A recent report by MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm mentioned that the Jays are interested in Angel Pagan. Fangraphs’ valuations of Pagan going into free-agency were for two years, $14-18 million (depending on managing editor Dave Cameron’s valuation or the crowd-sourced average), which isn’t worth it. However, here’s why signing Pagan to a minor-league deal may not be such a bad idea.
Pagan is a switch hitter, which is great, because the Jays set out this offseason looking to balance their mostly right-handed lineup. In 2016, Pagan slashed .282/.352/.414 against right-handed pitchers as a left-handed batter and .266/.291/.426 against left-handed pitchers as a right-handed batter.
Compared to Melvin Upton Jr. and Ezequiel Carrera, who slashed .226/.274/.360 and .218/.307/.320 against right-handed pitchers in 2016 respectively, Pagan would definitely bring a balance to the lineup against right-handed opponents.
Upton and Carrera are both considered to be stronger against lefties than righties; their respective .275/.341/.533 and .329/.372/.452 lines in 2016 certainly back that up (and that’s without even mentioning lefty-masher Steve Pearce, who posted a .317/.411/.622 line against left-handed pitchers in 2016.)
To make further comparisons, Fangraphs’ wRC+ (weighted runs created plus, which accounts for Park Factors like the difference between AT&T Park and the Rogers Centre, and where 100 is league average) shows that Pagan would have partially offset the other two players’ weaknesses in the 2016 season, and vice-versa:
|2016 wRC+||vs. RHP||vs. LHP|
Lastly, Pagan, Upton and Carrera’s 2017 Steamer/ZiPs projections in terms of wRC+ (without looking at splits) are 91/87, 82/72 and 81/79, respectively, so Pagan still projects to be a better hitter this season.
Historically, Pagan has been a plus-baserunner, putting up 1.9 baserunning runs above average in 2016, according to Fangraphs. Despite this being the lowest total of his career, he is still projected to be a barely positive baserunner in 2017 by both ZiPS and Steamer at 0.5 and 0.1 runs above average, respectively.
Similarly, ZiPs and Steamer both project Upton to be worth 0.8 runs above average; and project Carrera to be worth 0.5 and 0.3 runs above average, respectively. Overall, Pagan is projected to be slightly worse than both Upton and Carrera in terms of baserunning, though he’s not a significant downgrade.
Pagan stacked up fairly well against Upton and Carrera in left field in 2016. Despite under-performing them both in defensive runs saved (DRS), he outperformed them in ultimate zone rating (UZR). As UZR is the sum of several components (ARM: outfield arm runs above average; DPR: double-play runs above average, which didn’t apply to these guys in 2016; RngR: range runs above average; and ErrR: error runs above average), we can see where the differences lie between these three players.
Upton had the far superior arm of the three, but the worst range. Conversely, Pagan had the worst arm but the best range, compared to the average left fielder. Carrera seemed to be a nice compromise between Pagan and Upton, based on the numbers he put up; however, all three fielders were slightly below average in terms of defensive runs above average (Def). Per Fangraphs:
Statcast’s defensive charts, tracking batted ball data from all outs made by Pagan, Upton Jr. and Carrera, seems to indicate that there is no discernible difference between the three, with Upton Jr. potentially having the edge:
The Case for Signing Pagan
The point of signing Pagan wouldn’t be to save runs in the outfield. As previously mentioned, he’s not much of an upgrade over Melvin Upton Jr. or Ezequiel Carrera on defense. It would, however, add outfield depth and allow the Jays to dedicate Steve Pearce to first base on a more regular basis if the Justin Smoak experiment fails to pan out.The point of signing Pagan wouldn’t be to save runs in the outfield.This idea isn’t without its drawbacks: signing Pagan may demoralize Upton, Carrera, or other guys in training camp who may have a shot at making the roster, such as Pompey or Tellez.
In this regard, signing Pagan to a major-league deal, especially at his projected $7-9 million average annual value at the beginning of the off-season, is probably out-of-the-question.
That said, offering Pagan a minor-league deal for, say, $1.5 million and making him earn a spot on the roster might make a lot of sense, and would be much more fair to the existing players. (Steamer and ZiPs project him to produce 0.2 and 0.1 WAR, respectively, and assuming a win on the open market is approximately $7.5 million, 0.2 WAR = $1.5 million.)
The only question is whether Pagan would be receptive to such a deal. While it seems unlikely, he is still currently a free agent…