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Let's Talk About Emilio Pagán


By tendering him a contract ahead of this past Friday's arbitration deadline, the Twins confirmed that reliever Emilio Pagán is in their 2023 plans ... for now.

Many fans are understandably upset, and baffled. Let's examine the underpinnings of this decision and what it means.

Image courtesy of Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

 

Before getting started, it's important to point that Emilio Pagán's 2022 struggles are exaggerated by the popular narrative. They just are.

He did not single-handedly tank the season. He was not without redeeming qualities. In fact, at no point during the season was he even the worst reliever in the bullpen.

But ... they're not THAT exaggerated. There's a large gap between "not the worst" and "good" in a bullpen constantly churning minor-league arms. Pagán's utmost low points came clustered in such a way – within a two-week span, against a top division foe, in repeatedly back-breaking fashion – as to maximize their impact and the associated mental anguish.

Our friend the Twins Geek summarized the lament that a lot of fans are probably feeling now:  

The bottom line here: Pagán has stacked three straight bad seasons, betraying his "quality stuff," and has now reached a price point where you can pretty easily find similar-caliber pitchers with a lot less baggage. 

Alas, the decision has been made. Unless the Twins can find a trade partner willing to look past these shortcomings – and if they could, why not trade him ahead of the deadline, like Gio Urshela? – Pagán figures to be part of the 2023 bullpen plan.

So let's try to make sense of it.

I actually wrote about this possible scenario midway through last season, in a column titled Emilio Pagán Doesn't Need to Be the Next Alexander Colomé. The premise was this: Colomé had a similarly painful low point with the Twins in 2021, but that clouded the big picture. Once you detach yourself from the emotional connection to those blow-up moments – always magnified for late-inning relievers – it becomes easier to see that, for the most part, they're going to balance out in the long run.

It happened for Colomé, who posted a 3.51 ERA after April in 2021. And it happened for Pagán, who posted a 3.67 ERA in 34 innings after I wrote the above column on July 6th, right in the wake of his AL Central bloodbath.

Of course, there's a big difference between these two pitchers. Colomé, even at his best, relies on jamming hitters and inducing weak contact, whereas Pagán possesses legitimately dominant bat-missing stuff. He's a pitching analytics darling without question, rating extremely well in metrics like Stuff+ that evaluate pitches based on physical properties, with a focus on variance between velocity and movement.

This definitely played out in Pagán's outcomes: despite poor results overall, he was a strikeout machine with a 32.7% K-rate (90th percentile MLB) and 14% swinging strikes (84th%). Unfortunately, consistent execution was the problem, and his lapses seemed to come with the worst timing possible.

One could generously make the case that Pagán and the Twins started to figure things out down the stretch. His final meltdown appearance of the season came on August 21st against Texas (2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER), but after that he posted a 2.16 ERA in 16 ⅔ innings, holding opponents to a .170/.279/.288 with – most notably – only one home run allowed. 

That's really what it all comes down to: the long ball. Pagán's historically unmatched susceptibility to home runs is what makes it hard for even the most analytically-inclined fans (i.e. Twins Geek) to see much upside. It's just literally impossible to be successful in a relief role of any leverage when you're that prone to homers.

Pagán and the Twins finally showed signs of progressively reining that in during the second half. Notably, that coincides with a coaching staff shakeup that moved Pete Maki into the pitching coach role and also elevated Colby Suggs as bullpen coach. There are signs that real changes were implemented to spur the reliever's late success.

As Parker Hageman noted in mid-September, Pagán appeared to be working in a new breaking ball, possibly as a replacement for his cutter: 

The right-hander's cutter was once one of his most formidable weapons, which helps explain why he's had a hard time quitting it. But that pitch was without question one of his primary weaknesses in 2022, with opponents slugging .698 against it and punishing Pagán for repeatedly turning to it at key points

Merely removing the cutter from his repertoire would've made a massive difference in his 2022 results, and as the graph below shows, Pagán had almost completely phased the pitch out by September.

 

pagancuttegraph.png

 

So if we're looking for some logic in holding onto Pagán, there you have it: his pure stuff is undeniably great, and the Twins' new pitching braintrust feels like they have the right plan to fully unlock his potential, which has been untouched for several years. In the grand scheme, it's a relatively small risk, especially if they add at least one more reliever in the offseason who slots ahead of him in a bullpen that already has at least five superior arms. 

