you’ve seen Juan Lagares do just that:

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Hmm. A little closer to the wall, but that swan dive is simply uncanny - and defensive metrics start to confirm this. In 2014, Kiermaier put up a 1.6 dWAR in 106 games and Lagares put up a 3.5 dWAR in his first season in 121 games. Lagares has the edge but was also in center field the entire time, unlike Kiermaier, who at first was a late-inning replacement and also played in right field. In center, Kiermaier’s fielding percentage was .990; Lagares put up a rate of .982 in his rookie season. In terms of UZR, Kiermaier put up a score of 17.7 in year one, while Lagares managed a 21.5 followed by 18.6 in his first and second years. The stat that Lagares has a true advantage in is Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) where Lagares saved over 10 more runs than Kiermaier in year one, though the latter’s mark was still far above league average. All in all, it is clear that Kiermaier ‘s defensive chops shouldn’t be taken likely by any means and are rather similar to one of the best defensive center fielders in the game today. 

Kevuan Lagaramier

The similarities don’t stop there. Let’s take a look at a few Minor League totals:

KK: .278/.352/.398; 86 SB in 410 games

JL: .281/.322/.403; 100 SB in 633 games

They sport the same average, marginal power, and same results on the basepaths. 

Still not convinced? Let’s dig into their numbers at the plate. What do they swing at? How similar is their contact? It turns out, they are nearly clones at the dish. 

 Kiermaier:

Brooks Baseball

Lagares:

Brooks Baseball

Both sport averages within .002 percentage points of each other on hard stuff with their ability to make contact on breaking balls being a weakness on both accounts. Lagares’ higher BABIPs reflect his better speed but also explains why his batting averages are slightly higher. They have good eyes and good bat control and actually get on base at a nearly identical clip. They even strike out at almost the same rate as well! Overall, according this contact data, Kiermaier is Juan Lagares with less speed and slightly more power. 

Joe’s Conclusion

In the end, I think we can draw the conclusion that while they aren’t clones of each other, Kiermaier and Lagares are nearly as close a comparison as you can get. Why is this important? Well, let’s look at where Lagares ranked in WAR last season, and then look at the spot that Kiermaier occupied. According to fangraphs, they actually put up the same exact total. I expect Kiermaier to increase that total over a full season, and I could see Lagares upping his oWAR a bit as well if he steals some more bases (and if this spring is any indication of how Lagares will do in-season, Mets fans should be extremely excited). The duo of Lagares and Kiermaier are sandwiched between names like Starling Marte and Jacoby Ellsbury, and are within striking distance of Lorenzo Cain and Hunter Pence. Move over, Adams Jones; Juan Lagares won a Golden Glove in year two. I hope that the committee has Kiermaier’s hand measurements, because if these numbers are any indication, there may be a new star center fielder coming to town. 

Edited by Patrick Mullen.

SQuiz
Which of the following players did Tampa Bay get as a result of the Wil Myers trade this offseason?
Created 3/30/15
  1. Steven Souza
  2. Kevin Kiermaier
  3. Juan Lagares
  4. James Loney

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