Angel Pagan was carted off the field during the first game on his rehab assignment Thursday night, according to Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area. Baggarly wrote,
Pagan hasn’t played since May 25, when he injured his hamstring in the outfield two innings before hitting a walk-off, inside-the-park home run. He already had one setback in his hamstring injury and opted for a platelet-rich plasma injection instead of surgery...This latest setback makes surgery a strong possibility, obviously.
If Pagan's injury proves to be serious and does require surgery, the Giants should shift their focus to acquiring another bat at the trading deadline. Danny Knobler of CBS Sports recently reported that the Giants were seeking starting pitching help and had inquired on Ricky Nolasco and Bud Norris. However, that was before Pagan's latest setback.
The Giants are second in the National League with a .273 batting average. They rank fourth in on-base percentage and fifth in slugging percentage. They've struck out less than any team in the NL. Thus, offense hasn’t been the problem.
The Giants have the third-worst rotation ERA in the NL at 4.57. The inconsistent starting pitching has clearly been holding the team back. The Giants play in one of the most pitcher-friendly stadiums in baseball, which further proves the offense has out-performed the pitching staff this season.
However, the job of general manager Brian Sabean isn't to merely assess what has happened in the first half and go from there. Instead, his job is to project what is most likely to happen in the future and make deals based on those projections.
There are signs that the starting rotation may not be the problem going forward even though the staff has underachieved to this point.
Madison Bumgarner has had a very good season. He's made nine quality starts in 15 turns through the rotation while putting up a 3.25 ERA and 1.01 WHIP.
Matt Cain has an uncharacteristically high 4.55 ERA, but he's also made nine quality starts in 15 tries. His ERA has been inflated by the 15 home runs he's allowed. Nine of those home runs came during April when Cain put up a 6.49 ERA.
In May, his ERA was 3.48, and it's 3.38 thus far in June. It looks like Cain is well on his way to getting back to where he was last year when he was the staff ace.
Chad Gaudin has stabilized the rotation while filling in for the injured Ryan Vogelsong. He's put up a 3.38 ERA over four starts. He was cruising through another gem on Thursday night before getting knocked out with a right elbow contusion. He tweeted that he'll make his next scheduled start, however.
According to Chris Haft and Andrew Owens of MLB.com, Vogelsong recently had the pins removed from his surgically repaired right hand. Vogelsong has missed about five weeks of action with an injury that was expected to keep him out for at least eight weeks. With the pins removed, he could be on his way to making a complete recovery soon to boost the rotation during the second half.
Barry Zito has pitched exceptionally well at home this year. He's 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA at AT&T Park. Unfortunately, he's 0-4 with an 11.28 ERA on the road. If Zito can get his road woes figured out, he'll be a solid option going forward at the back of the rotation.
The Giants need Tim Lincecum's ERA to start mirroring his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)—an ERA estimator based on walk, strikeout and home run rates.
Lincecum put up a 5.18 ERA in 2012, but his FIP was a full run lower at 4.18. This year, his ERA is 4.57 while his FIP is a respectable 3.80.
Lincecum still has strikeout stuff. Since the beginning of last season, he's struck out 271 hitters in 268.2 innings.
His problem has been an inability to pitch out of trouble. Lincecum is allowing a .780 OPS with runners in scoring position this year compared to .615 with the bases empty. In 2012, he allowed an .887 OPS with runners in scoring position compared to .740 with the bases empty.
Lincecum needs to find a cure for his issues out of the stretch to get his ERA to match his peripherals.
If Pagan's injury proves to be serious, the Giants should turn their attention to getting another bat for the outfield. Gregor Blanco should move from left field to center, and the Giants should seek more power in left via the trade market.
Blanco's .336 on-base percentage since the beginning of last season is actually higher than Pagan's (.332). Blanco has also been a better defender than Pagan. According to the advanced metric Defensive Runs Saved, Blanco has saved five runs in center field this year while Pagan has cost the Giants nine runs.
Blanco can't match Pagan's batting average or slugging percentage. Yet his ability to get on base and play excellent defense make him a serviceable alternative if Pagan has to miss extended time.
The Giants would then have to replace Blanco in left field.
According to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, outfielder Josh Willingham could become available if the Twins fall out of contention. According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the White Sox are likely to shop Alex Rios and other veteran players if they don't climb back into the race.
Willingham currently has a slash line of .217/.358/.407 with 10 home runs. He hit .260/.366/.524 with 35 home runs last year.
Rios is batting .280/.339/.465 with 11 home runs. Hunter Pence is the only player on the Giants who has reached double digits in home runs with 11. The club ranks second-to-last in the NL with only 49 homers.
The Giants have not been rumored to be interested in Willingham, Rios or any other bats. If Pagan is out for a while, they should inquire on Willingham and Rios to try to get more power in the outfield.
The Giants considered trading Lincecum for Rios prior to the 2008 season. Their past interest in Rios is interesting to note, but it doesn't guarantee they'll pursue him now.
The Giants rotation has struggled, but there are reasons for optimism. Bumgarner has pitched well. Cain has pitched effectively over the past two months after a rough start. Gaudin has filled in admirably for Vogelsong, who will eventually come back. Zito needs to pitch better on the road, and Lincecum needs to pitch better out of the stretch.
If Pagan has to miss the remainder of the season or a large chunk of it, the Giants should shift their focus to acquiring an outfield bat at the deadline. If Pagan does eventually return to the lineup, the Giants would have a good problem in having too many quality outfielders. Blanco would be one of the best fourth outfielders in the game under that scenario.
Even if the rotation doesn't round into shape, there's nothing wrong with fortifying your strength. Another potent bat in the lineup would allow the Giants to have a better chance at out-slugging their opponents.
The Giants have a solid offense. Why not try to make it even better? If Pagan has to go under the knife, the Giants should turn their focus to boosting what has been one of the NL's best lineups.
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