The big takeaway that's been sticking with me since I wrote a piece earlier his month reflecting on the Ryan Pressly trade and its fallout is this: bet on stuff. Bet on relief pitchers who show the ability to truly dominate and blow away opposing hitters while staying in the zone. 

Pagán, for all his pitfalls and perilous moments, can do that. There's a part of me that feels like this is simply the responsible application of a lesson learned.


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Interesting guestion, Nick.  We were all both surprised and disappointed when Wes moved on mid-season.  I wasn’t impressed when Maki got the promotion.  But, I knew less than nothing about him.  And how could he succeed, replacing a guy so many here and elsewhere were raving about.

Reading your comments, it appears Maki was successful working with Pagan.  So my question, is Maki better than we feared?  Could he be more effective than Wes?

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Pagan's "good" numbers at the end of last year were mostly in mop-up type situations. His numbers with two strikes on the batter had to be horrible. Do I think his problems could be mental? Yes. Do I think he has or will fix that? No. Three bad years so three strikes and he should be out.

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I was at Yankee Stadium for the Twins series in early September and watched Pagan vs. Judge during the Monday game from about 30 ft directly behind home plate. Pagan blew him away, with the last pitch nasty just off the outside corner that induced a swinging strike, and his new breaker looked filthy. I'm optimistic he can be a valuable bullpen piece after this change, as most of his homers last season seemed to come off his cutter, just based on what I remember watching. I also like his demeanor as a reliever, as he seems relatively undaunted by failure, which maybe explains his stubbornness in going away from the cutter, but is a good trait to have in general. 

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'21 Colume was terrible at closing until they moved him to low leverage, Duffy & Pagan were downward trending yet they thrust them in closing situations & kept doubling down on them (like they did with Colume) losing many valuable games. Until they released Duffy & put Pagan in low leverage situations which cured our problem. 

Of course Pagan isn't the sole reason why we tanked, even those Duffy/ Pagan situations, the management needs to take part of the blame. Their tendancy of keep doubling down many time when at 1st it's obvious that it's not working, is killing us.

Pagan is occuping a valuable 40 man spot for a low leverage RP. Pagan is walking a very fine line until he can prove to be the pitcher that they say he is.

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2 hours ago, Nick Nelson said:

It happened for Colomé, who posted a 3.51 ERA after April in 2021. And it happened for Pagán, who posted a 3.67 ERA in 34 innings after I wrote the above column on July 6th

This is the kind of statistical analysis that just drives me bonkers.  It's a long season full of ups and downs.  If you cherry pick away a portion of the season that was bad, then I want to see a remaining ERA down in the 2's for a reliever.  There was still a lot of baseball for Colomé after April 2021, still with ups and downs, so a 3.51 ERA is going to contain a lot of downs mixed with the ups.

And was there any useful predictive power from that 3.51 ERA to finish 2021?  Not really.  Colomé's ERA this past season was in the high 5's.  "Ah, but he pitched for the Rockies."  Yes, but his ERA on the road was worse than at Coors.

So, please don't show me a 3.67 ERA for a cherry picked portion of the season for Emilio, and expect me to buy in.  That 3.67 contains some ups and downs (otherwise it would be 0.00), after a bunch of the egregious downs are already removed.  If you can't make a better case for him than that, there isn't a case to be made, statistically.  Except, roster filler, and we shouldn't pay millions for that.

The rest of the article?   The nuts and bolts of his game?  It's interesting to know that he's working on something - better results will have to come from some kind of change, after all.  Baseball played at a high level is a cat-and-mouse game, between pitchers adjusting to what batters do, and batters adjusting to what pitchers do.  Baseball's also a game of mistakes - you try to make fewer than your adversary - and a small sample may not show that the mistakes are gone, merely in hiding.  A few games with a new toy in Emilio's arsenal are all well and good, but the batters get to adjust.  Surely this isn't the first time he's tinkered.

I don't see him turning some corner, at age 32 next May.  Anything's possible though and if he's still with the team I'll be rooting for him when he's out there, in whatever role.  I'd love to eat crow.

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A lockdown pen, given our “two times through the order” starter strategy and one dimensional, low run scoring offense is a must if we even remotely want to contend. I’ve got the under on Pagan being a key part of a lockdown pen.

The argument for Pagan reminds me a bit of the old Mike Marshall days. He’d blow a save and his pedantic response was usually ‘Hey, he hit a quality pitch”.  Yeah, a quality pitch that cost us the game. Pagan sounds like the new Mike Marshall except Pagan fortunately doesn’t get 90 appearances in a season. 

