Angel Pagan

The Giants’ Angel Pagan problem

It was brought to our attention when Dee Gordon raced around the bases in less than 15 seconds at the beginning of the Giants’ pathetic road trip. Angel Pagan now has the longest homerless streak in the majors. He was never much of a power guy before, hitting a career-high 11 home runs in 2010 with the Mets and a total of 23 over the next four seasons.

So, to channel one of the Bobs from Office Space, “What would you say … you do here?”

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How about defense?

Pagan is a below average center fielder, albeit one who comes through with highlight-worthy grabs from time to time. His UZR this season (-6.2) has never been lower since he joined the Giants, in part because his arm is Coco Crisp-esque. He’s not the worst center fielder ever, but he’s certainly a worse center fielder than Gregor Blanco.

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At least he’s fast, right?

Pagan has stolen five bases in 77 games. That’s second on the team, which probably signals the Giants’ inability to take advantage of mediocre catchers more than anything special we can say about Pagan. He used to put pressure on opposing defenses, but on Sunday he failed to score from second on a Buster Posey single with two outs.

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Does he get on base?

Not really — Pagan’s walk rate is a career-low 5.3%, leading to an on-base percentage of .300 (by far the lowest of any Giants regular).

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Whether it’s the back injury/surgery from last year or simply the effects of age showing, Pagan is a very mediocre player, a slap-hitting outfielder who doesn’t provide all that much defensively. He hit .342 in April, but since then he’s hitting .218 and most of his base hits look like this:

Pagan soft line drive

The best we can say is that he’s playing hurt.

He isn’t playing very well, but at least he’s out there. With Nori Aoki and Hunter Pence out, the Giants are in beggars-can’t-be-choosers mode when it comes to their outfield.

Pagan is an interesting player and person. When he’s on, he’s the Giants’ best spark plug at the top of the order since … Kenny Lofton? He’s also a fiery individual — just ask any umpire.

The Giants still have one more year of Pagan after this one, due to the four-year, $40 million deal he signed in the champagne buzz afterglow of the 2012 World Series. Throughout that time, many have asked why the Giants keep him in center field when Blanco (who has started 246 games over the last three years while playing a total of 351 regular season games; Pagan has started 231 and appeared in 245) is a much better defender at every outfield position.

Pagan sees himself as a center fielder, and Bruce Bochy — never one to wound a veteran’s pride if he can help it — apparently feels that a defensive downgrade is worth it for the greater good. Except Pagan isn’t hitting or affecting games with his speed, so the Giants aren’t reaping the benefits of their ego-stroking.

Then there’s Pagan’s spot in the batting order. I started this post yesterday, after another ineffective offensive performance from the team with Pagan in the leadoff spot in Washington. Yesterday Bochy moved Pagan to fifth, and after flying across the country earlier in the day, the Giants’ first seven spots in the order went 0-for-24 against Jon Niese and the Mets.

Now, it’s unfair to pin the team’s recent struggles solely on Pagan. The pitching has not been good, goofy mistakes are becoming the norm, and the team as a whole looks exhausted. But Pagan has batted third in the order 56 times. He’s been the team’s leadoff hitter 10 times. He’s started six games as the No. 7 hitter (getting warmer!) and that one time as the No. 5 hitter yesterday.

Bochy probably doesn’t want to bat Pagan eighth on a regular basis for a few reasons, one of them being the insult it would imply. But what are they going to do when Aoki and Pence come back? Because this lineup doesn’t look bad at all:

  1. Aoki
  2. Pence
  3. Panik
  4. Posey
  5. Belt
  6. Duffy
  7. Crawford
  8. Blanco

Or …

  1. Aoki
  2. Panik
  3. Posey
  4. Pence
  5. Belt
  6. Duffy
  7. Blanco
  8. Crawford

One could move move guys around in a variety of ways and still come up with a permutation that would lead to more runs than they’ve scored lately. The point is that Blanco is hitting .304/.370/.433 and has a good glove, and I’m not sure if the Giants are ready to really piss off Pagan by sending him to the bench.

That is, unless he agrees to a disabled list stint, which wouldn’t be at all surprising.

There are also rumors that the Giants could be interested in trading for outfielders like Gerardo Parra or Cameron Maybin, but the same question would still apply. When Ryan Lollis and Justin Maxwell are on the active roster, playing Pagan makes more sense. Yes, even this sad, slow, powerless version of Pagan. But what are the Giants going to do if/when better options are available, or how about next year if he comes back as the same player we’ve seen so far in 2015 (or, gasp, even worse)?

I’m not sure what the answer is. He’s making a lot of money and isn’t on the Marco Scutaro/Freddy Sanchez Bridge to Nowhere just yet, but we found out last October that Pagan isn’t the most indispensable player on the team — far from it. If the Giants get an opportunity to make an upgrade in center field before Pagan’s contract is up, will they take it or will they continue to do whatever they can to avoid losing him entirely?

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