Making Sense of the Fourth Outfielder Fallacy

There are sometimes things so obvious in baseball that we needn’t be reminded of them. One of these things is that Angel Pagan is better at baseball than Jeff Francoeur. Dave Cameron already wrote about Pagan’s awesomeness. With Beltran rehabbing, I wrote about the inevitable over a month ago, saying:

…I think it’d be optimal for the Mets to bench Francoeur for good and put Carlos Beltran in right field. Beltran will be coming off serious knee issues and declined defensively last year. The Mets can mitigate his stress back in the outfield by putting him in right, leaving Pagan in center, and of course having Jason Bay in left field. Chris Carter and Jeff Francoeur can sit on the bench, and Gary Matthews Jr. can go home and buy really cool stuff with his tens of millions of dollars.

Fortunately, the Mets did cut ties with Matthews, have played Chris Carter more, and have Beltran playing minor league games. So it’s the end of June, and here are where Jeff Francoeur and Angel Pagan stand for 2010:

Angel Pagan: .302/.363/.443, .357 wOBA, 123 wRC+, 10.0 UZR/150, 2.5 WAR
Jeff Francoeur: .270/.320/.425, .321 wOBA, 99 wRC+, -0.9 UZR/150, 0.7 WAR

As I said earlier, this is not even close. But Joe Lapointe of The New York Times fills us in on what will actually happen when Beltran returns:

The question is where Pagan will play when Beltran comes back. General Manager Omar Minaya and Manager Jerry Manuel maintained Tuesday that Beltran would return as a center fielder — there had been some speculation that he might move to right field, or left, to lessen the running he would have to do — and that the versatile Pagan would rotate through all three outfield positions, playing behind Beltran, left fielder Jason Bay and right fielder Jeff Francoeur.

This, simply put, is downright insanity, and honestly insulting to Angel Pagan. There’s no crying in baseball, but excuse me if I may get a little emotional for this guy if what Lapointe says actually comes to fruition. At the least the Mets should platoon Francoeur and Pagan in right field, as Pagan hits lefties relatively poorly and the opposite is true of Francoeur. Just in case you were thinking that maybe Francoeur beats Pagan in traditional stats:

Jeff Francoeur. : 74 games, .270 BA, 8 homers, 33 runs, 40 RBI, 7 stolen bases
Angel Pagan: 69 games, .302 BA, 4 homers, 41 runs, 35 RBI, 14 stolen bases

So it’s not the traditional stats. It’s not the advanced metrics. Then what is it? It firstly has to do with Jeff Francoeur, as Matt Cerrone of MetsBlog said:

…yes, i know francouer is a ‘cool guy,’ and he does grow one hell of a beard, and i know he looks you in the eye when he talks and he’s a great quote… i know this… i have talked to him on several occasions and he seems like a terrific person, and someone who it would be fun to hang out with… but, let’s not go crazy here…Francoeur is on pace to hit around .265 with a .320 OBP, 16 HR and 85 RBI this season.
…that’s good, don’t get me wrong, and i love his defense and his arm and i don’t underestimate how much of an impact he has on the opposing team’s running game… i get it… but, i just don’t understand why his arm and potential 15 HR is enough to kick pagan to the bench…

The Mets media has championed Francoeur while consistently chiding Angel Pagan for not having a solid “Baseball IQ” (that’s a whole other, scary-to-think-about issue). Francoeur is gritty. He makes funny faces and swings as if he’s trying harder than everyone else and reminds you of a quarterback from an SEC school in the 1960s. That’s one part of the equation holding Pagan back.

The other is what I’d like to call the “Fourth Outfielder Fallacy.” This is the fallacy that just because a player can play all three outfield positions, he is best served as a fourth outfielder. Most of the time, said outfielder did come up as a bench player who rotated around the outfield positions, but after a good time of solid play, still couldn’t shed the title of “fourth outfielder.” Fans are human, and humans love consistency and purpose. Fourth outfielders make them comfortable. It also causes people to doubt whether or not a fourth outfielder could ever be a real starting outfielder, because, well, I don’t know if there’s a real logical reason as to why, but people still say it anyway. Angel Pagan may become the latest casualty of the Fourth Outfielder Fallacy. If so, we can only hope he’s the last.

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Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat

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