Six reasons Angel Pagan should NOT be non-tendered

1. For starters, 2009 & 2010 were better than you remember

In 239 games during the 2009 & 2010 seasons, Pagan hit .296/.344/.448 (.792 OPS) over 1009 plate appearances. Playing all 3 OF positions, but mostly CF, Pagan earned a UZR of +22.7 in 1952.1 defensive innings. All told, in a year and a half’s worth of games, Pagan was worth 8.4 WAR. And before you write that stretch off as a fluke or an anomaly, consider that more than 50% of Pagan’s career plate appearances and more than 50% of Pagan’s career defensive innings came in 2009 & 2010. Over this 2 year period, Pagan was not only one of the most productive Mets, but one of the most productive outfielders in baseball, ranking 10th in the Majors in WAR. And while it’s certainly true that he took a step back last year…

2. 2011 wasn’t as bad as you think (at least with the bat)

In 2011, Pagan struggled to meet the lofty expectations established by his breakout year and a half. He began the year in an awful funk, hitting just .159/.259/.246 (.506 OPS) in 19 games before landing on the DL with a pulled oblique. After a month on the DL, Pagan returned and hit .279/.333/.394 (.727 OPS) over the remaining 104 games of the 2011 season. His numbers from the last 85% of the season, while a step back from his excellence of the prior 2 years, still represented solid offensive production. While you can’t just write off those first 19 games, looking at the split adds some perspective to his full season numbers. Defensively, he was awful. No way of sugarcoating it. However, the good news is that fielding is fickle. He was a plus defensive OF in 2010. There’s no reason he can’t be again in 2012. Which brings me to…

3. Pagan is primed for a rebound year

Defensively, Pagan just needs to play better. Of course that’s obvious, but consider that prior to 2011, Pagan had a career UZR/150 of +13.1 in LF, +9.4 in CF, and +22.6 in RF. He was an above average to plus defensive outfielder. And then in 2011, he was a train wreck. That’s the year that’s fresh in our minds, but we don’t have to dig too far to see that his miserable defensive play in 2011 doesn’t necessarily predict miserable defensive play in 2012. After all, his good defensive play from 2006-2010 didn’t mean he was a lock for good defensive play last year.

Offensively, Pagan had an unlucky year at the plate. His career BABIP entering 2011 was .325. His BABIP last season was just .285, a departure of 40 points from his career norm. And that drop came despite Pagan posting a career best 24% line drive percentage. In fact, Pagan’s batted ball profile suggests that his 2011 BABIP should have been much higher. Based on this formula from Beyond the Boxscore coupled with Pagan’s career batted ball distribution, his expected career BABIP was .307 coming into the 2011 season. However, his actual career BABIP was .325. The difference can be largely accounted for by his plus speed (which would result in more hits, particularly on ground balls, than the average player). Historically, Pagan had outperformed his BABIP expectations by almost 6%. In 2011, Pagan’s batted ball distribution produced an expected BABIP of .332. Applying his historical outperformance factor, we arrive at an expected 2011 BABIP of .352 for Pagan. As it turns out, that was a full 67 points higher than his actual 2011 BABIP. What this indicates is that with neutral luck, Pagan would have had an additional 28 hits over the course of the 2011 season. What effect would that have had on his overall numbers? Well, even if all 28 hits had been singles, he’d have seen his triple slash jump from .262/.322/.372 to .320/.375/.431. I wonder if we’d be talking about a non-tender then (spoiler: we wouldn’t).

But even if you don’t buy that Pagan is well-positioned for a bounce-back…

4. The Mets aren’t exactly swimming in in-house alternatives

The only CF candidate currently with the franchise who has even a semi-decent amount of Major League experience in center is Jason Pridie, whose contract can be renewed for roughly the league minimum. Pridie hit .231/.309/.370 in 2011, his first ML season with more than 6 plate appearances. Defensively, he was adequate (UZR has him a shade below neutral). Nothing in his Major or minor league history (aside from half a season in AAA back in 2007) suggest that he’s anything more than a 4th or 5th OF.

