A run is a run is a run. And there are lots of ways for baseball teams to score those runs or prevent their opponents from scoring them. No run saved or scored is any more valuable than any other run saved or scored.
But for some reason, a lot of Mets fans do not appreciate how Angel Pagan nets our team those runs. And to be honest, I do not understand the vigor with which some people denounce the Heavenly Heathen as a viable starter.
Those who have read my articles will know that I have a soft spot for fabulously named players, and Angel Pagan just might have the most ironic name I have ever come across. The Holy Heretic, the Pious Polytheist. The possibilities are endless! But I like to fancy myself a sabermetrician, and as a sabermetrician I have to let the numbers speak for themselves, no matter my personal feelings. In addition to laying out my case for the Divine Disbeliever (I swear, I’m done now), I will address the concerns voiced by the skeptical Mets fans and hopefully show why they should not be concerns at all (warning: I try to tackle a lot, so read at your leisure).
Offensively, Angel Pagan does not excel in any one area. He has roughly average control of the strike zone, with a slightly below-average walk rate and a slightly above average strikeout rate. His BB% was 6.6% in 2009 and 7.0 % in 2010, compared to major league averages of 8.5% and 8.9% in those years (all numbers from fangraphs.com). His K% was 16.3% in ‘09 and 16.8% in ‘10, compared to the big league averages of 20.3% and 20.7%. All told, his BB/K rate was just about average at .45 in both seasons, with the big-league rate sitting at .49 in ’09 and .46 in ’10. And Pagan’s career BB/KK rate? .45. In addition to his consistency, his swinging strike rate and contact percentage are both above-average, so there should not be concerns that the numbers will fall off going forward.
Pagan also exhibits top-notch speed, as he his 7.5 Speed Score ranks all the way up at 5th in the big leagues over the past two seasons. Combined with his solid line drive rates, 20.6% and 19.5% the last two years, Pagan has very good batting average on balls in play (BABIP). His BABIPs were .349 and .331 compared the league averages of just under .300. Unlike pitchers, batter exert a good deal of control over their BABIP, and Pagan’s numbers sit about exactly where you would expect them to given his underlying skills. His career .325 mark, which include his poor Chicago season, bears that out.
A good BABIP and low strikeout rate mean a high average, and Pagan has posted marks of .306 and .290 the last two seasons. His career average, again including his poor Chicago seasons, sits at .285, so an average around .285-.295 should be expected. Pagan’s good average gives him good overall on-base skills. He had a .346, .350, and .340 OBP the last three seasons, decently above the major-league average in the .325-.330 range.
While Pagan has shown remarkable consistency in his plate discipline and BABIPs, his power output has shown more variance. He had an above-average Isolated Power (slugging minus average, or extra bases per at bat) in ’09 at .187, but a below-average mark in ’10 at .135. The big-league average has been .155 and .145 the last two seasons, and Pagan’s career mark sits at .150. He does not knock a lot of balls out of the park (5.8 career HR/FB%), but he hits enough doubles and triples to keep that ISO respectable. If he can muster a .140 ISO he will put up a decent slugging percentage.
A reasonable triple slash projection is .290/.340/.430, almost identical to last season’s .290/.340/.425. An OPS of .770 would be decently above the major-league averages of .751 and .728 the last two years.
We also cannot forget Pagan’s skills on the base paths. Pagan swiped 37 bags last season and only got caught nine times for an 80% success rate (77% career mark). His speed also means he’ll be better than most at advancing to home once the ball is put in play. People often cite some of Pagan’s past bone-headed mistakes on the base paths, but they really should not be a concern. Pagan has ceased to make those sorts of mistakes recently, and even if he makes those stupid outs again, they just do not occur enough to significantly detract from his value. They might be painful for fans to watch, but those mistakes are much uglier than they are actually detrimental, no worse than a few extra times caught stealing.
