The current iteration of the Minnesota Twins has numerous ties to the Tampa Bay Rays, including their manager and multiple members of the front office ranks. As such, maybe it should come as no surprise that they've targeted a handful of former Rays closers – Alex Colomé, Sergio Romo, Emilio Pagán – through various means, installing them in similar roles here.
The Colomé signing, as we know, was a disaster. The Pagán trade is shaping up similarly. But here's the thing: Pagán may still be salvageable, and Colomé's example is a guiding light we can follow to this conclusion.
It's easy to focus on the nightmare that was Colomé's April of 2021 – just as it's easy to focus on the nightmare that was Pagán's past couple weeks. But the reality is, even for a below-average reliever, once you remove the ugliest parts of a season, the rest tends to look okay.
From May 1st until the end of last year, Colomé was completely fine: 56.1 IP, 3.51 ERA, 15-fo-19 on saves. Pagán had the reverse experience in San Diego – he had a 3.31 ERA on August 31st before completely falling apart in September.
This year, Colomé is back to his old self, more or less, with a 2.45 ERA and no home runs allowed through 30 appearances for the Rockies. Pagán's "true self" might not be anything great but it's not nearly as bad as his latest stretch. And unless you think he's cooked, we probably just witnessed the worst of Pagán's 2022 season, meaning the best (or at least better) is yet to come.
Here are a few reasons I find this plausible:
- He's throwing as hard as ever. In terms of raw stuff, there's no reason to think Pagán has lost his edge. He's averaging 95.2 MPH with his fastball (second only to his career-high 95.5 in 2019) and his spin rate on that pitch ranks in the 94th percentile.
- He has legitimately good pitches. The aforementioned fastball is holding opponents to a .190 average, even while he's struggled to locate it. His splitter has been truly dominant, with a .192 xwOBA and 39% whiff rate. He's throwing it less often than his cutter, which has been obliterated. I'm not going to act like that's some groundbreaking insight because obviously Twins coaches are aware of this data, but there's a real chance that pitch-mix adjustments make a big difference here.
- He's got the best credentials of anyone in this bullpen. That might change once Jhoan Duran's rookie season is over, but for now, no one in this relief corps can boast superior bona fides to Pagán and his sensational 2019 season in Tampa. He was a lights-out bullpen weapon for a 96-win team, posting a 2.31 ERA and 96-to-13 K/BB ratio over 70 innings.
By the time Colomé came around last year, the campaign was already effectively sunk. His solid work in the second half was basically irrelevant. But Pagán still has a chance to make good. His struggles against Cleveland definitely stung, but the Twins still find themselves in first place by a decent margin.
To hold on the rest of the way, they'll need all the help they can get from the bullpen, Pagán included. If he can harness the aforementioned strengths and get on a bit of a run – even the kind of luck-aided run that propelled him to a 2.45 ERA through mid-June – he could turn himself from part of the problem to part of the solution.
From there? Who knows. While Colomé gave the Twins no real reason to consider exercising his 2022 option, Pagán has one more remaining year of control, and it's part of the reason they were drawn to him. A good second-half run could potentially punch his 2023 ticket. Keep in mind, Minnesota's bullpen has no veteran stability going forward – Taylor Rogers is gone, and Tyler Duffey and Joe Smith are expected to move on after this season.
Pagán has been through the wringer, and it'll take a long time to earn back the trust of fans, but the path to redemption is right in front of him. He has what it takes to follow it.
"I truly believe that with the way I'm throwing it, when you look up at the end of the year," Pagan said a few days ago, "I'm going to be one of the best relievers in baseball numbers-wise."
Alright, then. Let's see it.