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  • Let's Talk About Emilio Pagán


    Nick Nelson

    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

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    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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    10 hours ago, HerbieFan said:

    After watching him for a year, it isn't about stuff/spin rate/etc.  It's simply about command......

    Agree 100 percent. Watch where the catcher sets up against Pagan and where the ball eventually ends up. He has no idea where it's going.

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    But all counts Pagan is a nice guy but this feels like your ex-wife showing up at your family reunion. Sure there were some good times but in the moment you can't remember any of them.

    Pagan can't be on this roster next year. He just can't be. He, for some legitimate reasons and some illegitimate ones, is the poster child for the Twins' historic collapse last year.  At times, the FO seems woefully out of touch with fan sentiment. It is an odd and oddly funny thing. DSP " Why don't they like us?" Really Dave? Really? But this they must know. If they can replace Pagan with a reliever of equal (dubious) talent, they must do that.

    The only palatable explanation for this is that they think they can sign and flip Pagan for positive value. Lets hope that is the plan. Lets pray that is the plan.     

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    14 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. 

    Pagan may be undaunted by his failure, but it daunts the hell out of me.

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    14 hours ago, Richie the Rally Goat said:

    Ugh… do we have to talk about Pagan? I was planning on pretending this was a nightmare through the offseason….

    My sentiment exactly  ... 

    Fo needs to Stop believing he has upside and should have been non tendered , mitch ( the wild thing ) Williams was ousted out of Philadelphia after he blew the 1993 world series  ...

    The twins fans deserve better , now trade him if any team offers anything  ...

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    11 hours 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. 

     

    Great post.

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    I don't count on this coaching staff to "fix" anything or anyone. 

    The article talks how he was in the strike zone, but there is a HUGE difference between good location in the zone, and meatballs in the zone. Pagan threw a lot of meatballs in the zone. Is that really the kind of command a team needs to be a decent reliever?

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    9 hours ago, chpettit19 said:

    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.

    Perhaps other teams saw what Maki saw, and hoped to continue that project on the cheap, e.g., buy low.  It's hard to imagine another team offering anyone of value.  I hope the Twins FO will do with Pagan next year what Baltimore did to the Twins with Jorge Lopez last summer.

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    3 hours ago, Riverbrian said:

    I assume that teams are using similar sources of specific data.

    There is a common indicator of sorts in the data set that is tripping the wire for like minded teams.

    Martin Perez is another example of someone who seems to have higher value than what the numbers we look at indicate. (Acknowledgement: Perez was good this year)   

    Or maybe Pagan compares to Zsa Zsa Gabor. Looks Good but yet divorced 7 times. 

    In the words of the great Steven Tyler: “Once is enough”

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    54 minutes ago, Major League Ready said:

    If it's true that there is considerable trade interest, why is everyone assuming they tendered him a contract because they want to keep him?  Isn't it possible the trade interest has them believing they can get something back so they chose to tender him a contract rather than non-tendering him?

    I love your optimism

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    I get why the Twins could think that Pagan is still fixable. His fastball has a fantastic spin rate and plenty of velocity, and dumping the cutter that everyone tees off on in favor of a different off-speed pitch is exactly the sort of thing that can "fix" a player. And Pagan was better late in the year, finishing strong after making some of those adjustments.

    But they are hanging a lot of faith in those adjustments and a small sample from the last month or so of the season, because he was dreadful as late as August, getting hit harder in that month than any other time of the year.

    He simply can't be trusted to handle high leverage situations, he's a 1 inning only pitcher, and there are better options out there. I hope that there are loads of inquiries about him, and the Twins deal him. I honestly don't even care what they get back for him, and will be perfectly happy even if he's very successful somewhere else. I don't think the risk of trying to fix him through changing his pitch mix is worth his value on the roster, nor do I think it's right thing to do to a fanbase that has completely turned on him, with good reason.