Prospect-wise, the Mets have Kirk Nieuwenhuis in AAA and Matt den Dekker in AA. Nieuwenhuis (2008, 3rd rd) was off to a hot start last year, hitting .298/.403/.505 in the season’s first 53 games. While the walks and power were very encouraging, his numbers were partially the product of an unsustainably high .407 BABIP. He also struck out at a fiendish 26.7% clip. There’s some question as to whether he’ll be able to handle CF defensively, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in that area. However, the big reason he’s not a serious option (at least right out of the gate) is that he missed the last two thirds of the season with a shoulder injury. He may well become an option midyear, but there will be too much rust to expect him to immediately make the jump to the Major League level. Den Dekker (2010, 5th rd) is an outstanding defender, and in 2011 he started making some noise with the bat. A .296/.362/.494 first half in St. Lucie earned him a midseason promotion to AA, where he continued to hit for power, clubbing 11 HR in 72 games and maintaining an ISO above .190. However, his BABIP fell from .369 to .305, and his K-rate spiked from a high 21.5% to a dangerously high 29.0%, leading to a AA triple slash of .235/.312/.426. If he can cut down the Ks without losing the power, he could also be in the CF conversation. However, given that he’s only logged half a season in AA and clearly has some things to work on, 2013 seems a far likelier ETA for him.

Without any viable internal alternatives, the Mets are forced to turn to…

5. A weak free agent pool

The 2012 free agent class of centerfielders is mediocre at best. Here’s how the group, including Pagan, has fared over the past 3 years:

Player 2012 Age PA CF Inn. AVG OBP SLG OPS WAR
A. Pagan 30 1541 2343.2 .284 .336 .422 .758 9.3
C. Beltran 34 1210 1193.2 .298 .384 .497 .881 8.5
D. DeJesus 32 1527 242.2 .277 .349 .417 .766 8.5
C. Crisp 32 1126 2171.1 .262 .326 .396 .722 7.0
C. Ross 31 1634 1734.1 .261 .323 .432 .755 5.1
M. Cameron 39 1077 2009.2 .240 .326 .420 .746 4.6
K. Fukudome 34 1635 1007.1 .261 .362 .406 .768 4.0
N. McLouth 30 1200 2179.1 .233 .337 .382 .719 2.4
R. Ankiel 32 1059 1778.1 .235 .297 .378 .675 2.2
S. Hairston 31 945 596.1 .242 .302 .420 .722 2.1
G. Sizemore 29 938 1555.1 .234 .314 .413 .727 1.9

The most attractive external option is probably David DeJesus. However, DeJesus made $6M last year as part of a contract he signed before he was even eligible for arbitration. I don’t expect that he could be had on a one-year deal, especially not at a pay cut. Coco Crisp made $5.75M last year and will also likely be looking for a multi-year deal. Cody Ross made $6.3M in 2011 in his final arbitration year and is a free agent for the first time. Grady Sizemore is a wild card, due to his former status as a young superstar and the injury-riddled mess the past few years of his career. There’s speculation he’s likely to sign for close to the $8.5M option his former team declined. Further down the talent ladder, we find guys like Rick Ankiel and Nate McLouth. They’re likely to be inexpensive, but they’re also not likely to produce much. Meanwhile, Angel Pagan, who has the highest 3-year WAR of the bunch, can be retained on a one-year commitment for an estimated $4.7M. A one-year contract costing $4.7M comes with a WAR expectation of roughly 1.0, and that’s without even considering…

6. Draft Pick Compensation*

If Angel Pagan had been eligible for free agency this offseason, he would have been a Type B free agent. In fact, he would have been the 3rd highest ranking Type B free agent in his group (NL 1B/OF), just barely missing Type A status. Compensation is based on the past 2 years of service, so Pagan would need to perform at 2010 levels in the requisite Elias categories (PA, AVG, OBP, HR, RBI) to have a shot at Type A. However, there’s a significant gap between where he is now and the bottom of the Type B qualifiers. So even with just a moderate bounce-back in some of those categories, Type B compensation seems entirely plausable. Victor Wang, in a fantastic series of articles for The Hardball Times, estimated the expected surplus value of a sandwich round draft pick (the compensation for a Type B free agent) to be roughly $2.6M, or a little more than half of the salary Pagan is expected to earn through the arbitration process.

