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Emilio Pagán has One Enormous Problem


Twins Daily Contributor

The Twins likely felt they were getting a closing candidate in return from the Taylor Rogers trade. In their defense, they weren’t wrong. For Emilio Pagán to remain in the high-leverage mix, however, he has a massive issue to fix.

If you’ve watched every outing of Emilio Pagán’s this season, you’re probably in a constant state of indigestion at this point. Time and time again he’s been trusted with high leverage after Tyler Duffey ceded such opportunities early in the season. Time and time again he’s flirted with disaster.

Pagán’s struggles are no secret: Every time he takes the mound the opponent gets one free base runner at the very least. Pagán’s free passes have spiraled out of control in his last 6 outings in particular, in which he’s issued nine walks in 5 2/3 innings. To this point, he’s gotten the job done, although this stretch includes two saves recorded on full counts with bases loaded in one-run games, while another involved runners on 2nd and 3rd. After watching such outings, it’s fair to wonder when Pagán’s luck is going to run out.

Emilio Pagán was always something of a reclamation project for the Twins after being acquired on Opening Day. After shining in Tampa Bay’s bullpen, he posted ERAs north of 4.50 in 2020 and 2021 in San Diego and quickly fell out of favor with the Padres.

In San Diego, Pagán’s strikeouts dropped considerably from a 36% rate to a rate of about 26% during his two years with the Padres. More notably, Pagán started getting absolutely crushed. All of his quality of contact measurements such as hard-hit rate, barrels etc. cratered. Home runs became his Achilles Heel, although his walk rates still remained respectable at 10.3% in 2020 and just 6.8% in 2021. So where does Pagán’s near 25% walk rate come from in 2022?

Before any trade talk even started, Pagán noted that he had planned to start throwing a splitter he learned from former all-star closer Kirby Yates this season. Long just a fastball/cutter pitcher, it sounded like a great idea as his lack of variety in his repertoire likely led to his loud contact issues. His early returns are good as the pitch has a 40% whiff rate and he has yet to allow a hit on it. It’s worth wondering however whether this new pitch has thrown him off his game a bit. 

This could be a case where the new splitter is directly accounting for more balls in Pagán’s appearances. The pitch is rarely actually in the strike zone, and all it takes is a scouting report and the ability to recognize it’s not a fastball or cutter, and hitters can sit back and watch it go by. It’s also worth noting that individual pitches can actually affect a pitcher’s overall repertoire. Chris Paddack is famous for losing a tremendous amount of ride on his fastball in San Diego after adding his curveball. Whether it’s psychological or physical, adding a pitch isn’t always just a plug-and-play situation.

At any rate, Pagán appears to be making significant strides in the direction of becoming a valuable reliever again… except the disastrous walk rate.

His whiffs are fantastic, his quality of contact has been much improved, and he now possesses a pitch mix that should conceivably be able to get hitters out on both sides of the plate. The question is whether he can once again figure out how to throw strikes. If not, all of his improvements become a moot point, as sooner or later his free passes will start crossing home plate.

For a pitcher with a 7% career walk rate, it may be worth betting on Pagán’s recent issues being a blip on the radar rather than a crippling problem developed at the age of 31 after six seasons in the MLB. That being said, it’s a problem that needs to be fixed ASAP, and likely shouldn’t be done in the 9th inning with games on the line. The streak of “effectiveness” we’ve recently seen keeps looking more and more like good luck, and carrying these issues into the remaining four and a half months of the season simply will not end well.

Emilio Pagán is doing a lot right, but it’s what he’s doing wrong that’s drawing the most attention. Can he get his walks under control or will his improvements from the last two years be wasted by too many free passes?


— Follow Cody Pirkl on Twitter here


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Watching Pagan is a guilty pleasure.  In a season where I have low expectations, I can tolerate the eventual blown save.  He isn't a world-beater but seems to have the necessary makeup to just plow ahead, bulldog like, not getting flustered and not giving in to groove a game-losing pitch, and when he gets the job done (possibly with the aid of a favorable strike call) I just have to smile, expecting that it won't last. To this point I find him entirely admirable.

