One of the unsung heroes of the 2012 San Francisco Giants team was Angel Pagan, who had come to San Francisco in trade in December, 2011. In fact, Pagan was so unsung that towards the end of the 2012 regular season, our very own Dave Cameron touted him for the tag of “most underrated player in baseball.” After the World Series trophy came back to the Bay, Pagan got a nice little contract, but unfortunately 2013 didn’t really go as planned. As such, he has gone back to being underrated. At least, for now.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to tear a hamstring muscle. I bet it hurts. It sure sounds like it hurts. Like, a lot. Unfortunately for him, Angel Pagan knows this feeling intimately, as he tore his right hamstring last season. Reading back through the Rotoworld injury news briefs, it may have been on this play:
(side note: I’ve never seen a third base coach run as far down the line as Tim Flannery did here)
It also might have come a month later, when he limped to and then collapsed at first base while on a rehab assignment in Triple-A. In between, he received both a cortisone shot and a platelet-rich injection of blood, neither of which worked. Pagan would succumb to surgery, and not return until late August.
When I went back to search for the video, one thing I expected to see was a man in pain. After all, after this was Pagan’s last major league action for more than three months. Instead, the only emotion I could read on Pagan’s face, or in his movements, is elation. He was nothing but excited, and that is certainly understandable — walk-off inside-the-park home runs aren’t exactly commonplace. But it got me to wondering about pain tolerance. If Pagan could make that full sprint around the bases when he was in so much pain, perhaps he had been playing in pain for awhile. It might help explain his underwhelming start to the season. In fact, if we keep scrolling through Rotoworld’s player notes, we find that Pagan had indeed been dealing with hamstring or groin pain as early as May 4.
In the interim three weeks, Pagan didn’t exactly tear the cover off the ball, as from May 4 through May 25, he hit just .239/.286/.394. This wasn’t all that different from the .276/.331/.362 line that he had put up from the start of the season through May 3, so you might dismiss his injury as a reason for the poor performance entirely. Or you might wonder if he had been hurt all along, and May 4 just happened to be the first time it was reported. Clouding the issue even further is that in April, Pagan battled a sore wrist.
Either way, Pagan’s 2013 season didn’t get off to a great start, and with the surgery it went from bad to worse. But he atoned when he returned to the lineup in late August. In 101 plate appearances from August 30 to the end of the season, he hit .323/.376/.495, good for a 149 wRC+. That’s pretty good, and it’s likely that optimistic Giants fans have been dreaming on that Pagan the entire offseason. In the season’s opening series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, he certainly didn’t do anything to dissuade them from that vision.
Let’s start with this — the Dbacks don’t have a great pitching staff. There are only five teams with starting rotations projected to be worse than Arizona’s in our depth charts at the moment. In addition, Chase Field can be a launching pad. Furthermore, it’s four games. Anyone can look good over four games. Hell, Casey McGehee beat the Rockies like the redheaded stepchild of a rented mule to the tune of .667/.800/1.333 in the Marlins’ first four games. Still, given Pagan’s lost season, and what he means to the Giants, his performance was still noteworthy.
Pagan has hit safely in each of the team’s first four games, and he collected multiple hits in three of the four. He stole a base, always a good sign for confidence in one’s hamstrings, and found the time to make a nice diving catch as well:
Finally, he pushed the Giants ahead in yesterday’s ballgame with a three-run homer that completed a comeback win. It got out in a hurry:
Now, this isn’t to say that Pagan is BACK, or that the Giants are now destined to pummel the Kershaw-less Dodgers into oblivion. No, what we’re doing here is illustrating that Pagan looks healthy. He’s doing all the things you would expect a healthy center fielder to do, and that is terrific news. Whether or not that translates into another four- to five-win season obviously remains to be seen. As mentioned earlier, Pagan did hit well down the stretch last season. Perhaps some took that with a grain of salt since the Giants weren’t in playoff contention. If you look though, you’ll notice that Pagan had the same 114 wRC+ in 2013 as he had in 2012, so maybe we shouldn’t discount his hot September after all.
Certainly, the Giants need this from Pagan if they’re going to get back to October. Yes, they have Gregor Blanco backing him up as the fourth outfielder, but they need Blanco more in left field, where Michael Morse‘s defense will likely be choose-your-own-adventure crazy. The Giants are already trying to paper over second base — poorly, I might add — and the hole there puts into focus just how little usable depth they have. With Pagan at the top of the lineup, and Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval filling in behind him, San Francisco has a pretty nice lineup, but it’s one that gets exposed fast if one or more of those five are felled by injuries.
Pagan has been dismissed before, so it should come as no surprise that he has flown under the radar once again. Now in his age 32 season, he should be sliding down the slippery slope of the aging curve, but this week at least he looked like he was back to being the breadwinner that earned himself a $40 million contract. If he continues to play to those expectations, it could be a very entertaining summer by the Bay.