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April 4, 2014

What You Need to Know

The Importance of Pagan

by Daniel Rathman

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The Thursday Takeaway
When Angel Pagan walked the Giants off with a two-run, inside-the-park home run on May 25, 2013, the then-defending champions were 27-22. On that play, Pagan suffered a serious hamstring injury that required surgery and kept him out until August 30. When he returned, the Giants were 59-74.

During the 84 games that Pagan spent on the disabled list, Bruce Bochy’s club went 32-52—good for a .380 winning percentage. For comparison, the 2013 Marlins, the worst team in the National League, compiled a .383 winning percentage for the season. Other factors certainly were at play, but with their primary center fielder on the shelf, and with the likes of Juan Perez and Andres Torres filling his shoes, the Giants were much closer to the senior circuit basement than they were to contention.

In yesterday’s series finale at Chase Field, with the Giants having taken two of the first three games from the Diamondbacks, the visitors entered the top of the eighth inning trailing 5-3. Paul Goldschmidt had sustained his ownage of Tim Lincecum with his sixth homer in 21 head-to-head meetings, and Mark Trumbo had added two more runs with a blast of his own in the last of the sixth.

Six batters into the frame, the Giants had tied the game on an RBI double by Hector Sanchez and a run-scoring single by pinch-hitter Michael Morse. Pagan was the seventh batter of the inning, and he completed the five-run outburst with a three-run long ball that narrowly missed the pool in right-center field.

With that game-winning homer, Pagan improved to 8-for-19 on the young season, with two other extra-base hits, both of them doubles. And the Giants improved to 3-1. When Pagan is healthy, Bochy fields a dynamic threat at the top of the order.

But general manager Brian Sabean secured only one material reinforcement for his outfield this offseason, adding Morse on a one-year deal. Were Pagan to miss extended time again, the Giants would have to deploy Gregor Blanco and Perez, or seek outside help. With former first-round pick Gary Brown no longer a top 10 prospect and merely a Factor on the Farm, there is little in the way of organizational depth in the middle of the outfield.

With a full season of contributions from their leadoff man, PECOTA sees the Giants as an 86-win team—one good enough to secure a berth in the wild card game. But with seven disabled list stints on his medical chart since he debuted with the Cubs in 2006, Pagan is hardly the epitome of durability. And another prolonged absence could keep the Giants home in October for the second straight year.

Quick Hits from Thursday
Emilio Bonifacio narrowly missed out on a mention in yesterday’s WYNTK, but by tacking on a pair of hits in his first two at-bats on Thursday, he assured himself of some love in this one. The second baseman’s single and double in the series finale against the Pirates added a bit more heat to his already scorching bat and gave him an 11-for-14 line to begin the season; he cooled off to 11-for-16 by game’s end.

Nonetheless, Bonifacio is only the third Modern Era player to collect 11 knocks in his club’s first three contests, joining Ira Flagstead (1926) and Cecil Cooper (1982). He scored the first run of the game in the opening frame yesterday, then notched the game-winning tally in the third inning, when he crossed the plate on a double-play ball after doubling and moving to third on Starlin Castro’s single.

The 28-year-old switch-hitter is no stranger to torrid starts, which is both a feather in his cap and a reason for us to be wary of his ability to sustain this surge. Bonifacio racked up 14 hits in his first 24 at-bats of the 2009 season before falling into a 10-game, 4-for-41 rut, during which he struck out 15 times. Enjoy this while it lasts—and if you happen to own Bonifacio in a fantasy league with gullible counterparts, sell sell sell!

***

As MLB.com beat writer Joe Frisaro pointed out during Thursday’s matinee, the Marlins finished dead last in the majors in doubles last season. They compiled just 219 of them as a team, or 1.35 per game, a total that looks even more dismal when you consider that their new ballpark was among the friendliest in the two-bagger department for hitters of either handedness.

If the first few days of the 2014 season are any indication, though, Mike Redmond’s squad won’t be finishing in the doubles basement again this year. Frisaro noted that Miami had nine two-baggers entering play on Thursday, and it added one more in the late innings after his tweet, raising its three-game sum to 12.

A three-per-game pace would have led the bigs by nearly 123 doubles last year, so a slowdown is inevitable. But the Fish—behind newcomer Casey McGehee, who leads the club with three—have exceeded five percent of their 2013 output just 2.5 percent of the way into the 2014 campaign.

***

Incidentally, one of those doubles—a liner to left off the bat of Adeiny Hechavarria—brought us one of the first scoring decisions potentially impacted by the new rules banning catchers from blocking the plate. As Marcell Ozuna rounded third and headed for home, Carlos Gonzalez threw a two-hopper to the plate that catcher Wilin Rosario might have scooped or blocked were he positioned in front of the dish.

Except, Rosario wasn’t in front of the plate; he was about a foot behind and to the first-base side of it. The ball skipped past Rosario and all the way to the first-base dugout, enabling Hechavarria to trot over to third. An error was initially charged to Gonzalez, but later flipped to Rosario, acknowledging that even though catchers can no longer impede runners’ paths to home plate, they must still find a way to corral throws.

***

The series opener between the Mariners and Athletics at the Coliseum featured two hurlers who were far from favorites to secure rotation spots at the outset of spring training. Roenis Elias, who was making his first trip to a big-league mound, and Jesse Chavez, who had spent the bulk of his career in the bullpen, did not disappoint—even though they had to contend with an inconsistent strike zone, as shown by the limited PITCHf/x sample available here.

Elias lasted five innings and permitted only one run, enough to leave in line for the victory until Yoenis Cespedes tied the game with a triple off of Tom Wilhelmsen in the eighth. Chavez outlasted Elias, but while he allowed only one earned run, his infielders put him in a bid from the get-go.

Abraham Almonte led off the contest by hitting a grounder to Alberto Callaspo, a veteran infielder but a relative novice at first base. Callaspo booted it, allowing Almonte to reach first, and then second baseman Nick Punto, who picked up the ball, threw it away, enabling Almonte to scamper over to second. He later scored. The Mariners plated their second run on a three-single rally in the fifth inning, capped by Almonte.

Oakland tied the game on Cespedes’ three-bagger, then won it in the bottom of the 12th on a walk-off homer by Coco Crisp. More importantly, both clubs got reassuring signs from two pitchers who were pressed into duty because of injuries suffered by their teammates last month.

The Defensive Play of the Day
For a little while, it appeared that the Twins-White Sox game yesterday might come down the center fielders. Specifically, Adam Eaton’s wall-crashing catch on what might have been a game-tying double or triple by Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicksdrive down Lombard Street to a spot some six feet away from where Abreu’s three-run triple hit the base of the center field wall.

Fortunately for Hicks, Josmil Pinto, Trevor Plouffe, and Arcia combined to produce three runs in the last two innings to bail him out in the 10-9 Twins win.

What to Watch for This Weekend

Friday

It’ll be up to Mike Pelfrey to avoid that fate this evening, as the right-hander tries to prove himself worthy of the two-year, $11 million extension that the Twins handed him on December 23. PECOTA isn’t optimistic about the 30-year-old Pelfrey, projecting him for 136 2/3 innings of below-replacement-level work. But the big man has one thing going for him this afternoon: In the 109 times that hitters have dug in against him with the bases loaded, he has allowed only one home run (3:05 p.m. ET).

Trivia answer: Casey Blake (2006), Travis Hafner (2004), and Travis Fryman (2002).

  • Masahiro Tanaka’s first major-league start will come north of the border, when the Yankees visit the Blue Jays to continue their season-opening road trip. The Japanese import showcased his outstanding splitter in spring training, racking up 26 strikeouts in 21 innings, and we’ll see tonight if he can carry that effort into games that matter. Tanaka is set to square off with Dustin McGowan, who will be making his first start since September 26, 2011, after a prolonged recovery from shoulder surgery (7:07 p.m. ET).

  • Another year, another bLOLpen? The Angels have ranked in the bottom third of the league in reliever ERA in each of the past two seasons, and following their sweep at the hands of the Mariners, they’re trending that way again. Manager Mike Scioscia’s bullpen worked 10 innings across the three games and coughed up 12 runs on seven walks and 13 hits—five of which left the yard. To their credit, the relievers teamed up to fan 14 batters, but when the Mariners’ bats found the balls, they flew a long way. Ernesto Frieri and co. will try to keep the ball in Minute Maid Park tonight, in support of Garrett Richards (8:10 p.m. ET).

Saturday

  • Joe Mauer picked up his first hit of the year amid the Twins’ aforementioned 10-run outburst, but the now-full-time first baseman is having some trouble getting his season off the ground—literally. Of the 10 balls that Mauer has put into play to date, nine have killed worms; the only exception was a third-inning fly out on Thursday. The soon-to-be-30-year-old will try to get going this weekend. He’s 5-for-8 lifetime against Carlos Carrasco, who gets the ball for the Tribe in the middle match (1:05 p.m. ET).

  • Phillies Opening Day starter Cliff Lee might be 1-0, but his 2014 debut in Arlington wasn’t particularly Cliff Lee-like. The southpaw coughed up eight runs on 11 hits while fanning just one Rangers batter in five innings. It was the first time that he’d failed to notch two strikeouts in an outing since April 20, 2011. The 35-year-old will try to rediscover his vintage form at Wrigley Field, where he’s set to duel Jeff Samardzija—who blanked the Pirates for seven innings in his first assignment—in the middle match (2:20 p.m. ET).

  • Few hitters can claim to have solved David Price, but if a 30-plate-appearance sample is any indication (and it may not be), Alex Rios has reason to brag. The Rangers’ right fielder is 11-for-27 in his career against the Rays’ ace, with three doubles, a triple, and two home runs—all of which adds up to a 1.281 OPS, the best mark among all hitters with 25 or more showdowns with Price. The two will lock horns at Tropicana Field, where manager Ron Washington will send rookie Nick Martinez to the bump for his major-league debut (7:10 p.m. ET).

Sunday

  • Converting relievers into emergency starters is all the rage these days, and the Reds plan to get in on the fun during their visit to Queens. With Mat Latos on the disabled list to begin the year, first-year skipper Bryan Price will hand the ball to the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Alfredo Simon, who logged a 2.87 ERA in 63 appearances out of Cincinnati’s bullpen in 2013. Simon made 16 starts for the Orioles in 2011—amassing 94 1/3 innings of 4.96 ERA work in that capacity—and he has both the deep arsenal and relatively small splits (.266 TAv for opposing left-handed hitters, compared to .245 for righties) to hold his own until Latos recovers from knee surgery. The 32-year-old Dominican will duel Jon Niese in the getaway matchup at Citi Field (1:10 p.m. ET).

  • Opening Day was a little low on #honey, but don’t worry, it’s coming soon. Yu Darvish has just about recovered from the neck strain that sidelined him for the Rangers’ series against the Phillies, and he’s expected to be ready to take the bump in Sunday’s finale at Tropicana Field. The right-hander is a start behind the field in his bid to lead the majors in strikeouts for the second consecutive year, but if he matches his 14-punchout masterpiece from last year’s debut, he’ll catch up in no time. The Rays will counter with Alex Cobb, who struggled to find his bearings at the Trop on Tuesday, allowing four runs to the Blue Jays on five hits and four walks in just five innings of work (1:40 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

Related Content:  San Francisco Giants,  Angel Pagan

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