When the San Francisco Giants acquired Angel Pagan and his nearly $5 million salary from the Mets for starting center fielder Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez this winter, they had high hopes that Pagan would be the answer in the lead-off spot.
Pagan had a miserable spring, going just 13-for-76 with a .505 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentages). While spring training stats don't actually count or matter, he has followed up that poor spring performance with a .232/.274/.406 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) triple slash line through his first 73 plate appearances to start the season entering play tonight.
Giants fans have begun clamoring for backup outfielder Gregor Blanco to assume more playing time in place of Pagan. However, Giants fans would be wise to remain patient with Pagan instead.
While Pagan has gotten off to a slow start, his strikeout rate remains stable. In fact, Pagan's current strikeout rate is well below his career average of 14.5 percent. According to FanGraphs, Pagan's strikeout rate of 9.6 percent ranks second among all center-fielders.
Pagan is not striking out very often, and he is also driving the ball quite well. His isolated slugging percentage (slugging percentage minus batting average) is .174, which is near his career high and well above his career average of .141. So, if Pagan doesn't strike out and he hits for power, what exactly is his problem right now?
The main culprit right now is his measly .246 batting average on balls in play ( His career BABIP is .312. Now, there is no guarantee that Pagan's BABIP will revert to his career norm automatically. So far this season he has been pulling off the ball badly, leading to some weakly pulled grounders on inside pitches and softly hit pop-ups on pitches away from him. However, his line drive rate is in line with his career average of around 21 percent, thus there is a very good chance that he is just hitting into some bad luck right now.
Unfortunately, he is not making up for his lack of luck by getting on base via the walk. Never one to walk much in the first place, Pagan has a current walk rate of 5.5 percent, well below the league average of 8.0 and his career average of 7.4 percent.
For Pagan to have a successful season, all he really needs to do is to have better luck when he puts the ball in play. It would be nice if he would walk more, especially since he is hitting in the lead-off spot, but that just isn't his game, nor is it something that his current employer encourages. If Pagan can get to his career averages, the Giants offense may be onto something.