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46 minutes ago, Nashvilletwin said:

The argument for Pagan reminds me a bit of the old Mike Marshall days. He’d blow a save and his pedantic response was usually ‘Hey, he hit a quality pitch”. 

Any pro athlete has to put yesterday aside and go out and ply his trade today.  I prefer the cocky attitude to what Ron Davis brought.  Probably there's a happy medium between them that can still succeed. 😄

 

(I had the pleasure of meeting Marshall in a small informal group, when he was trying (for some unfathomable reason) to enlist SABR's endorsement for his training methods.  He wanted something from us so he was at his most personable.  But it was evident that there was a good measure of "banty rooster" in him, to a greater degree than other players I've met.   I could see enjoying working with him on the right project - and also parting company quickly if the project wasn't just right.  The Can-Do attitude works great, until it suddenly doesn't. But at 6'1" I had a greater respect for his accomplishments in baseball just by standing next to him, because I was nearly a head higher than him.  And I don't think "pedantic" comes close to fully explaining Doctor Iron Mike Marshall.  He's complex.)

 

This thread is about Pagan.  Here endeth the rambling old-man story about another old man.

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1 hour ago, ashbury said:

This is the kind of statistical analysis that just drives me bonkers.  It's a long season full of ups and downs.  If you cherry pick away a portion of the season that was bad, then I want to see a remaining ERA down in the 2's for a reliever.  There was still a lot of baseball for Colomé after April 2021, still with ups and downs, so a 3.51 ERA is going to contain a lot of downs mixed with the ups.

And was there any useful predictive power from that 3.51 ERA to finish 2021?  Not really.  Colomé's ERA this past season was in the high 5's.  "Ah, but he pitched for the Rockies."  Yes, but his ERA on the road was worse than at Coors.

So, please don't show me a 3.67 ERA for a cherry picked portion of the season for Emilio, and expect me to buy in.  That 3.67 contains some ups and downs (otherwise it would be 0.00), after a bunch of the egregious downs are already removed.  If you can't make a better case for him than that, there isn't a case to be made, statistically.  Except, roster filler, and we shouldn't pay millions for that.

The rest of the article?   The nuts and bolts of his game?  It's interesting to know that he's working on something - better results will have to come from some kind of change, after all.  Baseball played at a high level is a cat-and-mouse game, between pitchers adjusting to what batters do, and batters adjusting to what pitchers do.  A few games with a new toy in Emilio's arsenal are all well and good, but the batters get to adjust.  Surely this isn't the first time he's tinkered.

I don't see him turning some corner, at age 32 next May.  Anything's possible though and if he's still with the team I'll be rooting for him when he's out there, in whatever role.  I'd love to eat crow.

Throwing in a couple of cents. I'm a hang a zero guy. For a reliever... Hanging a zero is doing your job. If you give up a run, you did not do your job. How many times did you do your job and how many times did you not. 

ERA is such a misleading stat for relievers because if you hang a 6. It will take you 12 appearances hanging a zero before you stop getting hate mail from the ERA obsessed.

So I look at appearances and how many times they did the job we want them to do which is hang a zero.

Pre Cleveland 4 blown game nightmare. 

Emilio appeared in 22 games. He Hung Zeroes in 16 of those games. 73% Good or 27% Bad

Use the Good or the Bad depending on how you like your water glasses. 

Post Cleveland 4 blown game nightmare. 

Emilio Appeared in 32 Games. He Hung Zeroes in 21 of those games. 65% Good or 35% Bad.

So I got him as worse post Cleveland Nightmare in my world. 

Let's add in the Cleveland 4 blown game nightmare for fun (which included a hung zero against Denver in the middle of the carnage) and his hung zero season totals were: 59 appearances. 38 Zeros hung. 64%  

For peer comparison 

Duran: 57 Appearance - 47 Zeros hung - 82%

Thielbar: 67 Appearances - 54 Zeros Hung - 81%

Moran: 31 Appearances - 25 Zeros Hung - 81%

Smith: 34 Appearances - 26 Zeroes Hung - 76% (Note: Smith didn't allow an earned run over his first 17 Appearances. He was 52% after that)

Jax: 65 Appearances - 48 Zeroes Hung - 74%

Duffey: 40 Appearances - 29 Zeroes Hung - 73% (Duffey tended to give up crooked numbers when he couldn't hang the zero)  

Pagan: 59 Appearances - 38 Zeros hung - 64%

Megill: 39 Appearances - 25 Zeros hung - 64%

I present this as just another way to show that Pagan wasn't very good. 

