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  • Emilio Pagán Doesn't Need to Be the Next Alex Colomé


    Nick Nelson

    The front office's latest closer acquisition is being vilified much like the last one, and understandably so.

    But there's a path forward where things end differently this time around.

    Image courtesy of Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

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    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:

    1. 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. 
    2. 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.
    3. 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.

     

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    I have many doubts on this. For 1, he obviously needs to ditch the cutter but he's been lucky on his fastball too. The regression on his fastball is to the NEGATIVE. His xba and xslg are both higher than his actual numbers for the fastball!

    https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/emilio-pagan-641941?stats=statcast-r-pitching-mlb

    His new splitter has been great but that's his only good pitch right now. Awful cutter, mediocre at best fastball, and a great splitter. I remain skeptical.

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    The thing that bugs me most is he just can't execute when he needs to.  He can't seem to throw a strike in a 3-2 count he just buries it in the dirt almost every time.  He can't seem to control his stuff.  He also doesn't pitch well to the edges and likes to hug the middle of the plate.  When his stuff is in the zone it gets hit hard. He gives up too many home runs.  He is allergic to first pitch strikes.  There is only one player I prefer to not see come out of the pen more than Pagan and that is Duffy.

    That being said I hope Nick is right.  Colome did do better after the season was already lost for the Twins and he is having a very good year again this year.  Pagan started out this year fine although with lot's runners on base and hopefully he finds his mojo and gets things going again.  It is just that watching him pitch is one of the more frustrating experiences you can have.  He generally makes his relief inning look very. very hard instead of easy peasy. We definitely need him to turn things around after watching him this long though I have my doubts.

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    Too many walks and home runs. He has to have command of two pitches and I don't think he does at this point. I do agree that we've seen the extreme in the past couple of weeks, but he seemed to get extraordinarily lucky in some earlier outings. He wouldn't be bad pitching in the 6th-7th, but I want no part of him being the primary closer.

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    2 hours ago, rwilfong86 said:

    He seems to be okay pitching against anyone but Cleveland. 

    He stinks against Detroit too.  I would just like to see him in less high leverage outings for a while.  Some guys do well in lessor leverage than others.  I always pointed to Hawkins as a guy that was amazing in set up roll for years, but once he was asked to be closer he would not be as good.  I do not know if it is always the pitcher, or the hitters that have a different mind set in the late innings.  

    I would like to see Pagan fill the Jax roll and Jax fill the Pagan roll for awhile. 

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    1 hour ago, stringer bell said:

    Too many walks and home runs. He has to have command of two pitches and I don't think he does at this point. I do agree that we've seen the extreme in the past couple of weeks, but he seemed to get extraordinarily lucky in some earlier outings. He wouldn't be bad pitching in the 6th-7th, but I want no part of him being the primary closer.

    I think this zeroes in on where his problem is. Right now his BB/9 is twice his career average and he's been homer-happy the last two years. The command is what's getting him in trouble: he's not just piling up walks, he's also at a point right now where he isn't able to consistently throw a strike without grooving a pitch. So he's walking guys and running up 3-ball counts and then he drops one middle-middle (and probably taken a bit off it to make sure he can locate) and it gets blasted.

    That said, I do think he's salvageable, you look at his k-rate and you can see that he's someone who can get batters out. If he gets the walk rate back down, suddenly he starts looking a lot more like Jax, and less like Duffey. He needs to be in a lower leverage role for a while if possible and hopefully the coaching staff can work with him to find his command again.

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    His problem is his 13.2% BB rate. Why is it DOUBLE his career average?

    The last few years the organization has seemed to prioritize low walk rates from the bullpen, yet Pagan is out there missing pitches left and right (and up and down). What has happened? Clearly the front office didn't expect this.

    If that can be fixed, I guess hold tight with him because his stuff is good, but he shouldn't be a late inning guy. He's never been good in high leverage situations. For his career his high leverage OPS is .839. He looks just fine otherwise. 

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    23 minutes ago, nicksaviking said:

    His problem is his 13.2% BB rate. Why is it DOUBLE his career average?

    The last few years the organization has seemed to prioritize low walk rates from the bullpen, yet Pagan is out there missing pitches left and right (and up and down). What has happened? Clearly the front office didn't expect this.

    If that can be fixed, I guess hold tight with him because his stuff is good, but he shouldn't be a late inning guy. He's never been good in high leverage situations. For his career his high leverage OPS is .839. He looks just fine otherwise. 

    There was an interesting tidbit from Dan Szymborski's bust article prior to the season where he noted ZiPs projected a big uptick in his walk rate based on his first strike percentage from last year.  So it was actually predictable by at least one of the public projection systems.