It's like not being able to look away from the crash you know is coming.

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The thing I don't understand about Pagan is he keeps throwing the same pitch in basically the same place down in the zone for a ball expecting the batter to swing but they seem to know not to swing at much of anything he throws until he has thrown at least one strike.  That brings up another point which is that he seems to rarely be ahead in the count which gives the batter the advantage.  He litterly needs to throw more strikes and if he could work up in the zone that might help him as well.  When he has been in the zone it seems like hard contact has been made so I can see why he likes to nibble but in the end I don't think that will be a recipe for success.

This article gives me hope that maybe he can turn things around but right now I will believe when I see it and I haven't seen dominance so far. For whatever reason it seems like whoever the Twins pick for a pseudo closer they seem to struggle. Even Rogers seemed to struggle in the role last year.  Hopefully Pagan builds some confidence and gets back in the zone literally and figuratively. 

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Pagán doesn’t walk a tight rope. The Orioles, A’s and an umpire are holding a net for him. He loaded the bases against the White Sox and threw a 3-2 pitch off the corner that was not called a strike all night. There was one very similar pitch by Koepech to Polanco that was called a ball. If the umpire stays consistent and calls it a ball they probably lose that game.

Same situation in A’s game but the 3-2 pitch is even further off the corner. Pinder swings. Is there any chance the Astros have someone on their roster who swings at that pitch? In two other games the Orioles and A’s had two runners in scoring position with the Twins holding a one run lead. Does he escape if it is the Yankees? 

He has made a change since last year. He is staying out of the strike zone where his pitches were clobbered the last two years. The result is more walks. It was a necessary trade off. He gives up too much hard contact when in the strike zone. 

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Maybe......just maybe a small hint of improvement tonight.  Struck out Miller on 5 pitches after falling behind 2-1.  Relied on his 4 seam fastball to get called 2nd strike and stayed with fastball to get a swinging strike 3.  Stayed with fastball to get ahead of Rosario 1-2 then went with a splitter to get a groundball that Lewis butchered for an error.  Got ahead of Reyes 0-2 with 2 cutters then went back to fastball--finally getting a ground ball (5-3) for 2nd out.  Sitting at 16 pitches with 2 outs I was actually encouraged until Gimenez turned on a 4-seam fastball on 1st pitch for a no doubt bomb to RF. Ugh!

Now 12-8 with Mercado up---who homered off Jax---who should've been out of the game---in his last AB, Pagan AGAIN got ahead 0-2 with 2 splitters.  Got final out 3 pitches later on a 83 mph cutter.  

Positives for Pagan's outing:

22 pitches.........much better than his 28 pitch average over his last 5 appearances.

Zero walks!!!!  Again zero walks!

5 batters faced--------Zero 3-ball counts.  Big improvement

Got ahead (2 strikes) on 3 of last 4 batters faced.

Saying that-----imo, its time to push Pagan back into some lower leverage situations.  Cannot forget that Pagan entered with a 6-run lead, which may explain why CLE hitters were taking several hittable pitches.

I know others may argue this, but its TIME to alter late inning/ high leverage situations.  

My 2 cents

7th inning:  With less than 3-run lead or game tied:

Jax*- has pitched well recently.  Should've never been asked to pitch deep into 7th inning after rescuing Gray in the 5th inning and giving up 2 runs in the 6th.

Pagan--With a RP warming up in bullpen before he delivers 1st pitch.

Thielbar---not my favorite by any means.  Would rather see Moran called back up.

 

8th inning---save situation

Joe Smith:  Continues to be outstanding----0.00 ERA for season.  Has earned opportunity for higher leverage set up role.

Duffey:  Since early season struggles, Duffey has allowed only 1 ER over his last 8 appearances spanning 9.67 IP with 10 K's and only 2 walks.