* Note – As of this writing, the terms of the new CBA have not been finalized. It is possible the structure or formula for determining draft compensation will change.

Bottom Line: I’ve offered these 6 reasons that the Mets should tender Pagan a contract and use him as their 2012 centerfielder. I think that given the Mets’ other deficiencies and constraints, he represents their best choice. However that doesn’t mean the Mets shouldn’t be looking at other options. They should absolutely be checking in on young, controllable CFs on other teams. They should perform due diligence on the high risk, high reward, outside-the-box options, like Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. They should be looking at guys like Andres Torres, who the Giants may nontender, and they should remain aware of the markets for the other FA centerfielders out there, in case there are any late offseason bargains to be had (if not as a starter, then as a capable backup). But the point is, on a 1 year, ~$4.7M deal, Pagan has value. So even if something better comes along, internally or externally, the Mets should have no trouble moving him. And even if they can’t move him and he’s terrible, it’s a one-year, low money deal that they can be rid of by next October. Despite his warts (and he’s certainly not without them), Angel Pagan an asset. And as far as I’m concerned, the Mets aren’t in a position to just dump assets.

*****

If you’re interested in Major League transactions, rules, and procedures, or if you just want to know which Mets have options left and what picks the Mets will get if Jose Reyes signs elsewhere, be sure to check out http://tpgmets.blogspot.com and follow me on Twitter @tpgMets.

17 comments for “Six reasons Angel Pagan should NOT be non-tendered

  1. Brian Joura
    November 8, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    I’m ambivalent about the Mets keeping Pagan. I think he’s likely to be worth what they pay him and I’d rather see him than anyone they could get on the FA market at an equivalent price.

    But if the Mets are as broke as they seem to be, I could live with them playing Pridie out there. His overall batting numbers look bad but they’re being dragged down by his 3-24 mark as a pinch-hitter. The advanced numbers don’t like his arm, but he has good range which given that he’ll have to help cover for Lucas Duda, is an important factor for the 2012 Mets’ CF.

    • November 9, 2011 at 10:08 am

      If the Mets are too broke to keep Pagan for an additional ~$1.2M over last year’s salary despite some $65M coming off the books, then literally the only stat we should be looking at to determine who they should go after is projected salary.

      I’m not quite that disillusioned yet.

      • Brian Joura
        November 9, 2011 at 2:18 pm

        I would suggest that’s not the only way to look at it.

        The 2012 ZiPS forecasts for the Mets are out and they show Pagan with a .269/.322/.403 line. That’s essentially what he did last year in AVG and OBP but 31 points higher in SLG. ZiPS forecasts that to be a 97 OPS+ while in 2011 Pagan posted a 93 OPS+

        Last year ZiPS projected Pagan with a 102 OPS+

        Regardless – would you rather essentially pay market value for a 97 OPS+ or would you rather pay minimum wage for Jason Pridie, who last year had an 89 OPS+?

        You’ve already laid out the case for reasons that Pagan could be more valuable in 2012 than he was in 2011. I agree with that line of thought. However, in terms of actually paying for 2012 production – I’d rather depend on a neutral, systematic approach like ZiPS. This non-biased system has Pagan with an 18-point OPS+ edge. Is that worth the difference between what Pagan would make in arbitration and what Pridie gets as a minimum wage guy – about $5 million?

        I think you could argue that either way.

        It doesn’t have to be that the Mets are too broke to keep Pagan. They could just calculate that the excess production that Pagan provides over Pridie simply isn’t likely to be worth $5 million.

        • November 9, 2011 at 4:45 pm

          The ZiPS forecast is noted, but I’m not buying it hook, line, and sinker. I’d agree that $4M is a steep price to pay for 8 points of OPS+, however a comparison of one system’s point estimates of OPS+ isn’t enough to make me think that that’s the choice I’m presented with, especially when I don’t know much about how the system works.