All offense considered, Pagan should have a slightly above-average mark in all three triple slash categories, and he should be above average on the bases. His wOBA was .358 in ’09 and .340 in ’10, and, since his batting numbers should be remarkably similar to last season, a wOBA around that same .340 should be expected (wOBA, the all-inclusive offensive stat, is scaled to OBP, so between .325 and .330 is average). But I am of the belief that wOBA systematically undervalues base-running, so I would actually bump that number up a few points to about .345 (I have a few reasons for this belief, but this is not the time for that discussion). Over a full season of playing time (150 games), Pagan’s offense projects as about 10-15 runs above average, so we will call it 12.5. He will not put up sexy numbers in any one category, and I imagine that is where much of the distrust comes from. It is just easier to buy into 30 home runs or 50 steals, but as long as you give the production, I don’t care how unsexy you are.
And now we get to the one area in which Pagan is legitimately a sexy stud: defense. Pagan’s UZR/150 is excellent at all three outfield positions, and truly phenomenal in right. His career numbers: 13.5 UZR/150 in left, 8.6 in center, and 23.5(!) in right. These numbers came in almost 3,000 innings, a significant sample. And Defensive Runs Saved is even higher on Pagan. While UZR says Pagan has saved 26.6 runs over his career, DRS puts that number at 36. Scouts, analysts, and talking-heads agree and most rave about Pagan’s defense. His fantastic speed gives him great range, and his arm is quite good by all accounts. In right field I think it would be unfair to predict him saving anything worse than 10-15 runs, and we will stick with 12.5 runs for our projection (for reference, UZR had Pagan saving 15.1 runs in 2010, while DRS had him saving 14 runs, in the more difficult center field). And given how much room there is to cover in Citi’s cavernous right field, his range could have an even bigger effect.
As of now, I have Pagan producing 12.5 runs above average of both offense and defense. Right field, however, is one of the easier positions to play on the field, and we have to take that into account. The relative ease of the position is why there is such an expectation for big power numbers — like those of Jayson Werth, Andre Ethier, and Corey Hart — because you have to make up for the fact that you are not playing a premium defensive position. Luckily, we have data which tells us how many runs playing right field will hurt a player’s value. On average, a right fielder will produce about seven runs of excess offense compared to the average player over 150 games. So if we subtract those seven runs from his offensive projection, we see that Pagan is still about five runs above average for a right fielder. When you can slot in the Mets’ above-average power at center field, third base, and shortstop, it is perfectly acceptable to have below average power in right field.
With 12.5 runs of offensive value, 12.5 runs of defensive value, -7 runs of positional value, Pagan comes out to be 18 runs above average. It takes about 10 runs above average to win one extra game, so Pagan should give the Mets about two more wins than the average right fielder (if you want to convert his numbers to WAR, throw in about 22 runs of replacement value over 150 games, and you get a 4.0 WAR player). An average team with Pagan-quality players starting at all eight positions would win about 15 more games than average, or about 95 total.
I’m sure that the comment section will blow up saying there is no way that is the case. A team of Angel Pagans has no chance of being a playoff team! But I believe that is the folly of ignoring unsexy numbers. No, Pagan will not blow you away with any single offensive skill, but he will be good at all of them. He won’t give you tons of runs any one way, but he’ll give you a few runs every single way.
If you disagree, please show me where in my analysis I went wrong. We’re looking at the numbers here, and I just don’t see how the numbers can lead to any other conclusion. You might just be a disbeliever, which is fine, but you have to acknowledge that you are betting against the past. He did have a poor August and September, but it is poor sabermetric form to extrapolate from that small of a sample. He is neither as good as his first four months nor as poor as his final two. We look at all of the data together, and then we come to conclusions. Obviously, anything can happen, and Pagan’s production could fall off a cliff or vastly improve. I am not claiming to see into a crystal ball, but if we want to base our projections on facts and numbers, this is where we should put him.
If your distaste for Pagan is due to his injury history, then you have a legitimate worry. But the fact is that when he is on the field, he is a very good player. How much he will be on the field is rightfully in question, but that is true for pretty much any player.
The Blessed Barbarian (I had to get one more in there) is not just a fourth outfielder on a good team or a starter on a bad team. A superstar? No. Pagan is not an elite player to build a franchise around. But he is a really good player that could start at any of the three outfield positions for a World Series champion, and he could be a key component that gets that champion to the Promised Land. And considering that he is under team control for two more seasons at well-below market rates, we should be happy to send Pagan out as a starting outfielder for the foreseeable future.