9th inning:

The Kid---Duran.  Its time.  He can handle it.  His stuff is elite.  Will have his struggles, I'm sure, but his temperament and CONFIDENCE will reap benefits.  Just needs to work on PFP....that throw to Arraez in the 8th was B-A-D!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Well written article containing some under the radar info. Getting ahead would surely make him look like a different pitcher and may get some chases on the splitter. 
However I think people are expecting him to be something that he’s not. He’s a bullpen piece not some dominant reliever. 

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16 hours ago, jorgenswest said:

He has made a change since last year. He is staying out of the strike zone where his pitches were clobbered the last two years. The result is more walks. It was a necessary trade off. He gives up too much hard contact when in the strike zone. 

Good article which does provide some encouragement for improvement.  Not sure if he is meaning to throw strikes and cannot or is purposely throwing outside the zone to entice chasing.

He reminds me of Kyle Gibson who used to drive me crazy trying to nibble at the corners only to give up more walks.  Maybe this is a trait of all pitchers who do not have true stuff to challenge the hitters.  If Pagan just does not have the stuff to throw the ball over the plate, then there is not much he can do other than what he is doing and we just have to get used to the stress and know that crushing losses saves will come.

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2 hours ago, Bigfork Twins Guy said:

Good article which does provide some encouragement for improvement.  Not sure if he is meaning to throw strikes and cannot or is purposely throwing outside the zone to entice chasing.

He reminds me of Kyle Gibson who used to drive me crazy trying to nibble at the corners only to give up more walks.  Maybe this is a trait of all pitchers who do not have true stuff to challenge the hitters.  If Pagan just does not have the stuff to throw the ball over the plate, then there is not much he can do other than what he is doing and we just have to get used to the stress and know that crushing losses saves will come.

LOL.....nice and accurate comparison of Pagan to our ol buddy Kyle "meow mix" Gibson.  Gibson was the epitome of "nibbling"--drove me crazy.  Wish him well, but very glad he's gone!!

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17 hours ago, tony&rodney said:

I don't see Pagan on the team next year, which will be disappointing for those who claimed Pagan would be an asset going forward. I'm hopeful he can survive this year.

Yeah, I see a worse version of Fernando Rodney when he was in a Twins uniform. Getting into all kinds of trouble every time, escaping just enough to keep his roster spot.

Maybe someone on the Twins staff can fix this guy, but if nothing changes I can't see him lasting the season on this team. At this point it looks like the Rogers trade will be judged based on how Paddack does in 2024.

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LOL.....nice and accurate comparison of Pagan to our ol buddy Kyle "meow mix" Gibson.  Gibson was the epitome of "nibbling"--drove me crazy.  Wish him well, but very glad he's gone!!

That's funny, all the years watching him pitch, I'm thinking,   Jeez, Gibby, just throw a strike.

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Baseball has a long history of relatively successful relievers who last a year or so by living on the edges and nibbling.  It drives fans and managers crazy, but they are useful.  He is not a dominant thrower but he seems to know what works for him.  Closer, hopefully not, but he is not Colome’.  

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14 hours ago, Robert Gauthier said:

Closer, hopefully not, but he is not Colome’.

Certainly not. Colomé has had a better FIP in each year of his career (including 2022) than Pagán with the exception of 2019. In any given year that sample is small but over the term of several years Colomé has the edge 3.63 to 4.30. If we choose a sample most favorable to Pagán and only use 2019 on it is 3.93 to 4.37.

You are right. He is not Colomé.

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He may yet be an asset if he can command his pitches better.  I see him as a worse version of "Everyday Eddie" if you're talking closers.  Eddie was the ultimate "nibbler" and always found a way to escape disaster.  I could see the Twins hunting for a high leverage "closer" arm at the deadline if they maintain their place in the standings putting Duran in the 8th and also as a "sometimes" closer.  The other option that's lurking is Matt Canterino.  We could just go with a youth movement and have Duran and Canterino close at the end of the season and post season.  THAT will depend on how the Twins manage Canterino's innings up to that point.  I see Pagan is a 7th/8th inning guy depending on the situation for the most part.  

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