Four Angel Pagan Facts

I. Angel Pagan came to the plate in 93 double play situations in 2011. He grounded into four double plays. Overall, he maintained a 1.3% double play rate, which — surprise, surprise — ranks as the 17th lowest mark among MLB hitters with 500+ plate appearances last year. The average MLB player, given 93 chances to ground into a double play, would have grounded into nine.

II. By EqBRR, Angel Pagan has been worth +13.3 runs on the basepaths over the past couple seasons. Now, he’s obviously a speedy baserunner. He’s stolen 30+ bases in each of the last two seasons, and he’s done so at an 81% success rate. That’s not an outstanding success rate, but it’s good enough such that the value of his steals outweighs the cost of his occasional caught-stealings. But he’s also good at the stuff that isn’t so obvious. He’s good at going from first to third on a single. He’s good at advancing on the basepaths on a groundout. He’s good at tagging up on a flyout. And that adds up. In fact, he was so valuable on the basepaths in 2010 that he ranked second in the majors in EqBRR at +9.3 runs, right behind Michael Bourn.

III. Angel Pagan had the 12th best contact rate in the majors in 2011, among qualified hitters

IV. In 2011, Angel Pagan had an opponent RPA+ of 93, which was the lowest mark in the majors among players with 500+ plate appearances. This means that opponents were 7% worse than average against the pitchers Pagan had to face; or to put it another way, no hitter in the majors faced tougher pitching than Pagan, on average. As a New York Met, he had to see a lot of Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson, Josh Johnson, et al. That skewed his numbers.

In case you can’t tell at this point, I like Angel Pagan. A lot. Perhaps too much. There are certainly reasons to worry about Pagan. If you’re looking for reasons, here are 20 (courtesy of Baseball Prospectus).

But I’m feeling quite good about him.

Angel Pagan Optimism

It’s been a month or so since the Giants acquired Angel Pagan. At the time, I wasn’t excited or anything…I guess I had become an Andres Torres apologist, and I was a bit worried about what the trade meant for Brandon Belt; but I liked the deal nonetheless. The idea of Melky Cabrera as a starting centerfielder was never all that appealing, so it was nice to see the Giants go out and get a more suitable option. As time has passed in what’s been an ultimately underwhelming offseason, I’m really starting to like this trade.

Giants centerfielders collectively hit .228/.299/.347 in 2011. That ugly slash line speaks for itself, I’d say. In strict terms of hitting, centerfield was the Giants’ second-biggest weakness last year (shortstop, of course, was the worst). That .646 OPS was good — or rather bad – for an sOPS+ of 76, meaning they were quite a bit worse than the average centerfielder.

Now here’s where Angel Pagan comes into the picture.

At first glance, Pagan is coming off a pretty disappointing season. But if you take UZR out of the equation, here’s what Pagan’s done over the last three seasons:

2009: .306/.350/.487, 120 wRC+, 376 PA, 2.2 WAR
2010: .290/.340/.425, 113 wRC+, 633 PA, 4.0 WAR
2011: .262/.322/.372, 99 wRC+, 532 PA, 2.3 WAR

That’s consistently above-average production, and it’s even better when you consider that Pagan only played half a season in 2009. The steady drop in Pagan’s offensive numbers might be cause for concern, but he actually improved his walk rate and cut down on strikeouts from the previous season, and the drop in his power numbers wasn’t all that large (.024 dip in ISO). I’m extremely confident in his ability to produce at an above-average rate in 2012, and that’s more than I can say for most of the other position players on the Giant’s 25-man roster.

Even if you hate what the Giants have done this winter, even if you’re getting ready to chain yourself to the Willie Mays statue in an act of anti-Rainy Day Fund protest, even if you shudder every time you hear “LOOGY”…Pagan’s sort of a silver lining. He’ll bring this team one step closer to a league-average offense in 2012, and I’ll take it.

A Question

Why did the Giants trade for Melky Cabrera?

Originally, the trade made sense. The organization wasn’t content with the in-house options, and I can definitely understand that. I wasn’t personally a fan of the trade, mostly because the plan was supposedly to install Melky in centerfield — where his defense negates a lot of his value. I argued, in fact, that Andres Torres wasn’t a much worse option (if at all) for that role than Cabrera. In the context of when it was made, it wasn’t a bad trade — just uninspired.

But with San Francisco acquiring Angel Pagan, the Giants’ offseason plans become somewhat of a mess. Pagan slides into center, presumably moving Melky over to left. Aubrey Huff, who will inevitably assume a starting role, would then presumably become the first baseman. I like the Pagan trade. But it took me a while to realize — or for it to really sink in — that the Giants don’t plan on putting Brandon Belt in their starting lineup.

