2011 Postmortem: Center Field

2011 Postmortem: A position-by-position look back at the season with some preliminary thoughts on 2012.

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Over 1009 plate appearances from 2009-2010, Angel Pagan hit .296/.344/.448 while playing strong defense. He may have been the Mets' MVP in 2010. Projection systems saw the 29 year-old more-or-less maintaining that level of performance. Conservative human prognosticators foresaw an above average season. So Pagan's all-around disappointing 2011 season came as something of a surprise.

It was a struggle from the start. Pagan's OPS on April 21st was a putrid .506 and he went on the DL that day with a rib injury. He returned a month later and managed to avoid injury until late September, when he gave himself a headache after hitting himself in the head with a swing. There were some high points (a memorable game-winning home run in July against the World Series Champion Cardinals) and productive stretches (June and August were strong months) but overall it wasn't pretty at the plate for Pagan. He was 32-for-39 in stolen base attempts though, so his slightly below average total offensive contribution would have been more palatable if his defense remained strong. Unfortunately, it did not.

I intentionally did not look at any Met player's UZR, DRS, TotalZone or any other defensive metric for the first half of the season. The reason was a desire to prevent tainting of my own Mets defensive evaluations. It was a good plan -- I liked my plan -- and a plan I intend to follow in future seasons. So even before I accessed Pagan's defensive stats, I felt that he was having a poor year in the field. He wasn't showing his usual excellent range, his throwing was a mess and he made errors at an alarming rate. The metrics supported this assessment. Combine the poor fielding with meh hitting and he was just above replacement level on the season.

What was to blame for Pagan's down year? A renewed focus on contact at the plate? Bad luck on balls in play? Anxiety about succeeding Carlos Beltran in center field? Or a hidden injury? I don't know, but I would bet on a bounceback season in 2012. How about something close to his career triple slash line, .279/.331/.418, with a return to plus defense?

Scott Hairston became one of my favorite Mets this season, the same way so many have earned my favor: he was irrationally despised by the fanbase because of small sample size performance. Hairston was the King Of Spring Training, slugging .672 with 4 homers in 58 at-bats. Then he endured a horrendous start to the regular season, striking out 17 times in 52 at-bats with a .656 OPS. And it was ugly -- his mammoth swings appeared miles away from contact. Naturally, this brought out the "TRAID [PLAYER X]" portion of the fanbase, which was proud to declare Hairston washed up at age 30. Hairston responded by going on a 1.164 OPS tear in June and July punctuated by several clutch home runs. The coolest of these broke a ninth inning tie on a Friday night in July against Brian Wilson, the guy who tries harder than anyone to be totally(!) outrageous(!). It was immortalized in "Hairston vs. The Beard, On Canvas":

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Hairston's season ended in late August due to a oblique injury. However, his $1 million signing was a modest success. A return in 2012 wouldn't be terrible, although several younger players in the organization possess the Hairston skill set.

Jason Pridie hit some home runs in April and May then cooled off to fifth outfielder levels the rest of the way. His defense was adequate but slightly disappointing, considering his reputation. Expect him to be around the periphery of a big league roster for several years. Pridie was one of the few constants on the roster, never hitting the disabled list and sticking around Flushing from April 22nd through the end of the season.

Pagan is offered arbitration in my fantasy GM land of imperfect information. He should make $4-5 million. No one in the organization appears ready to play center field every day, and the free agent options don't provide superior value. Pagan's trade value is low as well. It seems likely that he will be the starting center fielder in 2012 but there's a non-zero chance he is non-tendered. If he is sent packing, I'd love to hear the reasons why.

Desired 2012 starting center fielder: Angel Pagan

Projected 2012 starting center fielder: Angel Pagan

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