Pockets of value emerge each year due to how bias affects a player following a down year. As if 2020 did not provide enough challenges for baseball players due to the start and stop in spring training plus the small sample sizes, changing how to to approach a player based solely on 60 games could prove costly. For example, San Diego insists there's going to be shared roles in high leverage situations between Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagán . Then they added Mark Melancon via free agency which could depress the Pagán market even further.
However, Pagán's one season removed from racking up 20 saves for Tampa Bay. If he can notch this many for an organization which devalues saves like no other, overlooking this may be a mistake. On the surface, Pagán's numbers do not stand out from 2020. He started out slowly struggling with his velocity and location but then finished strong. Through his first 13 innings last year, Pagán yielded nine earned runs with ten strikeouts against eight walks and a 1.31 WHIP. Less than optimal.
Then, he rounded back into form in his last nine outings of 2020 giving up only two earned runs with a 13:1 K:BB, 0.67 WHIP and a robust 36.4 strikeouts-minus-walks percentage. Overall, Pagán finished last season with an 0-1 record, two saves, 22 IP, a 23:9 K:BB, 4.50 ERA, 4.16 SIERA and 1.05 WHIP. His strand rate fell to 69 percent so some bad luck played into his ERA and his underlying numbers also rose as a result of his terrible start to the season.
According to Statcast, Pagán allowed 55 batted ball events serving up five barrels (9.1 percent), an 89.2 MPH average exit velocity and 40 percent hard-hit rate. His expected numbers also suffered from his slow start since Statcast uses quality of contact in their expected statistics. Yet, Pagán only gave up a 27.3 sweet spot percentage to hitters in the truncated season. But, his zone contact percentage rose by 8.8 percent and his whiff percentage fell by 8.4 points last year. This may scare some people off which keeps his average draft position depressed.
Pagán relies mostly on two pitches, his four-seam fastball and a cutter. With some migration to the mean over his last 11 outings which resulted in only two earned runs over a full season, there's room for a rebound by Pagán. His expected batting average on his four-seam fastball went up from .146 in 2019 to .248 last season while his cutter xBA actually went down from .212 in 2019 to .154 in 2020. In spite of the early struggles, Pagán finished with a 22.6 strikeout percentage with his fastball and a 39.1 percent strikeout rate with the cutter.
Small sample sizes can be misleading, so check out his ten-game rolling chart courtesy of Fangraphs displaying his strikeout percentage, walk rate, swinging strike percent and ERA since 2018:
One can see Pagán's walk rate early on in 2020 affected his performance which fueled the spike in earned runs. Once he settled in, it appeared more like his breakout from 2019. With this in mind, here are his numbers from the second half of 2019 plus last season to expand his sample size:
- Pagán 2H 2019-through-2020: 2-2, 17 Saves, 55 Games, 56 IP, 72:13 K:BB, 3.54 ERA, 2.99 SIERA, 0.91 WHIP, 33 K%, 6.0 BB%, 15.6 SwStr%
Much more palatable numbers for Pagán to say the least. Key on the SIERA which proves to be the most reliable indicator of future ERA for pitchers on Fangraphs. Plus, Pagán tied for tenth among all qualified relievers with teammate Pomeranz in WHIP, tied for 12th in saves, ranked 12th in strikeouts-minus-walks percentage and 13th in SIERA.
Taking all of this into account, it's a “what have you done for me lately” world nowadays which resonates in Pagán's projection sets:
When San Diego signed Pomeranz, it was to offset the powerful left-handed bats of rival Los Angeles setting up for Kirby Yates . Many forget Pomeranz currently projects as the only southpaw in the Padres bullpen. If he enters games at the highest leverage moments in the eighth inning, it opens the door for Pagán or Melancon to close games. Many may prefer Melancon but two beat writers insinuate he's there to provide depth and veteran experience for a young group of relievers. If Pagán works in a shared role with Pomeranz, he can easily exceed the seven-to-nine saves listed above. Provided his price point, he's a bargain even if he achieves less than ten saves:
Taking the road less traveled can be daunting, but targeting Pagán for 15 or more saves with a bounce back to his 2019 results could make him one of the best relief pitching bargains in many drafts. Let others reach for Melancon due to his name value and profit if Pagán pitches like he's capable of in 2021.
THE BAT courtesy of Derek Carty
ATC courtesy of Ariel Cohen
ZiPS courtesy of Dan Szymborski