Angel Pagan isn't capable of playing good defense in center field right now.
That is not an inflammatory statement. It's not something that should spark a debate. There are 206 bones in Pagan's body, and the various tendons, muscles, and ligaments connecting them all can't operate well enough to make him a contributor right now. That goes for the fielding, and it goes for the hitting, too.
During the triplepalooza in Arizona over the weekend, Mike Krukow mentioned Pagan was stopping short of the wall because it takes his knees aren't built for quick stops anymore. It was a great observation, and it made a lot of sense. At the same time, well, going back on balls hit to the wall is an important part of the gig. Explaining why a catcher is missing his thumbs would certainly give context as to why that catcher can't play good defense, but I'd probably rather just get a catcher with thumbs. Pagan's situation isn't that hyperbolic, but if the center fielder is having trouble playing center field, maybe it's time to explore different options in center field? Especially when another centerfielder is playing in left on most days?
It's not going to happen, though. From Henry Schulman over the weekend:
Manager Bruce Bochy, asked Saturday if the team has discussed shifting Pagan to a corner on days when he and Gregor Blanco both play, said, "Right now, no."
"Then you're taking a guy out of the position he's always played. Could he do it? Yeah, but if you're going to do something like that you've got to do it a little earlier."
It almost makes sense. Until you remember that Brandon Belt has started 10 games in left field this year, which is completely out of his comfort zone. The last time Belt got regular time in the outfield was his rookie season, when the Giants were figuring out how to get him in the lineup. He got just a handful of innings in the outfield during spring training. When the need arose, though, Belt was happy to oblige, and the Giants stuck him out there.
There's also that part about the Giants winning the World Series with Travis Ishikawa literally playing left field.
No, this is about Angel Pagan, specifically. The Giants don't have a general rule about throwing players into unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations. They'll do it when they need to. There are a lot of reasons, too, why Pagan's situation might be unique. Maybe Bochy knows that Pagan is more apt to carry any defensive foibles into his next at-bat. Maybe Pagan clearly plays worse when his confidence isn't at its highest. It doesn't have to be about ego and pride.
(It might also be about ego and pride.)
It all adds up to a bad fielder who is also struggling at the plate. If this were happening in 2009 or the middle of 2010, you would be reading a screed. A bitter, unrestrained manifesto about how the Giants are dumb and the manager is dumb and the decisions are dumb and everything is dumb, dumb, dumb. It would be a one-blogger wolfpack, howling at the moon. Arooo.
And it would have aged horribly. Bochy has clearly earned some measure of trust. Being a manager isn't just about putting the best eight players in the lineup and rarely bunting. It's also supposed to be about making his players comfortable, helping them get through the grind of 162 games, and not being overly reactive and harsh. When it comes to that aspect of the game, Bochy is clearly one of more respected managers in the game. He probably knows what he's doing better than Paul in Walnut Creek or Grant from the Internet.
Which would seem to settle that. Trust in Bochy. He knows what he's doing most of the time.
That written, have you watched Pagan play this year? I'm not asking that to be a jerk. It's an appeal to your inner amateur scout. You can tell it's bad, right? The defense, the speed down the line, the lack of lower-body strength, which leads to almost nothing traveling longer than 300 feet. He's not right, and it's so very obvious. He's not even close to right. He's playing like someone with a jacked-up knee and a wonky back, which he very much is.
This might be a moot point, considering there haven't been better options in the outfield with Norichika Aoki out. The Giants might be planning to keep Gregor Blanco in the lineup when everyone's healthy, and there's no use for Bochy to take out a full-page ad in the Chronicle before Aoki gets back, announcing that Pagan has been awful and changes are coming. When Aoki gets back, it's possible that Pagan is still the best defensive center fielder of the starting three, so there's no good reason to try him in left field now. The Giants have a left fielder. He's coming back.
If the plan is to keep Pagan in the lineup at the expense of Blanco, though, well, that seems a touch daft. This isn't about errant mechanics or getting a player's swing right. It's about the obvious physical limitations of a baseball player who can't do anything as well as he used to. Blanco is hitting, fielding, and running better than Pagan right now, and it's not really close. If anything, a move to a part-time starter can be sold to Pagan as a way to get him right. Increased rest seems like a more rational prescription than expecting everything to fix itself with more playing time.
When the Giants are healthy, they'll have a choice to make, and I can't imagine they'll put Blanco on the bench. The issue isn't moving Pagan to another position; the issue is starting him at all. Hopefully, he won't mess anything up in center over the next two weeks that can't be fixed, but the odds are at least decent that a change is coming. Nothing else makes sense.