 

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TK always discounted September stats, but Pagan's case there's nowhere to go but up.  It's not as if Pagan has any demand outside the Twins organization.  Sooooo,  if Pagan's uptrend continues in 2023, they can flip him for a gain at the deadline.  If the Pagan reclamation fails, he's gone next May for no worse than if they cut him loose now.

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After watching him for a year, it isn't about stuff/spin rate/etc.  It's simply about command.  Elite whiff% but bottom of the barrel hard-hit rate.  In MLB you can throw 100 but if you can't locate it gets hit...hard.  Such is the story of Emilio Pagan, and after 3 bad-to-below average years, he is what he is.

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32 minutes ago, Riverbrian said:

I present this as just another way to show that Pagan wasn't very good.

Now do Colome. 😄

I agree Zeroes Hung is a good metric.  Yes, no, thumbs up, thumbs down, often gives useful guidance, especially when bringing a guy into a one-run game.  You counted up the Ups and Downs of the long season.

Another I also like goes even farther: Clean Innings.  A clean inning goes above-and-beyond the call of duty, as far as winning that particular game goes.   But when a guy demonstrates the repeated capability of throwing a clean inning, he goes up in my estimation, as a guy who is much less likely to be struck by Gosh Darn Bad Luck.  "Oh, that dribbler that went through, Gosh Darn..." - "Yeah, but what about the guy on third that scored on the dribbler because you gave up the leadoff double, huh? Clean Inning Gene would have emerged unscathed from that particular bad luck."  I'm not gonna put on my green eyeshade and perform the necessary accounting to look at Pagan against his bullpen peers on that, because I'm pretty sure how it's going to come out.

OPS-against is another number that I think tells me what I want to know about a pitcher.  If OPS is useful for looking at batters, why wouldn't you look at the same number for the guys trying to thwart those batters?

I wouldn't completely discard ERA for relievers who come in to start the inning.  But love ERA or detest it, I played the hand that the OP dealt. 😄  I suspect that the cherry-picked readings given in the article would succumb to the same analytic assault no matter which metric had been used, within reason.  The issue is throwing out data, which must be done more carefully than shown this time.  "Other than that one data-point, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?"

 

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19 minutes ago, Riverbrian said:

Throwing in a couple of cents. I'm a hang a zero guy. For a reliever... Hanging a zero is doing your job. If you give up a run, you did not do your job. How many times did you do your job and how many times did you not. 

ERA is such a misleading stat for relievers because if you hang a 6. It will take you 12 appearances hanging a zero before you stop getting hate mail from the ERA obsessed.

So I look at appearances and how many times they did the job we want them to do which is hang a zero.

Pre Cleveland 4 blown game nightmare. 

Emilio appeared in 22 games. He Hung Zeroes in 16 of those games. 73% Good or 27% Bad

Use the Good or the Bad depending on how you like your water glasses. 

Post Cleveland 4 blown game nightmare. 

Emilio Appeared in 32 Games. He Hung Zeroes in 21 of those games. 65% Good or 35% Bad.

So I got him as worse post Cleveland Nightmare in my world. 

Let's add in the Cleveland 4 blown game nightmare for fun (which included a hung zero against Denver in the middle of the carnage) and his hung zero season totals were: 59 appearances. 38 Zeros hung. 64%  

For peer comparison 

Duran: 57 Appearance - 47 Zeros hung - 82%

Thielbar: 67 Appearances - 54 Zeros Hung - 81%

Moran: 31 Appearances - 25 Zeros Hung - 81%

Smith: 34 Appearances - 26 Zeroes Hung - 76% (Note: Smith didn't allow an earned run over his first 17 Appearances. He was 52% after that)

Jax: 65 Appearances - 48 Zeroes Hung - 74%

Duffey: 40 Appearances - 29 Zeroes Hung - 73% (Duffey tended to give up crooked numbers when he couldn't hang the zero)  

Pagan: 59 Appearances - 38 Zeros hung - 64%

Megill: 39 Appearances - 25 Zeros hung - 64%

I present this as just another way to show that Pagan wasn't very good. 

 

In 2021 with the Padres: 

Pagan 67 Appearances - 49 Zeroes Hung - 73%

In 2020 with the Padres - 22 - 17 - 77%

In 2019 with the Rays - 66 - 52 - 79%

So his percentage has gone 79-77-73-64

That's a straight trend downhill. 

