This is not a time for shades of gray. This is the Internet, and we have to firmly believe in one or the other, and then we have to argue viciously about whatever we decide. The Giants have the option of giving Angel Pagan or Gregor Blanco the majority of starts in left field, and they'll probably choose Pagan. We have to decide if that's the smart thing or not.
It's not going to be a platoon, so get that out of your head right away. While Pagan hit left-handers much better last year, that was probably just sample size messing with us. He's alternated his platoon splits every year since coming to the Giants, and he's stronger as a left-handed batter overall for his career. Blanco is slightly worse against left-handers over his career, but not by much. He's not someone who needs to be platooned unless the other option consumes left-handed pitching whole.
And while it seems reasonable that Blanco would be the better defender in left if he was the better defender in center, I'm not so sure. Metrics have always agreed on the idea that Pagan was a good outfielder, just a bad center fielder. If his biggest problem last year was that he lacked the explosiveness to chase balls down in the gap, that should be minimized in left.
The offensive differences are easy to focus on, especially because Blanco is coming off his all-time best offensive season (.368 OBP!) and Pagan is coming off his worst (77 OPS+!), but it's probably more sensible to take the last four years to avoid sample-size nonsense and weighting an injury-marred season too heavily:
Angel Pagan, 2012-2015
1,926 PA, 19 HR, 66 SB, 21 CS, .282 BA, .328 OBP, .394 SLG, 104 OPS+
Gregor Blanco, 2012-2015
1,780 PA, 18 HR, 69 SB, 25 CS, .262 BA, .343 OBP, .367 SLG, 103 OPS+
It's a little freaky, really. They've been the same player overall, so it's almost like the Giants don't have a way to make a bad decision. The only thing left to note is that Pagan is a year-and-a-half older than Blanco and had his worst season last year.
That's sort of important to note, really. It might be something more than a tiebreaker, a piece of evidence that implores the Giants to start Blanco on Opening Day and for as long as he's capable.
What doesn't show in the cumulative stats, though, is how well Pagan looked according to them ol' eyeballs after coming off the DL last year. Part of that was infuriating -- if the rest helped him that much, maybe he shouldn't have been starting day after day after day after day, I don't know -- but part of it was encouraging. He really did look rejuvenated.
The right answer doesn't have to be a firm "BLANCO" or "PAGAN" after all. There is room for that gray, potentially with an answer like, "Pagan, with Blanco giving him the copious rest he should have had in the first danged place."
Which is good, considering that's almost certainly what the Giants will do. This post is "Don't Fear the Angel," then. While it's fun to dream of Blanco's .368 OBP and plus defense in left, that OBP is out of line with the rest of his career, and there's a chance that Pagan can be just as good in a corner. While I would probably start Blanco -- or sell my old Nintendo games to raise money for Justin Upton -- I'm more okay with Pagan starting 100 games in left.
We'll see what his body has to say about that, of course, but if the Giants' biggest weakness is a healthy Pagan (with a reasonable backup plan behind him), that says a lot about the state of the team right now.