Pagan has one elite tool—his speed—and he uses it well.
It was an inauspicious debut for one of the San Francisco Giants biggest offseason acquisitions.
Through April 25th, Angel Pagan was hitting just .232/.274/.406 on the heels of a miserable 13-for-76 showing in spring training.
My debut article for Bleacher Report that day urged Giants fans to remain patient with Pagan. While I have since lost patience with Pagan at various points this season due to his streaky play, on the whole, he's been an overlooked yet key addition for the first place Giants.
Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote an article on Thursday arguing that Pagan is the most underrated player in the game.
In that article, Cameron writes:
"Over the last four years, Pagan has accumulated just over 2,100 plate appearances and produced +12.9 WAR, or an average of +3.7 WAR per 600 PA. Some other players in MLB who have averaged between +3.5 and +4.0 WAR per 600 PA over the last four years: Mark Teixeira, Jay Bruce, and Curtis Granderson. I think you might hear a little bit more about them than you do about Pagan."
The reason Pagan gets overlooked is because he is extremely streaky.
He had a miserable spring training and beginning to the season before getting hot at the end of April. In May, he hit a robust .375/.422/.462 before going back in the tank for June (.245/.302/.306) and July (.210/.244/.309).
Then, in August, he got hot again—carrying the Giants after they lost Melky Cabrera to a season-ending suspension by hitting .342/.415/.588 for the month. Now that the calendar has turned again, Pagan is slumping on cue with a .160/.192/.280 batting line thus far in September.
His best tool is his speed. He's gone 23-for-30 in stolen base attempts this season while providing the Giants with nearly five runs of value on the bases. He's also used his speed to leg out 10 triples and 31 doubles.
He doesn't walk, strikeout or hit home runs very often, so his results are built in large part around whether the balls he puts into play are finding holes or not. Part of that is randomness, and part of that is how well he is squaring up the ball at any given time. Since he tends to pull off the ball, he will go through lengthy periods where he doesn't make solid contact.
Pagan can also be frustrating to watch defensively. He tends to freeze or break back no matter where the ball is actually hit, which causes problems when the ball is hit in front of him. He doesn't have a great arm and his range has been rated as average to below average this season according to the metrics used by FanGraphs.
Despite his prolonged slumps at the plate and occasional lapses in the field, Pagan has already been worth 3.6 Wins Above Replacement to the Giants—third best on the team behind Cabrera and Buster Posey.
Giants general manager Brian Sabean summed up Pagan's hidden value well in an interview he did for an article written by Jerry Crasnick of ESPN:
"With all the analysis and statistical profiling, people don't always notice that there are baseball players all over this game....Are they going to 20-plus home runs? Probably not. Are they going to steal 40 bases? Probably not. Are they going to hit .320 every year? Probably not. But beyond that, you've got a pretty damn good all-around baseball player in both cases [Pagan and Cabrera]. We're talking about switch-hitters who can hit almost anywhere in the lineup, play all three outfield positions and help you on both sides of the ball. There's a lot to like."
In the end, only a handful of teams have received as much value from their center fielders as the Giants have from Pagan so far this season. It hasn't been perfect, but there's been a lot to like, indeed.