Angel Pagan Injury Hurts, But Not a Huge Blow to Giants' NL West Hopes

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Angel Pagan Injury Hurts, But Not a Huge Blow to Giants' NL West Hopes
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco Giants got some good injury news on Monday, as the club activated third baseman Pablo Sandoval from the disabled list after a roughly two-week stint.

Then the Giants got some bad injury news. Center fielder Angel Pagan has already been out for about a month with a bad wheel. And now, according to CSN Bay Area's Andrew Baggarly, the Giants are now going to be without him for a lot longer:

Pagan first hurt himself on that walk-off inside-the-park home run he hit back on May 25 against the Colorado Rockies. It sounds like that could be his final act on a big league diamond this year.

A bummer, to be sure. But in case you missed it the first time, things could be worse for the Giants. They've lost one of their stars, but I'm not convinced their chances of winning the NL West have just taken a fatal blow.

Consider the following question: What are the Giants actually missing out on here?

In light of Pagan's 2013 production, the answer is something along the lines of "Not much."

Pagan wasn't exactly in the middle of a killer offensive season. He was heating up a little bit in May, but only enough to raise his OPS for the season to .688. He also only racked up a 100 OPS+, exactly league-average.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Basically, the computers see Pagan for what he is: a very streaky hitter.

According to FanGraphs, Pagan boasts a 95 wRC+, which is below-average. To boot, his rest-of-season ZiPS projections called for a 94 wRC+ the rest of the way. The supercomputers that specialize in super-computing super-cool baseball things weren't expecting Pagan to get much better.

And that's not a total surprise. Before he got hurt, Pagan was basically having the same kind of season that he was in 2012 before he caught fire down the stretch. He finished the year with an impressive .309/.368/.517 showing in August and September, but before that he was only hitting .275/.319/.392. 

This was after Pagan posted a .262/.322/.372 line in 2011 with the New York Mets. If you put his production in perspective starting from the beginning of that season, August and September of last year stand out as clear outliers. 

Stepping aside for a moment to conveniently create a straw man, the counterargument here is that Pagan brings energy to the Giants lineup and that said energy has been missed lately. The Giants were scoring 4.51 runs per game when Pagan was healthy and have scored 3.73 runs per game since.

But there are other explanations for that. Not having Sandoval has hurt, and Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford have all had their issues in June. The fact that Buster Posey's home run power has disappeared hasn't helped matters.

The Giants' best hitter over the last month has been Gregor Blanco, who has spent much of his time filling in for Pagan in center field. He's taken advantage of the extra playing time with a .946 OPS in June, and solid offensive production isn't the only thing he's brought to the table in Pagan's absence.

Blanco is one of the better defensive specialists you're going to find anywhere, and this year he's been at his best in center field. Per FanGraphs, Blanco owns a 5.0 UZR and six Defensive Runs Saved in center this year, impressive stuff for a relatively small sample size.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

Juan Perez has also been impressive in center field in the time Bruce Bochy has given him out there. In only 76 innings of work, Perez has racked up a 6.7 UZR and six Defensive Runs Saved, according to FanGraphs.

These numbers look even better when compared to what the Giants were getting from Pagan before he got hurt. He had a minus-3.8 UZR and minus-nine Defensive Runs Saved, according to FanGraphs. He put up similar numbers in 2012 and 2011.

Even with the bar set pretty low, it's probably not fair to expect Blanco and Perez to fill Pagan's shoes from an offensive standpoint. But if they continue to play well above-average defense and take a few extra bases here and there, they could easily fill Pagan's shoes from an all-around standpoint.

In other words, this is one of those cases where the softening of the blow really shouldn't be too tall of a task. And if Blanco and Perez indeed end up doing an admirable job of filling in for Pagan, the Giants should be able to keep from plummeting to the bottom of the NL West.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Panda and Posey are a solid duo when they're both in the lineup.

If the Giants actually work their way to the top of the division in Pagan's absence, it will be due to other factors. They can't have Sandoval getting injured again, for starters, and they need Posey to go on one of his runs while Pence and Belt provide a little more stability behind him in the lineup.

Then there's the pitching, which has shown some signs of life lately after a mediocre start. Outside of one horrible inning against the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this month, Matt Cain has gone back to being himself. Madison Bumgarner has been terrific in his last two starts. Even Tim Lincecum is coming around with a 2.92 ERA in June.

The bigger questions concern how much stability Barry Zito can bring, which is largely a matter of him conquering his road demons. Ryan Vogelsong should be along sometime next month, and he could provide the Giants with a huge boost if he returns to the form he showed over the last two years.

The Giants are going to need a few things to go right to make a run at the division, but they can count their blessings that the rest of the NL West hasn't put them in a position where they need a lot to go right. Despite all the things that have gone wrong over the last month or so, the Giants are still only three games out of first place.

If even a few things start to go right for the Giants, they stand a more-than-fair chance of catching the Arizona Diamondbacks. It may seem like it at this juncture, but it doesn't feel like the Giants are in the same boat they were in two years ago in 2011, when the D-backs seemed to have something go right for every little thing the Giants had go wrong.

So say it with me now: Could be worse.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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