          I’m not really familiar with ZiPS’ methodology or inputs. Does it consider BABIP regression to a league-wide mean, or does it acknowledge that some players (like Pagan) have baseline BABIPs above the league average? How reliable is it with guys like Pridie, who don’t have much ML history to go off? And does it tend to shy away from predicting bouncebacks by players who had down years that were largely the product of injury and/or bad luck? I noticed, for instance, that despite a longer history of success than Pagan, ZiPS predicted James Shields would have an ERA+ of 96 last year, worst on the Rays staff.

          FWIW, in a chat a few weeks ago, I asked FanGraphs guru Dave Cameron this question: “Non-tendering Angel Pagan would be a stupid move, right?” His response was, “Yes. Pagan is one of my favorite undervalued off-season targets for a team looking for an OF upgrade.”

          I don’t dislike modeling, but I just don’t know enough about the ZiPS system to determine whether I think it’s accurately judging Pagan here. I also don’t dislike Pridie, per se, but I can’t justify using him over Pagan just to save $4M. If Pagan underwhelms this year, then I will have no problem saying mea culpa, I made a bad call. But I firmly believe that Mets fans are going to be pleasantly surprised. I bet he’s worth more than 3.0 WAR for 2012, and 4.0 or higher wouldn’t surprise me in the least. We’ll see.

          • Brian Joura
            November 9, 2011 at 5:16 pm

            Just to be crystal clear – my goal is not to convince you that non-tendering Pagan is the right thing to do. I’m not convinced if the Mets should keep him or not. But while it seems like they do plan to bring him back, *IF* Sandy Alderson decided to non-tender him — I think that’s a defensible position.

          • November 9, 2011 at 10:29 pm

            That’s totally fine. I welcome and appreciate when people challenge my opinions, especially when they bring up reasoned counterpoints. I probably shouldn’t have been so dismissive about your ZiPS observation, since it is certainly a valid point (although I would want to no more about their process before deciding how much value to put on it). Regardless, apologies if I came off as defensive.

            The assumption underlying my most basic position on Pagan is that the market values him in excess of his predicted arbitration price of $4.7M. In other words, if he were to be non-tendered, he would ultimately wind up signing a contract richer than the 1 year, $4.7M deal the Mets have available. If you disagree with that assumption, then non-tendering him is certainly a defensible position.

            However, if you accept that assumption, then I think you’d have a much harder time rationalizing a non-tender decision, because in that case, I think non-tendering him is a strictly dominated strategy. If you think Pagan will provide surplus value beyond the $4M premium you’d pay for retaining him over Pridie, then you tender him a contract and keep him aboard as your centerfielder. If you do not think Pagan will provide surplus value beyond the $4M premium you’d pay for retaining him over Pridie, then you tender him a contract and trade him to another team, an option that should be readily available given that you’ve already established that the market perceives him as a bargain at 1 year, $4.7M.

            Ultimately, that’s where I come down on the issue. Personally, I want Pagan to be the Mets’ 2012 CF because I think he’s going to produce well beyond his cost, help the Mets win, and either return a decent prospect at the trade deadline or a pick in the 2013 draft. However I can recognize that he’s not a risk free investment and that others could be legitimately much more pessimistic. But I do think that’s a separate decision than whether or not to tender him a contract. Non-tendering him is, IMO, just bad business, whether you want him to be the Mets’ CF in 2012 or not.

  2. Tommy2cat
    November 8, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    Pagan suffered two instances of an oblique strain last season, once at the outset and once in early July, when Jose’s hammy started acting up.

    I believe that his colitis depleted his energy and likely disrupted his equilibrium, although it’s not something he would want to make an issue of. I thought Terry Collins handle the issue poorly in the press – he appeared frustrated from the inconvenience that his centerfielder would have such a problem. (I like TC, but I didn’t appreciate his judgement in this instance).

    I met Angel Pagan last year. He’s incredibly strong – the muscles on his hands have muscles. I hope the Mets take a more compassionate approach to handling Angel Pagan. He was so glad to return to the Met organization and, by and large, has been productive at the plate, in the field and on the basepaths, nothwithstanding an occasional hiccup here and there.

