Alright, let's talk some Angel Pagan! Who's with me?
/camera cuts away to reveal gymnasium filled with scowling teenagers, arms crossed
Good, good. We've danced around it in the comments and post-game threads, possibly dancing on it, possibly dancing on it so much it's a dead topic. But there's never been a dedicated front-page article on it. Here goes: Angel Pagan probably isn't helping the Giants win baseball games.
How bad has he been? The first step is to figure out how bad Pagan has been, statistically. We can use wins above replacement, or WAR, to evaluate his hitting, defense, and baserunning at the same time, adjusted for his home park. Here's a simple list of the worst players who currently qualify for the batting title:
You've heard about what a disaster of a season Pablo Sandoval has had, right? Pagan has been almost four times as bad. He's been almost twice as bad as the second-worst starter in baseball.
Or maybe you're the type who likes historical perspective. Okay, here's a list of the worst starters to qualify for a batting title in San Francisco Giants history:
Two of those players were actively blocking the Giants' best prospects, but the team still won the following World Series. Another player hit a World Series-winning homer in the next season. But ignore the names and just appreciate that when it comes to full-time Giants players, there hasn't been a worse one since the team moved to San Francisco. If you remove the qualifier of playing time, he comes close to Johnnie LeMaster's worst season. He has a shot to pass it by the end of the season and have the worst San Francisco Giants season in history. Seems like that needs a #QuestForLeMaster hashtag.
We've been through similar seasons before, watching players like Miguel Tejada perform far worse than expected, but this is different in a couple ways. One, Pagan used to be so very good for the Giants. He was one of the better players on a championship team, and my mind's eye always sees him hitting the leadoff homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS off some random, forgotten pitcher. Or the tumbling catch in Game 5 to keep the Giants ahead.
Two, the Giants actually have an in-house replacement who can play center. You might remember Gregor Blanco as the starting center fielder from championship seasons such as "last season." He's having one of his best offensive seasons as a Giant, too. This isn't a case of Tejada giving way to Orlando Cabrera giving way to an unprepared Brandon Crawford. The Giants already have the extra outfielder other teams in this situation would have given a prospect for at the deadline.
He's right there. Look, he's in uniform.
Right over there, look. Raise your hand, Gregor.
That list of worst starting Giants up there isn't as ghastly as you might think because players who play this poorly are usually replaced midseason. Casey McGehee had a shot to be this bad, but then he lost his job. That's the usual progression of things, see.
But Bruce Bochy is ... waiting for something. He's taking his time, just in case. Just in case of ... something. That he's ... waiting for. And with each ellipsis up there, Bochy is squinting, real mysterious-like, as if he knows the secret answer and you don't.
So we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. There is a way out of this, you know.
Presenting the perfect solution to the Angel Pagan problem
Keep playing Pagan because his achy knees and back will get better through constant, uninterrupted play at the age of 33, which will allow him to be the player he used to be, or something close to it.
Okay, if you can find even one reason why that's not the perfect solution, I'd like to read it.
It's the current plan, at least.
Wait, is it just me, or is that just about the worst possible plan? It's worse than Pagan theoretically ruining the clubhouse atmosphere, and it's worse than missing out on all that production by benching him right before he's really about to become super-valuable. It's worse than the "maybe-I'm-next" feeling that veterans might have when they see a formerly excellent player get benched.
I've thought that Pagan is still in the lineup because Bochy wants to make sure his pouting doesn't ruin the good clubhouse vibes. But I can't think those vibes were really wafting out of the Wrigley Field clubhouse, and it's not like the Giants haven't made it through tough times with veterans before. Huff has two rings, remember, not just the one he actively helped get.
I've thought that Pagan is still in the lineup because Bochy wants to set an example for the veterans and let them know that he'll ride the worst slumps and have faith in them. It's one of his best qualities as a manager, usually. Except we also have tons of evidence that even veterans can cross a threshhold. Tim Hudson is the latest, and probably best, example. He was so very good until he was so very bad, and his body just couldn't keep up, so the Giants made the obvious, painful decision.
So if neither of those things necessarily have to apply to Pagan, what is the plan?
To hope he plays better. That's the actual plan. It has to be. I've looked at this from every possible side, and I really think the Giants and/or Bochy are so convinced that a return to form is possible, and that the potential benefits from that return are so great, that they're willing to accept the potential risks.
Maybe they have their reasons. Statistically and anecdotally, I can't see those reasons. I can't even fathom the reasons to believe that, especially since we've established that the alternative isn't exactly an unproven Gary Brown. All available evidence suggests that Pagan is not as valuable in center field as Blanco. Believing in Pagan's 2012 season is about as meaningful as believing in Will Clark's 1989 season when you're putting a team together in 2015.
If I had to guess, I would think that Pagan's rest days will accumulate and expand and become rest every-other-days, and unless Blanco goes into one of his extended gutter slumps, the coup will be bloodless. But it's amazing that it's the middle of August, and the worst defensive center fielder in baseball, struggling with injuries and doing his best to play through them, hasn't hit a ball more than 300 feet this year, and the Giants are pretending that nothing's out of the ordinary.
It's that time of being a baseball fan where you have to grumble about the players who used to excite you, where you have to point to the player who did so very much for you and your team of choice, and say mean things. I don't like it either. But there are knee-jerk get-'im-outta-here discussions (like with Blanco last year), and then there are carefully studied, easily solved problems that aren't even slightly ambiguous. The solution to the Angel Pagan problem is so simple, it probably should have been enacted last month, during the Series of Ill-Gotten Triples, if not before.
It's probably time for the Giants to check that solution out.