San Francisco Giants: Angel Pagan playing for a starting spot in 2016 season
Sep 13, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants center fielder Angel Pagan (16) steals second base against San Diego Padres shortstop Jedd Gyorko (9) during the fifth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Has anybody else noticed how San Francisco Giants center fielder Angel Pagan has all of a sudden started tearing the cover off the ball and stealing bases like he’s a kid again?
Well, he’s been doing just that in the 13 games since returning from the DL on September 1.
Many things have changed since the first game of the season in Arizona, including the role of Angel Pagan. In that first series against the Diamondbacks, Pagan hit in the No. 3 spot in the lineup and was just what San Francisco needed. In fact, through Pagan’s first 34 games of the season, he was heading toward a career year with a slash line of .336/.359/.425, while adding three stolen bases and 10 runs scored. The ground that he was covering and grabs he was making in centerfield suggested that Pagan may have officially overcame any of his back issues from previous seasons.
Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. Since May 15, Pagan has posted a batting average of just .237 with a just 23 RBI and six stolen bases. As for his defensive performances, Pagan’s slow first step and average speed in the outfield led to Gregor Blanco taking over his starting center field role in August. Sure enough, Pagan was sent to the DL on August 11 with patella tendinitis in his left knee.
With his numbers and role diminishing in the Giants clubhouse, San Francisco did not have a whole lot of expectations for the last month of the season when Pagan returned to the team. Not only did they begin to lose faith in him, but they acquired outfield help in Marlon Byrd and Alejandro de Aza so that Blanco could be primarily used in center.
To the surprise of everybody, Pagan has looked like the Angel Pagan of 2012 since his return. In the 13 games he’s played in September, he’s led the Giants in hitting with a .333 batting average, slugged his only two home runs of the season, and even stolen three bases in a single game last weekend. Along with his hitting turnaround, Pagan has been covering more ground and playing the best center field he has since he began having back issues in 2013.
So, what has gotten into Angel? What is he trying to prove?
It’s simple: Pagan is playing to regain the respect of the fans and his teammates in order to take back his starting center field role in 2016. And all credit to him for taking matters into his own hands and motivating himself to win what is rightfully his. Pagan is sending a message to manager Bruce Bochy and the Giants front-office that he still has some get-up in his legs and can still be the speedy leadoff hitter they want him to be.
He has displayed his best pop of the season as well. In his 424 plate appearances before September 1, Pagan did not hit one single home run in 102 games. Although never a power hitter, Pagan has always been able to crack anywhere from 5-10 home runs per season (2009: 6 HR, 2010: 11 HR, 2011: 7 HR, 2012: 8 HR, 2013: 5 HR, 2014: 3 HR).
Sep 13, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants center fielder Angel Pagan (16) after being walked in for a run against the San Diego Padres during the seventh inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
The San Francisco front-office has had to compensate for Pagan’s back injuries and constant DL stints for the past three seasons, and this has been frustrating for the fans. In 2014, San Francisco had to use Blanco and Juan Perez out in centerfield more than they would have wanted, in 2013 they signed Jeff Francoeur and Andres Torres to try and get some depth with an aching Pagan, and in 2012 they acquired Hunter Pence and Xavier Nady to give them options in the outfield. In a nutshell, Pagan has been well short of reliable in his past three seasons of work.
With Pagan reaching his final year of his contract in 2016, the 34-year-old is proving that he is not done performing at a high level. Pagan is showing that he is the starting centerfielder for the Giants and he understands that he is going to have to prove it on the field. So many players assume that because they have the bigger contract and a more successful career that the job is just going to be theirs at will. Whether Pagan has assumed this in the past or not, the point is that Pagan is exceeding expectations right now and it is being noticed by the fans, teammates, and, most importantly, the manager. You can see it in Pagan’s eyes that he has found a better mindset and is determined to win his spot back.
Who knows, maybe Pagan is just getting efficient sleep, maybe he is eating a good pregame snack, or maybe he is taking steroids (although I highly doubt that). Whatever the case, Pagan is fighting for what he desires and I respect the heck out of him for it.
Not only is he playing some of his best baseball, but he is doing it on a team that really has little chance of reaching the postseason. It would be easy to sit back and wait for next season to perform, but, instead, Pagan is playing for his role in the 2016 season right now. My hat goes off to Angel Pagan who is showing that he is the true San Francisco Giants starting centerfielder.