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  • Pagan Paying Dividends for Twins


    Ted Schwerzler

    Right before the 2022 Major League Baseball season was set to commence, the Minnesota Twins decided to shake up their roster. Flipping closer Taylor Rogers to the San Diego Padres for Chris Paddack and Emilio Pagan, it’s now on the latter to provide value for the season ahead.

    Image courtesy of Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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    It’s understandable that a controllable starter like Chris Paddack may have been available for a lesser return given his elbow issues. Unfortunately, they reared their head just a few starts into 2022 and now it appears he’ll undergo surgery to fix the problem that was already there. Emilio Pagan was hardly a throw-in, however, and despite his 4.83 ERA last season, he’s just a few years removed from being one of baseball’s more dominant relievers.

    Pagan, who recently turned 31-years-old, posted a 2.31 ERA in his lone season with the Tampa Bay Rays. Acting as their closer that year, he recorded 20 saves and worked 70 innings. His 12.3 K/9 was a career-high, and the 1.7 BB/9 was near a career-low. The 3.30 FIP suggested it was all pretty solidly rooted in advanced statistics as well.

    Of course, he wasn’t the same pitcher the past two seasons for the Padres, and that’s likely why they were willing to upgrade the back end of their pen. For Minnesota, needing to replace Rogers, Pagan would immediately become an option should he find a way to harness his former glory.

    Things started ugly for the Twins' new closer as he took the loss in his second appearance, and blew a save in just his third try. Through his first six outings this year Pagan had just a 7/6 K/BB and appeared to be doing a tightrope act each time he took the mound. Since that point though, Pagan has pitched another six innings and has not allowed an earned run. His 8/4 K/BB is more manageable and the ERA is down to 1.54. While the free passes remain an issue, he’s worked around the danger thanks to a career-best 5.4 H/9.

    It’s not as though Pagan simply lost the ability to find the zone. He’s an established veteran with more than 200 Major League innings under his belt, and in that time he surrendered just a 2.3 BB/9. The gaudy 7.7 BB/9 comes from something else, and he was asked about it following his fifth save of the season.

    Having basically always been a two-pitch pitcher, and really only one when you consider the secondary offering is a version of the other, Pagan changed his repertoire this season. He’s traditionally been categorized as a fastball and slider guy, although most reporting systems call his secondary offering a cutter. This offseason he added a splitter and it’s drastically different from what he already brings to the table.

    During Spring Training, and still then with the Padres, San Diego manager Bob Melvin said, “He’s coming up with a new pitch. He’s throwing a split(-fingered fastball) a lot. … I think a third pitch will serve him well. Typically, a bullpen guy, especially late innings, is more of a two-pitch guy. But I think a third pitch will be good for him. Fastball, sliders are mostly hard (stuff). This is kind of a slower pitch, goes in a different direction, and gives the hitter something else to think about. He’s thrown it in a game and feels confident about it.”

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    To this point in 2022, the splitter has been a focal point for Pagan. He’s thrown it over 17% of the time, and it’s drastically changed the cutter usage. In developing a new pitch and then utilizing it in games, it’s understandable there would be some hiccups and likely control or command issues. As he continues to find comfort with the offering, the walks should subside back down to his career norms.

    Rocco Baldelli has a very good thing going at the back of his pen right now. Whether going with rookie fireballer Jhoan Duran, or veteran-tested Pagan, he’s got capable arms to mix and match for any situation. The more Minnesota can lean into both of them shutting down the opposition, the better they’ll find themselves positioned to close out games in routine fashion.

     

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    Pagan has you sitting on the edge of your seat yelling at TV to throw strikes ,,, He somehow  comes through it unscathed  ... 

    Won't always be the case , I'm for Duran to close it out ,,, it's his role to lose ,, 

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    It's understandable that Pagan would have some control problem while developing a new totally different pitch. He hadn't had control problems before, his new pitch will make him more effective. He might still have an off day but he's on the right track, in time he could become a very good closer. Should he be trusted at high leverage situations? I sincerely hope so.

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    His last few outings have been much better. No walks 3K's.  He did give up a HR in a non save situation, ruled unearned runs, because of stupid rule of errors.  However that HR did not cost us anything.  Reports that he just added this pitch could clearly lead to some issues working on it leading to early walks.  Also, the colder weather may not have helped much.  

    I agree his walk rates were not sustainable for success, but no walks last three outings and reduced pitch counts of 9 and 10 the last 2 outings. If he can get the control issue resolved I would expect decent results. 

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    I think we should be realistic about Pagan.  His FIP is at 5.33 so far.  His xFIP and xERA are better at about 4, but hardly supportive of his ERA and WPA so far.  Those peripheral stats aren't outliers either, the season in Tampa and his rookie season seem more like the outliers at this point.

    I'm not saying the new pitch isn't interesting and maybe something that helps him be better long term, but I don't see much evidence it has made him better already.  He does have a career high GB% at 43% (removing bunts), which could probably be attributed to the splitter.  Looking at his baseball savant data with a little guesswork I think he might have 36% GB rate on his other pitches, basically at the high end of his career averages.  That could be pretty big for him considering his career home run rate of 1.75 HR/9.  Unfortunately his HR/FB rate has also been higher, leading to a similar amount of home runs this year, and the increase in walks--which have hurt him far less than they should have--can probably also be largely attributed to his new pitch.

    If he can get a bit better control over the splitter and the HR/FB rate comes down to his career levels then I can see a narrative where he becomes more effective through better home run suppression and maybe a slight uptick in Ks as well.  What's happened so far though is that he's been lucky to have such a low ERA despite putting lots of guys on base and giving up quite a few HRs.

    Despite that, he has the highest leverage index of any Twins reliever when entering the game, which simply should not be the case.  Joe Smith should clearly be ahead of him based on performance, I think it's uncontroversial that Duran should be ahead of him as well.  Duffey and Thielbar have at times looked shaky too but probably should be higher leverage than Pagan as well.  Even Jax has an argument.

    I don't know if the fact that the Twins traded away their closer/highest leverage arm to get him has led them to use him as a closer, but he really ought to be a middle innings guy until he shows consistent improvement.  I would need to see him string together a few more good outings in a row before I really believe it.

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    The guy scares the hell out of me at times, but so far he's gotten the job done. A new pitch, colder weather, just a couple bad days, could have all lead to his suddenly high BB%. As noted, his career BB numbers have been decent previously. Love the 3rd pitch and hope it settles in nicely.

    He's not a second coming of Joe Nathan, but he's looking much better as of late, so I think his role is safe for now, sharing the closer role.

    But man do I wish we had a healthy Alcala to work in this pen. 

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    20 hours ago, Blyleven2011 said:

    Pagan has you sitting on the edge of your seat yelling at TV to throw strikes ,,, He somehow  comes through it unscathed  ... 

    Won't always be the case , I'm for Duran to close it out ,,, it's his role to lose ,, 

    He has me sitting on the edge of my seat yelling at him to throw anything, at all, like sometime today...

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