Sunday, June 5, 2011

Closing Time: Steady Pagan needs to be taken seriously

Every Saturday, information heavyweights the Weekly Rundown and Closing Time join forces, a pairing equivalent to ice-cold beer and any tubed meat, to keep you covered on the present while providing a glimpse into the future. Batter up!

Search through the Baseball Reference database one slow workday and the hours are sure to fly by. Yes, the rich statistical details, advanced leader-boards and similarity scores are completely captivating, but for those with a sophomoric sense of humor, the names alone are often amusing. Over its 135-plus year history, the National Pastime has given us such unforgettable players as Captain Jack Glasscock, Dick Pole, Rusty Kuntz (See Roto Arcade's past encounter with the Royals base coach here), Greg Legg, Butch Husky, Urban Shocker and, personal favorite, Cannonball Titcomb. Really, who could ever forget "The Manzier's" brilliant 1888 campaign with the New York Giants?

Today, another Big Apple product, and walking contradiction, Angel Pagan, is the subject of constant ribbing.

However, in fantasy terms, the punchline's production is no laughing matter.

A season ago with Carlos Beltran's knee ailing, the Puerto Rican import, in his third season with the Mets, earned a chance to flash his wares on an everyday basis. He flourished becoming one of the virtual game's most sought after waiver commodities. Over 579 at-bats, the switch-hitter amassed a .290-11-69-80-37 line, the 66th-best output among hitters, one spot ahead of consistency king Ichiro Suzuki.

Entering 2011, some fanalysts pegged him as a flash-in-the-pan, a viewpoint that pushed the 29-year-old down several owner cheat sheets. On average he was selected around pick No. 166 (OF56) in Yahoo! leagues, coincidentally about 14 slots ahead of Beltran.

After a horrific start, many impatient owners cut ties with Pagan. When he suffered a stress fracture in his rib cage on April 21 a mass drop soon followed. For weeks, the mid-tiered outfielder wallowed in free agency as owners scurried to acquire April sensations Willie Bloomquist, Sam Fuld and Chris Coghlan. Though those upstarts have cooled, few have reclaimed the quietly hot Met's services.

Owners should.

Since returning to the field on May 27, Pagan has reached base in every game, going 13-for-37 (.351 BA) with three RBIs, five runs and two steals. Despite his profitable handiwork, he's still owned in an absurdly low 39-percent of Yahoo! leagues. Sure he offers modest power, but his high-contact profile (92.3 CT%), above average plate discipline (0.45 BB/K) and Stubbs-esque speed score indicates he will be a very useful OF3/4, particularly in BA/SBs, in 12-team and deeper mixed leagues moving forward. It wouldn't be at all surprising if he outplayed more heavily owned OFers Jeff Francoeur, Torii Hunter, Nick Markakis and Alex Rios over the remainder of the season.

Managers with juvenile tendencies may still chuckle over his name, but Pagan's statistical impact is nothing to joke about.

Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 378 at-bats, .288 BA, 8 HR, 42 RBI, 48 R, 23 SB

? In a move that defied logic, accredited brain surgeon Tony LaRussa benched Allen Craig, arguably the hottest player wearing Cardinals red, against righty Randy Wells. It marked the second consecutive day the healthy 2B/OF was not in the starting lineup. On the season, the upstart has tallied a blistering .349/.432/.925 line versus RHPs.

Over the past several days, Craig recommendations have cluttered this space. And deservedly so. Since May 23, he's posted seven multi-hit games, three HRs and 11 RBIs. With Matt Holliday sidelined, any sensible manager would pencil a searing player into the lineup, especially when filling a gaping offensive void. But not St. Louis' managerial genius. Did the shingles destroy his ability to reason?

Speaking as a jilted owner, I'm dumbfounded by LaRussa's disturbing fascination with Skip Schumaker or Daniel Descalso or rookie Matt Carpenter. Yes, the trio offers more with the mitt and it's possible the Cards are trying to showcase Schu's talents (or lackthereof) for trade, but Craig's bat is being completely underutilized. TLR's constant tinkering is the lone downside to owning the 26-year-old. It's very frustrating. Have another Tony.

