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Angel (Pagan) In The Outfield

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Angel Pagan was selected by the Mets in the fourth round of the 1999 draft1 and put up so-so minor league numbers before being sold to the Cubs during the 2006 offseason. He had a couple of so-so seasons as a part-time player with the Cubs before being dealt back to the Mets during the 2008 offseason in exchange for two minor leaguers. Pagan then spent the next year-plus repeatedly showing promise and then subsequently getting hurt. After returning in July following his second stint on the disabled list this season, Pagan settled in as the Mets' regular centerfielder and has shown, at least so far, to be better than just an adequate fill-in for Carlos Beltran.

For the season, Pagan is batting .298/.343/.498 and his .356 wOBA is ninth among big league centerfielders with at least 240 plate appearances. He hasn't walked much -- just 16 unintentional walks in 248 times to the plate -- but he hasn't struck out much, either. Pagan's power has been the most surprising aspect of his game, as his .200 ISO is even higher than Carlos Beltran's .191. Much of his slugging surge has come as a result of his eight triples, a mark that would extrapolate to a franchise record over a full season. Only half of his triples have come at Citi Field, so it's not as if he's simply taking advantage of the spacious dimensions of his home park. The bump in power is not entirely unprecedented for Pagan: in 161 plate appearances with the Cubs in 2007 he posted an ISO of .175. He is also just entering what would normally be considered the prime of his career -- he turned 27 in July -- so it's not out of the question that he might begin to play his best baseball right around now.

Further, his .298 average doesn't appear to be luck-inflated, as his .319 BABIP is supported by his 20.3% line drive rate (if we use a revised xBABIP we get .293, which is a bit lower than his actual BABIP of .319, but not dramatically so).

Defensively, Pagan appears adequate in centerfield. UZR has him rated around average: a few ticks above for his arm, a few ticks below for his range. Of course, it's hard to glean much from the range numbers because UZR is still using Shea's dimensions to calculate its values. His .989 RZR is the best among big league centerfielders. I'd guess he's at least an average defensive centerfielder; anecodotally, he doesn't appear to be embarrassing himself out there.

The bad news is that Pagan's value takes a big hit if he doesn't play center. If Carlos Beltran is healthy next year, Pagan will be relegated to either a) a corner outfield spot, or b) a bench role, with occasional starts in center to give Beltran some rest. The good news is that if Pagan's power spike is real, and if his defense is above average, he might actually be competent enough to play a bit of left field for the Mets. Short of that, his pop would make him plenty useful as a bench player/spot starter, and the fact that he hits pretty well from both sides of the plate makes him versatile in a good way. He would also be a decent insurance policy against Beltran missing significant time due to injury again.

Given Pagan's own injury history, it'd be tough to endorse him as a Plan A starter in 2010, but we know he'll be cheap and, if healthy, pretty effective to boot. Whatever 2010 holds for him, he has been one of the few bright spots for the Mets this season.

1Interestingly, the Mets didn't have a first-round pick the year Pagan was drafted, having signed Robin Ventura the previous offseason. With their compensation pick, the White Sox selected future Met Matt Ginter.