Is Angel Pagan for Real?
Through 151 plate appearances, Angel Pagan is hitting .305 with 2 HR, 7 doubles, 7 triples, 18 RBI, 8 SB, and a .344 OBP. His defense in centerfield has for the most part been very good, and his aggressive, all-out approach to the game has been inspiring. No doubt, he’s been a catalyst at the top of the lineup, jump-starting rallies and providing excitement for the fans.
Now, the million-dollar question: can he keep it up?
Already, some fans and pundits are wondering out loud if the Mets may be best served by moving Carlos Beltran this winter to make room for Pagan to take over centerfield. (I advocated trading Beltran last winter, but not to make room for an incumbent.)
Before our enthusiasm overtakes logic, let’s look at what Angel Pagan has been his entire career: a solid fourth outfielder with a broad skillset and a hustling approach to the game. In 550 career MLB at-bats, he has a .271 AVG., .323 OBP, 11 HR, and 70 RBI. Not bad for centerfielder. Not great, but not bad.
There are those who will argue that those numbers were compiled from the bench, and that when Pagan is given a full-time job, he’ll produce even better numbers. Indeed, one can point directly to the last month as evidence to support that claim.
Unfortunately, you can’t measure a player on a 24-game sample (I’m removing the 14 games he played before going on the DL). In fact, you can’t predict performance based on a sample double that size. Fans and the Mets themselves fell into this trap with Danny Murphy, who looked like Wade Boggs through his first 49 big league games and 151 at-bats. The problem is that baseball is often a game of highs and lows, of hot streaks and cold streaks, and it takes a very special ballplayer to sustain production over the course of a 162-game season.
Even in the minor leagues, Angel Pagan was never projected to be an MLB regular. An impressive athletic specimen, he always appeared “toolsy” but for whatever reason didn’t have enough of any one skill to suggest he’d be an everyday player. The more we see him play, the more that incompleteness is exposed.
For example, his best raw skill right now is probably his running ability — he’s used it to attain 7 triples, to steal 8 bases, and to outrun fly balls. However, we’ve already seen that his speed doesn’t make up for his lack of instincts on the basepaths. He ran wild for a few weeks, his over-aggressiveness embarrassed him, and now he’s tentative. Before you say it’s a matter of experience, remember he spent ten years and 640 games in the minor leagues. The bases down there are 90 feet apart, just as they are in MLB. If he hasn’t understood how to run the bases yet, when will he?
Similarly, though he has the capability and determination to make highlight-reel plays in the field, the fact is, he’s not an outstanding fielder. His arm is average, and both his fly ball judgment and routes to the ball are OK to good rather than good to great. At times he goes aggressively for balls to the point where he gets in the way of others (again, instincts). His speed often erases mistakes. I think back to Shawn Green, who in his younger days appeared to be an excellent fielder, but who looked awful once his feet slowed.
Finally, there is his bat. When he’s hot, he’s a doubles and triples machine — as we’re seeing right now. But eventually he’ll cool and his over-aggressiveness (another running theme) will get the best of him. His OBP is tied directly to his ability to hit safely, and he hasn’t shown the ability to be disciplined enough to draw walks consistently at the MLB level. Though he’s doing well in the leadoff spot right now, I doubt that’s the best place for his offensive skills over the long haul. Where he does fit, I’m not sure.
If Pagan were an outstanding fielder, then his streaky bat would be acceptable. But he’s not Mike Cameron out there. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have enough bat to play a corner outfield position, either. So what you have is a somewhat stronger, switch-hitting version of Endy Chavez. For a few teams, that’s good enough to start. On a team deigned for the postseason, that’s a fine fourth outfielder.
Before we conclude, I want to express that I enjoy watching Angel Pagan play the game. His approach is a breath of fresh air and an example to be followed. He absolutely has a place on a championship ballclub — but it is most likely as a key contributor off the bench, rather than as an everyday player.