2009 Analysis: Angel Pagan

angel-paganFlashy leadoff man or flash in the pan?

That is the $64,000 question when it comes to Angel Pagan.

At times, Angel Pagan displayed a marvelous skill set, lashing line drives to all fields, running the bases like a madman, and covering outfield ground with the ease and finesse of a veteran Gold Glover. At other times, he looked overmatched at the plate, confused in the field, and a bonehead on the bases.

No one questions Pagan’s raw talent — he has good speed, a strong arm, and a fast bat. What comes into question is everything above Angel’s neck. At age 28, and after 10 years and 900 games as a pro, one has to wonder if he’ll ever “figure it out”.

At his best, he’s a poor man’s Carlos Beltran: a switch-hitting centerfielder with an impressive arm, power at the plate, and a basestealing threat. But his lapses in concentration — or, inability to grasp fundamentals — often negate his positives. To say he’s a streaky hitter is an understatement, but when he’s hot, he’s an ideal leadoff man, with line-drive gap power that leads to exciting extra-base hits — as evidenced by his finishing fourth in the NL in triples despite playing only 88 games (OK, Citi Field helped that total, but still, pretty impressive). Unfortunately, when Angel’s not hitting, the glaring holes in his game are magnified; most specifically, his poor baserunning instincts and often awkward defensive play.

One thing that people must remember is that Angel Pagan was never considered a top-flight prospect, never hit more than .287 over a full season in the minors, never reached double figures in homeruns in any year, and collected 500+ at-bats only twice in ten professional seasons. Early in his pro career, his main tool was his speed — he was a burner on the basepaths, and used his legs to make up for errors in judgment both between the bases and in the outfield. Now that he’s older, banged up, and lost a step, his poor judgment is exposed — especially at the big league level, where everything moves just a bit faster. His fielding, in fact, is not unlike that of Shawn Green in the twilight of his career, when he, too, lost a step (or three). Like Green in his youth, Pagan used to be able to outrun his mistakes; but now, those mistakes result in flies that fall safely and runners who take extra bases.

Given the chance to play everyday for the first time in his MLB career, Angel Pagan made the most of it, hitting over .300 with an .837 OPS. He was a man on a mission in the final two months of the season, and put up Jose Reyes-like numbers from the leadoff spot. But don’t take it from me, check the stats — Pagan hit .342 when coming to bat as the first batter of the game, and hit .316 in the 77 games he was penciled in as the leadoff hitter in the starting lineup.

What the Mets have to figure out though, is, was it real? Pagan did the bulk of his damage in the final 50 games of the season — hitting the best he had since a 62-game stint with the Brooklyn Cyclones as a 19-year-old in 2001. Were those fantastic fifty games the result of a late bloomer finally given a fair opportunity to prove his worth, or was it a Phil Plantier-like, once-in-a-lifetime streak? Will he get better as he gets to know opposing pitchers, or will he regress once opponents know how to pitch to him?

It’s a tough question, but Angel has one thing on his side — affordability. His hot hitting down the stretch combined with a measly $600K salary makes him a no-brainer in comparison to similarly tooled fourth outfielders. If he can keep his bat going, his offensive game is ideal for Citi Field, and will be more than a capable backup to Carlos Beltran — who should be given more rest considering his creaky knees. With a little luck, combined with fundamental improvement, he could make a case as a platoon player in left field — though he may need to rely on more injuries to get another shot at a regular job.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. isuzudude November 24, 2009 at 10:03 am
    To me, Pagan seems like a keeper, but his role should be that of a 4th OF and not as a starter. As perfectly stated above, Pagan’s weaknesses and lapses in fundamentals/inteligence are exploited when he’s playing everyday. But as a 4th OF, he’d get the chance to still play somewhat regularly, depending on who else is brought in the man LF and how successful he can be at pinch hitting. And what we do know is that, with Beltran being anything but a sure thing to start 162 games in 2010, Pagan is a more-than-adequate injury replacement. And though he’s arbitration eligible this offseason and is likely to see a significant pay bump, he’s still probably going to be less expensive than the bulk of the other backup OF options available this winter, making him the ideal candidate to be the #1 OF backup.

    That said, it would be nice to sell Pagan’s stock while his value is highest. However, I fear most teams are thinking what we’re thinking: he’s a 4th OF who still hasn’t figured everything out at 28 and has never shown the type of offensive prowess he displaying in ’09 at any previous point in his career. Hence, the best offers for Pagan are likely to be for guys like Jose Guillen, which was rumored a few days ago. Unless the Mets get blown away by someone hellbend on obtaining Pagan, I’d say it’s wisest just to hold on to him and be comfortable knowing you are in possession of a great 4th OF and insurance in case Beltran can’t stay healthy.

  2. astromets November 24, 2009 at 1:26 pm
    To me Pagan seems like good backup for Beltran, possible platoon partner for Frenchy and a good late game defensive replacement at a corner; even though his defense gets a bad rep he still is faster than most OF’s and his good switch hitting bat would be nice against other teams bullpens.

    I think if we wanted to sell high though, a team could be convinced that Pagan could start everyday in CF and give up something better than Jose Guillen. For instance, I would think that the Yankees would prefer having Pagan in center as opposed to their current situation of Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera. Good CFers are hard to find, and Pagan can play there, hit leadoff and switchhit. Personally I want to keep him because I doubt there are any players we could get to replace him who is as dynamic as him.

  3. Read: Who is Angel Pagan November 24, 2009 at 4:18 pm
    […] a post to Mets Today, Joe Janish looks in to Angel Pagan, and aims to answer, “Flashy leadoff man or flash in the […]
  4. Mic November 24, 2009 at 6:03 pm
    I passed on posting more yesterday, but essentially my thoughts fit better here. I somewhat agree with I-dude and astro. as astro says MANY teams need a Pagan type player as a CFer and switch hitting leadoff guy. In fact if CB was traded away I would be happy with Pagan leading off (and Reyes as a 3-hole hitter).

    As it is I feel this yr was his breakout yr. He got ABs and finally could play every day (because of CBs injuries). I think his 2cent head moniker has more to do with position infamiliarity and lack of PT Note EVERYONE in the mets OF for as long as I can remember has/had a 2cent head in some regard…len dykstra, Kevin Mitchell, K-Mcreynolds, Juan Samuel..CB (plays too shallow) Mike Cammeron…To me his gaffes this yr, as well as those of Murph, Church, Wright and Fmart rest primarily with the coaching staff. THIS YEAR as opposed to the Willie years exposed a HUGE lack of fundamentals. In the willie yrs it was more often a lack of hustle…this yr it was often bad base runnning (how do u miss the bag…as the winning run?) throwing and catching.

    As such I can VERY much see him marketed to a club as tradebait.