DINGERS FROM THE 6IX
by Quinn Sweetzir
Just a couple weeks remain before spring training ends and opening day begins and despite the fact that the Blue Jays’ candidates for a left field job are flawed, ineffective, and generally project to be at or near replacement level next season. It appears likely that the Jays left fielder is going to be some combination of Melvin Upton Jr., Ezequiel Carrera, Steve Pearce, and possibly Dalton Pompey or Darrell Ceciliani which is puzzling because there is a perfectly useful, starting caliber left fielder still on the open market for a relatively meager price. Angel Pagan has been a starting outfielder on the San Francisco Giants for the last five seasons. In all but one of these seasons, Pagan has managed to record at least a 2.3 WAR/600 PA and a WRC+ above 105. This combined with his surely low asking price makes me wonder why the Jays would rather start some combination of weak and incompetent outfielders instead of a quality major leaguer.
For most of the offseason, I considered Angel Pagan to be a strong target for a Blue Jays team looking to contend for a World Series in 2017. His unique skillset would be a welcome addition to the Blue Jays lineup, and his passable corner outfield defense welcome sight for a team that watched Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders play a combined 1845 innings in the field. His weak 2015 season was a result of fixable problems which he improved upon dramatically in 2016, and his relatively minimal contract demands should lead him to a starting left field job in Toronto.
Coming into the offseason, one of the Blue Jays supposed needs was to increase the amount of left handed hitters in their lineup. Although they did that by adding the switch hitting Kendrys Morales, another switch hitter would be welcome, and Angel Pagan does just that. Although he was slightly worse against right handed pitchers overall, his ability to switch hit is something the Jays might need down the stretch if they hope to contend. He also possesses the ability to hit line drives at a high rate, recording a LD% of 25.1% in 2016. When you consider his .298 BABIP – a number which was well below his career average of .316 – you can see the possibility for improvement on his already solid .277 batting average. Continuing on, we see that Pagan still has the ability to steal bases when necessary. Having recorded double digit stolen bases in all but one season since 2009, we can see that Pagan still has a knack for stealing the occasional base even at his advanced age of 35. As you can see, his unique skills are a good fit for a Blue Jays team hoping to contend for a title in 2017.
Beyond his obviously good fit in the Blue Jays lineup, his passable defense is something which the Jays need to consider. Compared to Melvin Upton Jr. and Ezequiel Carrera, Pagan’s defense should play at a similarly average level to these two forth outfielders. We could probably expect all three players to record average defensive numbers. Adding Pagan would be a very dramatic improvement form the defense of departed Michael Saunders. It would also allow the club to play occasionally play Bautista at first base if/when Steve Pearce gets hurt without suffering a very big drop off in overall performance. Clearly, the possible improvement in the Jays skill from an outfield defense standpoint is a real plus to a theoretical singeing that already makes too much sense.
Despite the seemingly strong case for signing Pagan, it is possible that the Jays front office is concerned with his 2015 performance when he recorded -0.7 WAR. Though this number is troubling, there are reasons for this decline in performance which can be explained. Contributing to this WAR total was a variety of factors however I’ll stop at three. First, his strikeout rate was about 5% higher that it was in both 2014 and 2016, resulting in a very relatively low WRC+. Secondly, his power was incredibly weak in 2015, with just 3 home runs and a .070 ISO. However, both these totals increased by a large margin in 2016, with a home run total rising to 12, and an ISO rising to .141. Most importantly, his defense was incredibly bad in 2015, when he recorded a UZR/150 of -19.0. Although this number is remarkably bad, it did improve to 3.9 upon a move to the corner in 2016, and could be expected to more or less continue that way for 2017. His struggles in 2015 were a result of factors which were solved in 2016, and can most likely be expected to continue rather than return in 2017.
Another reason why the Jays should sign Pagan is his surely small contract demands. Considering Pagan is 35 years old, struggled with injuries as recently as 2014, and is still unsigned more than halfway through spring training, we could probably get Pagan on a 1 year deal with a cheap base salary. Perhaps the Jays could include some playing time incentives to protect themselves if Pagan does get hurt or struggles through a bad season. If he doesn’t, and plays to his worth, than the Jays have a starting caliber outfielder to throw into left field every day and play at a level greater than that of their current outfielders.
The advantages of signing Pagan are extensive. He is a solid starting outfielder currently on the open market and not expected to sign for much. His useful skillset, passable defense, general consistency, and probably cheap contract should be reason enough for the Jays to sign Pagan to a major league contract. Doing so could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs for a team projected to win around 87 games in 2017.