    The only good things from Pagan's stat line last season are his k/9 (elite) and his availability (he's been healthy his whole career, which does matter). The WHIP was bad. The ERA & FIP were not good. The BB/9 was bad. That's a lot of faith to put in 12 innings in Sept/Oct that they've unlocked the new Pagan with a new pitch.

    I get the reasoning. But I think it's a mistake.

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    ERA needs a tremendously large sample to be meaningful. There is no way that a lower ERA in the second half is meaningful. It should be ignored and not even written about.

    The new pitch might be encouraging until you realize that it was rather same story going into the 2022 season. This is the pitcher equivalent of the best shape of my career.

    It is all about command. It manifests itself in walks and hard hit balls. Both are the inability to locate the ball consistently. It doesn’t matter if you get swings and misses when the ball happens to be located on an edge if you can’t do that consistently.

    Pagán has one year that looks really good in 2019. His most significant number that year was an LOB% of 95%. That isn’t a skill and not sustainable. Since then those rates have been 67%, 77% and 73%. Through April and May last year when some thought he had some special skill of getting out of jams it was 96%. In June it was 9%. Reality struck.

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    16 hours ago, Doctor Gast said:

    Their tendancy of keep doubling down many time when at 1st it's obvious that it's not working, is killing us.

     

    Doubling down has killed two recent seasons with Columbe and Pagan (I'll throw Duffy in there also).  The FO needs to build a BP that does not have weak points where they feel that they MUST hang with a bad hand for that long.  As they say, games in April count just as much as games in October.

     

    I'd prefer that they put more resources in the BP for next season.  I'm tired of seeing a single  RP lose game after game and nothing is done about it until we've pretty much lost the season.

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    Lots of excellent posts in this thread. I’ve got nothing further to add about Pagan. It’s clear Falvey and Levine love something about him and it doesn’t make any sense to me. If/when we move him off the roster, all I can do is make a note in the cons column in the evaluation of this FO. 

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    Not a move that a team competing for a WS championship would make... or a team competing for a division title for that matter. 

    It IS a move that someone would make to double down on a mistake trade in an effort to protect their fragile ego though

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    Nick, I love your work...but...there was a TD office pool about who was going to have to write an article saying something positive and you drew the short straw, right?

    Velocity, high K and swing and miss numbers are awesome. Until you realize striking out the side wasn't really anything special when surrounded by a line drive hit, a walk, and then a 3 run HR. 

    I EXPECT pitchers to allow runs. Even RP. The question is the frequency and volume of those runs allowed. And 3yrs showing Pagan is one of the worst in all of MLB at allowing those runs is literally anti-relief. And that anyone should suddenly place new found faith in Pagan due to a month and a half of better results at the end of the season with a "new pitch" that nobody has seen before? Misguided hopefulness at best.

    $4M for a 32yo, 1-2IP middle man who has been mediocre to awful for 3yrs running instead of adding someone better, or, providing opportunity for a young arm already in your system is either poor roster/resource management or stubbornness or both.

    If proven wrong, I will gladly admit to being so. But the only reason for Pagan to still  be on the roster in any way is because they feel they are going to be able to move him soon for SOMETHING. And if so, make it happen quick or let him go and move on. 

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    Part of it is saving some face from the Padres deal although all the players the Padres got have moved on.

    Plus, it won't be a huge contract for a certain skill set. Plus, if he shines in spring training, he could be tradable.

    The mindset is that he still has closer possibilities. But my concern is how he fits into the bullpen as a whole. Is he a one inning guy. Do you bring him in for the strikeout, albeit with the chance that he will also allow a runner to score. Can he only start an inning, not finish an inning with the Twins in trouble.

    In the 40-man roster pecking order, who is he in front of, and who is he behind. Is Megill the guy to get designated if the Twins need a roster spot for a free agent relief arm? 

    Would the Twins have been better served cutting him loose and then resigning him after he tested the market? If the Twins do cut him, I don't see anyone really grabbing him, instead allowing him to become a free agent so any team that does sign him only has to pay the major league minimum of his new salary. So that is a gamble of $3 million the Twins are taking.