Downhill GIF by Fox Searchlight

 

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5 minutes ago, ashbury said:

Now do Colome. 😄

I think Zeroes Hung is another good metric.  Yes, no, thumbs up, thumbs down, often gives useful guidance, especially when bringing a guy into a one-run game. 

Another I also like goes even farther: Clean Innings.  A clean inning goes above-and-beyond the call of duty, as far as winning that particular game goes.   But when a guy demonstrates the repeated capability of throwing a clean inning, he goes up in my estimation, as a guy who is much less likely to be struck by Gosh Darn Bad Luck.  "Oh, that dribbler that went through, Gosh Darn..." - "Yeah, but what about the guy on third that scored on the dribbler because you gave up the leadoff double, huh? Clean Inning Gene would have emerged unscathed from that particular bad luck."  I'm not gonna put on my green eyeshade and perform the necessary accounting to look at Pagan against his bullpen peers on that, because I'm pretty sure how it's going to come out.

OPS-against is another number that I think tells me what I want to know about a pitcher.  If OPS is useful for looking at batters, why wouldn't you look at the same number for the guys trying to thwart those batters?

I wouldn't completely discard ERA for relievers who come in to start the inning.  But love ERA or detest it, I played the hand that the OP dealt. 😄  I suspect that the cherry-picked readings given in the article would succumb to the same analytic assault no matter which metric had been used, within reason.  The issue is throwing out data, which must be done more carefully than shown this time.

 

Agreed with the clean inning. That's why WHIP is my favorite normal stat for all pitchers. 

OK since you asked

Column A; 67 Appearances in 2021 - 47 Zeroes Hung - 70%

Just another way to show that Pagan wasn't very good last year. 

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2 hours ago, Minderbinder said:

TK always discounted September stats, but Pagan's case there's nowhere to go but up.  It's not as if Pagan has any demand outside the Twins organization.  Sooooo,  if Pagan's uptrend continues in 2023, they can flip him for a gain at the deadline.  If the Pagan reclamation fails, he's gone next May for no worse than if they cut him loose now.

September stats are very different now than in TK's day. Rosters are expanded to 28, not 40. The narrative that September stats are tainted cuz of facing AAA talent isn't nearly as true now.

The reports are that Pagan had more teams calling the Twins asking about him than Gio did. Which is then quite frustrating that Pagan wasn't also moved. Or maybe those were Twins FO leaked rumors to draw more calls on Pagan moving forward? But there are reports that teams want Pagan, oddly enough.

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As if you couldn't find another pitcher with a little upside with less baggage. 

The front office knew this would be a very unpopular move with the fans.  The fans are already frustrated and mad.  Slap them in the face again and display bewilderment as to why the attendance is getting to be a problem.  Wow.  

Just another move that's really hard to defend.

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Are we talking about the "Pagan Sacrifice" I saw last season? Seemed to me that his problem wasn't any particular pitch, but that, at some point in an outing, his command would falter. First, he would walk two guys in a row on pitches that nobody would swing at. Then, he would over-correct on the next batter, throwing the ball right about down the middle. Boom, two or three runs score, putting the team in a hole, or deeper in a hole. 

Oh, and after that, he'd mow down the next guy or two like a Cy Young candidate. The Pagan Sacrifice.

No, I would unload him in an instant. Let him turn some other manager's hair gray. 

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11 hours ago, alyosha said:

I was at Yankee Stadium for the Twins series in early September and watched Pagan vs. Judge during the Monday game from about 30 ft directly behind home plate. Pagan blew him away, with the last pitch nasty just off the outside corner that induced a swinging strike, and his new breaker looked filthy. I'm optimistic he can be a valuable bullpen piece after this change, as most of his homers last season seemed to come off his cutter, just based on what I remember watching. I also like his demeanor as a reliever, as he seems relatively undaunted by failure, which maybe explains his stubbornness in going away from the cutter, but is a good trait to have in general. 

I hope you & Nick are right about his new pitch. But I disagree with you about stubborness as being an admirable trait. Baseball is all about adapting, the quicker you make adjustments the quicker you succeed. Stubbornness is keep doing something you refuse to believe you could be wrong and keep on doing it even when you should see that you're obviuosly wrong, a trait that should be avoided. Intestinal fortitude "guts" is something completely different & has nothing to do with stubbornness.

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