The 2012 community projection for Angel Pagan was bookended by facetious references to the beginning of the Gregor Blanco Era. Then Blanco started in left field for a championship-winning team, and he's now the de facto starter in left for next season. So maybe this one should start out with a paean to Guillermo Quiroz. Seems to be good luck.
Angel Pagan is the best example of a frustrating genre: the player who mixes in a down year just to throw everyone off. Pagan's OPS+ between 2009 and 2011 went from 122 to 108 to 94, a trend that was hardly encouraging. But you could take those numbers and massage them to tell a different story. Instead of focusing on the decline, how about noting that for two out of the last three years, Pagan hit quite well for a center fielder? That wasn't a lie, after all.
We can up that to "three out of the last four years" now, which makes Pagan a much, much easier player to predict. The 2011 flop was an outlier, not a harbinger of doom. Pagan's good, it seems. Huzzah!
The preseason projection:
SB: 37 (10 caught)
Defense: Kinda sorta okay
And the actual, real-life results:
SB: 29 (7 caught)
Defense: Kinda sorta okay
The biggest misstep was the assumption that he'd be hurt. He wasn't. He played in 154 games, probably because he's a staunch traditionalist. And the same two-of-three thing applies to his health now; we have two seasons out of the last three where he's been healthy. Was he tarred with the injury-prone brush too soon? Probably. But we'll never know now that he's getting older. There will be a few sproings and poinks along the next four years, but those were probably going to happen anyway.
Of note: Pagan received an MVP vote -- a single, 10th-place vote that tied him with Hunter Pence for 32nd in the NL MVP race. The only time that stops being amusing is when you realize that it's horrifying someone non-ironically voted for Pence, but there are failsafes in your brain to shut that down pretty quickly.
The year-end stats were about what were expected, but Pagan arrived at them in a funky way. He might have been the streakiest hitter the Giants have had since Randy Winn. It's probably not a coincidence that both are switch-hitters -- it has to be tricky maintaining consistent swings with two completely different sets of mechanics.
After a 1-for-4 game against the Diamondbacks on May 11, Pagan hit .411/.458/.537 over the next month, with almost half of the balls he made contact with falling in for hits. For a month after that streak, he hit .197/.252/.259, which is something Brian Bocock might do if he decided to try switch-hitting. That slump ended with a whomping of the Rockies, and he was fantastic for the rest of the regular season, with almost half of his walks on the season coming in the final eight weeks. With the exception of two well-timed home runs, though, he was mostly invisible in the playoffs, hitting .188/.230/.348 in the first postseason of his career.
But good. And that kinda-sorta-okay defense wasn't a surprise, but it was maddening at times. I used the word "benardian" in the original projection, but only because I meant to assure you that wasn't what Pagan's defense was like. Except, that's exactly what it was. On a much smaller scale, but Pagan's problem is with the jumps he'll get. He'll freeze for a split-second too long, or he'll take a step in the wrong direction far too often. But when he can get a good jump on the ball, he's quite excellent.
Like, say, with this play:
Pagan won't be in center by the end of the contract -- just a guess -- but for the next season, at least, the Giants have a center fielder who can hit a little bit, and who can field his position well enough. In three of the last four seasons, that's been worth four to five wins. It would have stunk if he had left, especially since you know that Shane Victorino would have been the replacement. But the Giants saved their soul and our sanity with what looks like a pretty modest deal.
In July, most of us assumed the Giants would give Melky Cabrera a big deal, which wouldn't leave any money for Pagan. Baseball can mess your expectations up pretty danged quickly. But Pagan was the chosen one, and he'll be around for the next four years. There's a 25-percent chance of Huffing, a 25-percent of Rowanding, and a 50-percent chance of Winning, with that last one not being as fun as it sounds. It isn't as bad as you might remember, either. Randy Winn is probably the best comp, but without the Giants' odd reluctance to play him in center. That would be a pretty good value, but also a pretty good player. Pagan is almost certainly the latter one of those.
And he's not Shane Victorino. That really might be the best part. So here's to Pagan. He did what he was supposed to do, but he stayed healthy doing it, and at the end of it all, he was kneeling down in the Detroit outfield, pointing to the sky in honor of Jose Uribe. At least, that's what I like to think he's doing.