So it begs the question: Why did the Giants feel the need to acquire Cabrera? What was the rush? It seems pretty clear to me that the Giants are better off just starting Belt.

Angel Pagan Trade Reaction

Well, hello there Angel Pagan, 30 years old, and not exactly coming off a good season. In 532 plate appearances, he hit .262/.322/.372 (99 wRC+), which is pretty respectable, but he seemed to have a bad year in the outfield: -14.3 UZR, -1 DRS, -19 TZ. Take it at face value, with all the usual small sample size defensive metric caveats, but the general consensus seems to be that he wasn’t good. That said, based on how great he rated in 2010 (+15 UZR, +7 DRS, +21 TZ), I’d expect that he’s capable of doing better than his 2011 metrics show. It’s not as simple as just averaging his two most recent seasons and assuming he’s a neutral defender, but I think he’s at least generally considered to be better defensively than Melky Cabrera.

It’s easy to look at the sub-.700 OPS from this season and be unsatisfied, but that’s the state of offense in major-league baseball at this point. That was average production in 2011. Assuming he does a decent-enough job with the glove, I could easily see him being an above-average player (Bill James, for the record, projects a .325 wOBA for Mr. Pagan).

What do the Giants lose? Well, for one, they lose a solid bullpen arm. Ramirez has never been anything flashy, but in his time with the Giants he put up good numbers: 95.2 IP, 178 ERA+, 2.07 ERA/3.14 FIP/3.90 xFIP. On one hand, I don’t think I’ll ever forget this. I mean, that pitch was right down the freakin’ middle. But Ramirez is a quality arm, even though the Giants’ bullpen can surely take the hit (hey there, Heath Hembree).

Andres Torres has left more of a mark in San Francisco. I’m sure I’ll expand on this later, but I’m going to miss Torres. A lot. From a statistical standpoint, he had quite a large impact on the Giants: take his seven wins away from the 2010 Giants, and there’s no championship. There’s no denying the steep dropoff in his performance, as his wOBA dipped below .300 in 2011. But he was valuable nonetheless, certainly enough so that he was worth tendering a contract. I’ve explained this repeatedly, but his value as an elite defensive outfielder with plus speed made him, at worst, a fourth outfielder going into next season. He’s getting a little old (in baseball terms, at least), and given his not-so-lengthy track record, I could understand the sentiment that he doesn’t warrant a starting job. And for the record, scouts hate his swing. But he’s raked to the tune of .269/.343/.492 since 2009, and I think he’s ultimately still a league-average player. And hey, for what it’s worth, Bill James still thinks Torres has something left in that bat.

In any event, was becoming increasingly clear that he had no place in the Giants’ 2012 plans. If the option was non-tender him or trade him, I’d obviously prefer the latter.

As a whole, I like the move. So long as it doesn’t push Brandon Belt out of a starting role (seriously, Bruce Bochy, please don’t do that). Angel Pagan is a better centerfielder than Melky Cabrera, and this move clearly improves the Giants’ lineup.

Farewell, Torres. Always underappreciated.

Splash Hits: 11/11/11 Edition

For your Friday night reading pleasure, links…

Top 15 Prospects: San Francisco Giants | FanGraphs Baseball
Fangraphs’ Giants prospect rankings.

Alex Rodriguez, other talents didn’t boost legacies with PEDs – SI.com – Fantasy
“Few, if any, steroid users who would garner enough votes to get in would have failed to do so had they never used PEDs.”

A Thank You to Pat Burrell – McCovey Chronicles
Pat Burrell is probably going to retire from the San Francisco Giants. Here’s a note of thanks.

MLB Free Agency: Willie Bloomquist Signs Meaningful Two-Year Deal – Baseball Nation
You asked for wall-to-wall Willie Bloomquist, and now you have it. Here’s what his two-year deal means.

Do you need a great closer to win it all? – SweetSpot Blog – ESPN
Are closers really worth big contracts?

A post in which I make a meat analogy « Bay City Ball – A Giants Blog
Should the Giants sign Clint Barmes?

Lefty Malo – Buster, Freddy, And The Noble Quest For League Average Offense
Buster, Freddy, And The Noble Quest For League Average Offense

Angel Pagan And Andres Torres: Undervalued Then And Now – Baseball Nation
Andres Torres and Angel Pagan were both undervalued commodities who turned into highly valued assets. Looks like they’re right back where they started.

Will Melky Bring His Bat to San Francisco? – Baseball Analytics Blog – MLB Baseball Analytics
Cabrera needs to outperform his projections by proving that he can maintain his increased power/contact.