Remember the excitement over Angel Pagan’s Wins Above Replacement ranking among the best outfielders in baseball for a time last season?
His WAR this season: 1.0
And that gets to an issue that the Mets need to contemplate over the next few weeks.
Despite a .314 batting average with 16 extra-base hits since August 1, Pagan’s overall numbers don’t match up well with other centerfielders around baseball. So it seems logical to consider whether the Mets will go in a different direction.
For better or for worse, the Mets seem likely to have Jason Bay in left field and the recent returns on Lucas Duda make him a good candidate to be next year’s everyday rightfielder.
Last 2 seasons
Pagan is a year from free agency, so the Mets still control his situation for 2012. He could return. He could be non-tendered. Let’s consider the numbers that the team will be examining:
Pagan enters the final couple of weeks of the season with a .265/.319/.383 slashline. That’s largely due to a very rough start, but is below-average for major league centerfielders across the board.
Even giving Pagan a bump for having to play his home games at hitter-unfriendly Citifield and his OPS+ (OPS adjusted for ballpark) rates a 94 (100 is major-league average).
On the defensive side, the Ultimate Zone Rating metric, which rated him highly favorably last season, has ranked him almost equally unfavorably in 2011 (he’s gone from being worth 15 runs above average to 13 runs below in that system).
Other systems are kinder (Defensive Runs Saved, another newfangled stat, rates him with 0 Defensive Runs Saved, meaning he’s major-league average, and ranks 17th among the 30 centerfielders who have played the most innings), but there are a couple of flaws that have been a part of Pagan’s game this season.
For one, the percentage of baserunners taking an extra base on balls fielded by Pagan (ie: going first to third or second to home on singles, or first to home on a double) has increased from 48 percent in 2010 to 60 percent in 2011.
That’s due to a rather alarming stat, provided by the folks at Baseball Info Solutions (BIS), who do video review of every play in every game. They’ve noted that all 10 of Pagan’s errors (the most in the majors for a centerfielder this season) have come due to bobbling a base hit (five times), or making an errant throw (five times).
BIS has charged Pagan with the most Defensive Misplays & Errors among all centerfielders in baseball, well more than he had at all three outfield positions combined in 2010. And remember, he’s only played 108 games this season.
What makes the keep/discard Pagan question debatable is that there are a couple of things that Pagan has shown he does quite well. He’s seventh in the National League in stolen bases with 31 and has swiped them at an efficient 84 percent success rate, tied for seventh-best among the 37 major leaguers with at least 20 stolen bases this season.
Last 2 Seasons
Pagan has also cut down on his strikeout total considerably (if he matched his 2010 at-bat total at the same pace, he’d have 27 fewer strikeouts) and increased his line drive rate. That combination makes it hard to explain why his batting average is down 25 points from 2010’s .290. Video tracking by Inside Edge, which reviews every plate appearance in every game, has Pagan with nearly identical percentages for hitting the ball hard when hitting fly balls, line drives and ground balls.
Some in the sabermetric community might tell you that Pagan would be primed for improvement in 2012, so long as he hits the ball in the same manner. That would be a reason to keep him around.
So would the fact that Pagan has been one of baseball’s best hitters with runners in scoring position, hitting .322 in 335 such at-bats since joining the Mets, .307 this season. Sabermetricians insist that clutch hitting is not a skill, but Pagan’s performance in such situations has been consistent throughout his career.
Internally, Fernando Martinez and Kirk Nieuwenhuis are the Mets best upper-level outfield prospects, but both have significant injury issues. Nieuwenhuis had major shoulder surgery earlier this season, so his status is uncertain.
Citi Field is a park built for a speedy centerfielder who can chase balls down and hit them into spots where they can take advantage of speed, a Brett Gardner type, but good luck trying to find a team willing to trade one of those (it would probably necessitate trading David Wright to net one). The top two teams in the NL East, the Phillies and Braves have Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn as their centerfielders.
On his best day, Pagan probably isn’t in their class. But is pursuing someone like soon to be free agent Athletics outfielder Coco Crisp, a player of similar abilities, that much of an upgrade?
That’s one of the questions facing Sandy Alderson and the Mets braintrust heading into this offseason. What would you do?
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In-Depth runs each Tuesday during the baseball season.