    At this point he has a pretty long track record of not being very effective.  Maybe there are some components of a pitcher that should be better.  But maybe his pitches also just don't work as well as they should, maybe he's lost some control or the conviction to throw strikes early in counts.

    At this point, he seems like more of a project than a useful pitcher, and based on his track record going back at minimum 3 years, it seems like wishful thinking to say he should be better than this.

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    Quote
    1. 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. 
    2. 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.
    3. 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. 

    1. and 2. matter. 3. is, "Yeah, but what have you done for me lately?"

    "Command, you must learn command!"

    https://pbs.twimg.com/tweet_video_thumb/FWw4inHXEAIslTN?format=jpg&name=small

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    I really wonder how much of the bullpen as a whole are having these problems due to being over worked. The starters need to go deeper into games, period. If they are still effective and facing the lineup for the 3rd time let them go! If they are showing signs of tiring pull them then, not just because some spread sheet says so! How are you ever going to prove them wrong if you don't get a chance? Pulling a healthy starter after 60-70 pitches when they seem to be in control just puts more of a burden on the weakest part of the staff, the pen!

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    It is about command. Command isn’t only walks. It is also the hard contact from getting too much of the strike zone. I am sure he can reduce walks at the cost of more hard contact but is that a trade off that would lead to success?

    He hasn’t shown the command necessary to be successful in years. Why would the command return now?

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    12 hours ago, Seansy said:

    I have many doubts on this. For 1, he obviously needs to ditch the cutter but he's been lucky on his fastball too. The regression on his fastball is to the NEGATIVE. 

    What's making his fastball "regress"... 🤔, is difficulty locating it consistently.  Anyone who knows even the smallest minutia about baseball (and pitching specifically) can tell you that if you can't consistently locate your fastball, you're going to struggle.

    Right now it looks like Pagan is having a bit of a case of the "yips" with the heater.  It's baseball, that happens.  If he can reign that in, he'll be fine (mostly/probably 🤷‍♂️).  If not, then the FO will have to make a decision before too long.

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    1 hour ago, jorgenswest said:

    It is about command. Command isn’t only walks. It is also the hard contact from getting too much of the strike zone. I am sure he can reduce walks at the cost of more hard contact but is that a trade off that would lead to success?

    He hasn’t shown the command necessary to be successful in years. Why would the command return now?

    Why wouldn't it?

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    2 hours ago, Karbo said:

    I really wonder how much of the bullpen as a whole are having these problems due to being over worked. The starters need to go deeper into games, period. If they are still effective and facing the lineup for the 3rd time let them go! If they are showing signs of tiring pull them then, not just because some spread sheet says so! How are you ever going to prove them wrong if you don't get a chance? Pulling a healthy starter after 60-70 pitches when they seem to be in control just puts more of a burden on the weakest part of the staff, the pen!

    I really disagree with this. The Twins rotation isn’t top tier because it is both fragile and brittle. Sure, if they have have a big lead, give them a third or even fourth turn through the order, but if the game is close, the only two I trust to be facing the top of the order are Gray and (most of the time) Ryan. The rotation has substantial injury histories plus small margins for error. This necessitates a lot of use for the bullpen. 
     

    In reality, no one in the ‘pen has been overworked. In avoiding using their top relievers too much, a lot of innings have been given to guys who aren’t great options. I’ve said since May that the Twins need to add probably two high-leverage arms. What I’ve seen since May only makes me more sure that this is the course they should take. 

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    He's hit/miss -- take that as literally as you want.

    On his good days he's great and efficient.

    On his bad days he doesn't know where his pitches are going.

    There doesn't seem to be an in between, so I'll armchair coach and say something must be going on with mechanics.

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    Now can we stop using the term "closer" for this team?

    He gets the majority of save opportunities, but he is not the closer (a specialized role that only appears to close tight games). He is used in innings 6-8 far too often for this term to apply.

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    "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."

    We're 2 years removed from the last time this guy was a reliable relief arm. Cherry picking spurts of acceptable performance and by your own admission, hoping for another "lucky," stretch doesn't address any of the actual issues going on with Pagan. 

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    9 hours ago, rwilfong86 said:

    He seems to be okay pitching against anyone but Cleveland. 

    Add the White Sox to your list.

    At least he's consistent.  He's now proven he can blow a lead (2 runs today) in non high leverage situations.

    IMO he's moved behind EVERYONE in the bullpen.  

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    Pagan looks tantalizing with his fastball and other pitches, but we are seeing why San Diego may have cut him in Spring Training if the Twins had not become the Padres benefactors. I hope he does better, he throws some good pitches but then ... wham. I'm still hoping too.

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