? For the second time already this month, Jonathan Papelbon was rocked, giving up three earned over a third of an inning against Oakland. Though the demonstrative closer was partially responsible, Dustin Pedroia and home plate umpire Tony Randazzo were equally to blame for the ERA attack. A misplay by the second baseman allowed Mark Ellis to score, swinging momentum to the A's' side. Meanwhile, Randazzo's tight strike zone threw Papelbon for a loop, which eventually led to an ejection.

Most owners will give Paps a pass for Saturday's ugly blown save. With an 11.00 K/BB, he's pitched superbly this year. Still, if his June swoon continues, cries for Daniel Bard could get louder. Since his 4 ER implosion April 1, the setup man has pitched very effectively yielding just six earned in 28 IP (1.93 ERA). Saves-deprived owners should monitor this situation closely over the next couple weeks.

? Following the Alexi Ogando handbook on how to defy unfavorable odds, Jeremy Hellickson tossed a 7.1-inning gem (1 ER, 4 K, 1 BB) in Seattle, joining Jered Weaver, Josh Tomlin and Jon Lester as the AL's only seven-game winners.

Because he surrenders a high volume of fly-balls, Hellboy's .238 BABIP is a bit deceiving. However, his dramatic downturn in K/BB ('10: 4.13, '11: 1.70) suggests he has benefited from good fortune. His 4.35 xFIP, too, is a bit misleading due to his tidy 5.8 HR/FB percentage, but expect his ERA to climb well above 3.00 by year's end. In fact, ZiPS forecast provided by Fangraphs projects a 3.91 ERA and 1.34 WHIP over the rest of the season. With matchups against Boston, Milwaukee and Cincinnati upcoming, the correction could be just around the corner. It's possible the saber community will continue to eat crow, but it's very likely Hellickson's 2011 value has peaked.

QUICK HITTERS: Joe Mauer went 2-for-5 in an extended spring training game Friday. He's slated to begin a rehab stint with High-A Fort Myers Sunday. Recovering middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka is expected to join him in Florida. If all goes swimmingly, the pair could return to the Minnesota lineup around June 12. … In other Twins injury news, Justin Morneau was scratched due to a pinched never in his neck and sore wrist. There's a strong possibility he will also miss Sunday's series finale in KC. Adjust accordingly. …Evan Longoria exited Saturday's tilt in Seattle with left side tightness. He's considered day-to-day. Expect Swiss Army Knife Sean Rodriguez to plug the gap if Longo is forced to miss another game or three. …Another Brandon Belt mass drop is imminent. The beleaguered rookie was placed on the 15-day DL with a hairline fracture in his wrist. He is expected to miss a month, but a setback to a high-leverage area can often take considerably longer to heal. …Definitely a player not immune to the injury imp, Jimmy Rollins left the Battle of the Keystone State with a right patella contusion. Joy. Wilson Valdez will see extended PT if J-Roll is disabled. …

You know the drill. When news warrants bullets will be included as Saturday's slate unfolds. Check back periodically for updates.


For stream conscious owners who want to push the innings-pitched envelope this is the list for you. Run support, ballpark factors, historical and recent trends, opposing offenses, opposing SPs, managerial tendencies and meteorological influences are painstakingly taken into account to give you the top double dippers of each week.

Other AL Double Dippers: Francisco Liriano, Min (at Cle, Tex), Scott Baker, Min (at Cle, Tex), Kyle Drabek, Tor (at KC, Bos), Tyler Chatwood, LAA (TB, KC), Guillermo Moscoso, Oak (at Bal, at ChW), Felipe Paulino, KC (Tor, at LAA)

Other NL Double Dippers: Brett Myers, Hou (StL, Atl), Clayton Richard, SD (Col, Was), Mike Leake, Cin (ChC, at SF), Chris Capuano, NYM (at Mil, at Pit), Rubby De La Rosa, LAD (at Phi, at Col), Clayton Mortensen, Col (at SD, LAD), John Lannan, Was (at SF, at SD), Doug Davis, ChC (at Cin, at Phi), Chad Reineke, Cin (ChC, at SF), Rodrigo Lopez, ChC Matt Garza, ChC (at Cin, at Phi) (Cubs just announced he will return to the rotation Monday).


Image courtesy of Getty

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