    I think Pagan is a keeper. He really bears down at the plate in clutch situations – he doesn’t get that lost, far away look that one of our stars gets and he doesn’t get hper-aggressive like another of our stars that just hit the FA market. He bears down. I like that.

  3. Tommy2cat
    November 8, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Chris – BTW, that was an excellent analysis that provided a broader perspective on Pagan’s contributions to the Mets over the past 3 years, his actual performance last year, and the dearth of sensible alternatives at present.

    Great job!

    • November 8, 2011 at 1:27 pm

      Thanks Tommy, much appreciated. And excellent points about Pagan’s injuries. I honestly think Pagan’s 2012 will be significantly closer to his 2010 than his 2011. I just hope it’s with the Mets. It was nice to see Heyman’s tweet that the Mets plan to tender him, but I’ll feel better about it once it actually happens. Thanks again for the thoughtful comments.

  4. Metsense
    November 8, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Chris, a very logical disection of the issue and the bottom line conclusion makes too much sense. Enjoyed it.

  5. Boy
    November 8, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    The mets should get Ankiel. He has a lot of potential hitting wise, and is one of the top 5 outfielders in the mlb. He had 25 homeruns in a 120 game season, I think he can do it at Citi…

    • November 9, 2011 at 9:51 am

      The thing about that 25 HR season is it came back in 2008, when Ankiel was 27 years old (an age often identified as the midpoint of a hitter’s physical peak). And since that season, Ankiel has hit just 26 HR, compared to the 24 Pagan has hit over the same period.

      Also, speaking of Ankiel’s defense, in that same 2008 season when he hit 25 HR, Ankiel put up a -17.1 UZR/150. To put that into context, it’s actually a run worse than Angel Pagan’s 2011.

      If it’s me, I’d only look at Ankiel as a backup, a 4th OF. And as far as that’s concerned, I’d probably just stick with Jason Pridie at a quarter of the price.

  6. t agee
    November 10, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Very rational analysis Chris. I agree completely about Pagan. Certainly there have been too many vapor locks in Pagan’s game but he both has the talent, and has displayed it for an extended period of time in ALL facets of the game. Offense, defense and base running. With a team that has so many guys who have the talent at 1, 1.5 or at the best 2 out of the three that’s invaluable.

    Contract wise 2012 is the biggest year of Pagan’s life and a big part of the Mets change in attitude last year was having more guys in that situation and less of them on scholarship. I was disappointed in his game last year after bragging about his great (to me) 2nd half 2009 and all of 2010 but this is the perfect situation for everyone involved. Pagan in his walk season, a full year to evaluate Kirk, Den Deker, Puello and Lagares to see where we are going forward and even if Pagan were to tank, which I seriously doubt, that wouldn’t be the reason we’re not battling for a playoff spot anyway. The absence of anyone that could provide an upgrade through type B or less free agency and the very real possibility of picking up a draft choice somewhere in the #40-#50 range just cinches it.

    I would love to pair Pagan with a RH hitting backup CFer here and there and use that backup CFer for late inning D in RF when we have a lead. The right call on Pridie would be to cut him and hope to resign him as AAA depth in order save a roster spot to protect one of our slower developing kids from the rule 5 draft.

    Pagan buys us a year, has the biggest upside of any potential replacement and could very easily provide us with a supplementary round pick in 2013 and for a team that always has so many “holes to fill,” that is worth it’s weight in gold.

    • November 10, 2011 at 9:35 pm

      Thanks for the thoughtful and detailed reply, Tommie. Coming from a great Met centerfielder of yore, it means a lot.

      I agree about a RH backup. Pagan’s platoon splits suggest he’s a pretty balanced switch hitter on a few levels (BB an K rates are reasonably close, as is raw power), however he’s enjoyed a career BA about 40 points higher from the left side.

  7. Metsense
    November 11, 2011 at 11:37 am

    One other thought on the issue. Pagan’s defense was questionable last year as was Duda’s. Duda went to Harris for advice according to an SNY broadcast (“always take a step back”). Proactively the Mets hired a new 1B coach and OF instructor for 2012. Alderson and Collins are big on preparation and maybe this change will also help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *