Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How Can The Mets Possibly Consider Benching Pagan?

A lot of better news outlets than Fonzie Forever have already reported the recent news that Carlos Beltran is beginning a rehab assignment and may soon be back in the Mets lineup, so let's skip to the analysis:

As great as this news is, it is accompanied with a sense of foreboding -- it appears that the Mets may be prepared to play Carlos Beltran in center field at the expense of Angel Pagan, while letting Jeff Francoeur play every day in right field. The Mets blogosphere is probably unanimous in hating this idea.

Dave Cameron at fangraphs recently did a great job pointing out how valuable Pagan has been over the last couple of seasons:

Since the start of the 2008 season, Pagan has received 585 plate appearances, or just about one full season’s worth of playing time. In that time span, he’s posted a .355 wOBA and a +14.4 UZR while playing primarily in center field. That performance adds up to a total value of +4.9 wins, the sixth most of any center fielder in baseball during that time frame.

Angel Pagan has been great again this year, so it would stink if he was benched in favor of Francoeur. The strange thing about all of this, however, is that it appears the Mets know this. Pagan has played every day and is batting second. He recieves high praise from Jerry Manuel and the front office. Jeff Francoeur hits at the bottom half of the lineup and has been the subject of much consternation. So why the talk of making Pagan the odd man out?

I think Pat Andriola over at the Hardball Times got it right when he said the following:

I think it'd be optimal for the Mets to bench Francoeur for good and put Carlos Beltran in right field. Beltran will be coming off serious knee issues and declined defensively last year. The Mets can mitigate his stress back in the outfield by putting him in right, leaving Pagan in center, and of course having Jason Bay in left field. Chris Carter and Jeff Francoeur can sit on the bench, and Gary Matthews Jr. can go home and buy really cool stuff with his tens of millions of dollars.

My gut feeling is that the Mets are simply posturing on this one. If Carlos Beltran does indeed come back from his injury (dubious at best) and plays center field instead of right field (also dubious) then I believe the Mets are going to be forced to push Francoeur to the bench as the short side of a platoon.

How couldn't they? Francoeur is dead last among Mets outfielders in wOBA:

Bay: .357
Pagan: .349
Francoeur: .317

Among the three, Francoeur is also last in hits, OBP, and runs. Hell, he's even last in steals (Bay somehow has 9). The only meaningful stat where he doesn't grade out as last among Mets outfielders, aside from RBI, is ultimate zone rating. There, Bay lags behind the field by a sizeable gap:

Pagan: 10.1 UZR/150
Francoeur: -0.9 UZR/150
Bay: -6.5 UZR/150

Long story short is that, in sum, the only outfielder who should be safe from criticism, beyond reproach, and safe from benching, is Angel Pagan. Here's a look by WAR (wins above replacement)

Pagan: 2.2 wins
Bay: 1.1 wins
Francoeur: 0.6 wins

In the end, the smartest arrangement will probably involve a Pagan and Francoeur platoon in right field, with Angel Pagan taking over in center field on the plentiful off days that Carlos Beltran will recieve. This arrangement is actually perfect -- giving Pagan a start almost every day, letting Beltran rest, and having Francoeur as a great pinch-hit option in late innings against lefties.

We discussed a platoon between Pagan and Francoeur at length in January. Pagan has an 848 OPS against righties this season. Francoeur has an 898 OPS against lefties this season (684 vs. righties).

Let's make this happen. Please. I just complimented Mets management on all the intelligent decisions they've made this year (and was subsequently ridiculed for it) -- so please do something smart and help me out here.

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