    And that is what is frustrating about Minnesota. They invest in a player and will try and get back a return as long as they can before eating a contract.

    Overall, an interesting analysis. Remembering that both Smith and Duffey had good runs during the season, that were far outshadowed by the bad times. Yes, a relief pitcher can have one bad appearance that totally wrecks their stats. And great jobs in bad games don't necessarily get you a star on the board, either.

     

     

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    12 hours ago, TwinsChupacabra said:

    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.

    No one is basing their ticket buying on this move. 

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    17 hours ago, Nashvilletwin said:

    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. 

    Marshall was far, far better pitcher than Pagan, at least according to my memory. That’s probably why the cerebral Gene Mauch used him so much.

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    So here’s a legit question.  When did Pagan ditch the cutter for the curve?  What was his era and scoreless appearance percentage after that date?  I feel like there was improvement.  I did see his ERA drop in September.  I am thinking of Pagan as a solid middle reliever next year.  I doubt he gets many saves and probably not too many hold opportunities either.  I can see 3-5 save opportunities and 10-15 hold opportunities meaning probably around half his games in losing situations. 3-3.5 million is ok for that.  

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    17 hours 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. 

     

    I would be very interested to know how this number correlates to other success measures (ERA, etc.) across the league.  Logic would dictate there is a direct correlation, but the limited appearances and innings of RP could easily skew those numbers.
     

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    2 hours ago, Greglw3 said:

    Marshall was far, far better pitcher than Pagan, at least according to my memory. That’s probably why the cerebral Gene Mauch used him so much.

    No doubt - not even close. Marshall was very good for a long, long time.  I was only referring to the rationalisation for getting hit.

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    18 hours ago, Fire Dan Gladden said:

    I would be very interested to know how this number correlates to other success measures (ERA, etc.) across the league.  Logic would dictate there is a direct correlation, but the limited appearances and innings of RP could easily skew those numbers.
     

    I'd guess that the correlation will be there most of the time because the traditional stats usually do a good job pointing at the good pitchers.

    With relief pitchers though, I occasionally do this exercise so I can find that guy who is hidden because he won't pitch enough to stabilize his ERA after giving up 5 earned runs that one time. 

    A typical reliever throws around 10 innings a Month.

    If you throw 10 scoreless innings after that 1 inning of 5 earned. It took a full month to show the world you have a 4.09 ERA when the reality is 10 scoreless innings and one really bad day.

    Relief pitching is small sample size punishment. It takes forever to correct a wrong. 

    The Vikings are 8-2. After they gave up 5 Earned to the Cowboys in one appearance. They are 229 Points For and 231 Points Against. 

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    1 hour ago, Riverbrian said:

    I'd guess that the correlation will be there most of the time because the traditional stats usually do a good job pointing at the good pitchers.

    With relief pitchers though, I occasionally do this exercise so I can find that guy who is hidden because he won't pitch enough to stabilize his ERA after giving up 5 earned runs that one time. 

    A typical reliever throws around 10 innings a Month.

    If you throw 10 scoreless innings after that 1 inning of 5 earned. It took a full month to show the world you have a 4.09 ERA when the reality is 10 scoreless innings and one really bad day.

    Relief pitching is small sample size punishment. It takes forever to correct a wrong. 

    The Vikings are 8-2. After they gave up 5 Earned to the Cowboys in one appearance. They are 229 Points For and 231 Points Against. 

    There we go, the million dollar idea.  A new pitching metric:  Outing Effectiveness (OE).  How many outings does a RP give up zero runs?  What is their OE percentage?  Could factor in inherited runners as well.

    I think this, coupled with ERA, gives a stronger picture of the effectiveness of a RP.  

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    10 minutes ago, Fire Dan Gladden said:

    There we go, the million dollar idea.  A new pitching metric:  Outing Effectiveness (OE).  How many outings does a RP give up zero runs?  What is their OE percentage?  Could factor in inherited runners as well.

    I think this, coupled with ERA, gives a stronger picture of the effectiveness of a RP.  

    Any idea where I send the invoice? 

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