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Getting to know Emilio Pagan, the newest Oakland Athletic

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The A’s got some bullpen help, which is neat because they needed some bullpen help.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics
Looks good on that mound!
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The stove is hot.

The A’s wasted no time, trading 3B/1B/DH Ryon Healy to the Seattle Mariners in the first major deal of the offseason. In return, the A’s received reliever Emilio Pagan and 17-year-old shortstop Alexander Campos. It’s pretty tough to project 17-year-olds. For example, when I was 17, I had lots of friends and a bright future. Look at me now.

For that reason, we’re going to focus on Emilio Pagan, the crown jewel of the deal. He’ll start 2018 on the big league roster (barring injury) and chances are he’ll find himself in high-leverage innings. Let’s get to know Emilio Pagan.

His amateur and minor league career

Pagan attended high school in Greenville, South Carolina, before heading to college a state north at Belmont Abbey College. His college numbers were merely average, but his stuff enticed the Seattle Mariners to draft him in the tenth round.

Once drafted, Pagan moved up roughly a level per year through the Mariners’ system, putting up excellent numbers at each stop. His ERA only eclipsed 3.00 once (AAA in 2016) and he routinely struck out over 27% of hitters. Good numbers through and through.

Prior to the 2017 season, Pagan had the honor of playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, pitching two scoreless innings while earning the silver medal. Pretty cool!

Fun fact: Pagan is just 1.2 bWAR away from being the most accomplished player to come out Belmont Abbey, at which point he will surpass Hal Haid, a pitcher from the late 1920s. Thanks, Baseball Reference!

His rookie season

After starting the year in AAA, Pagan was called up and made his major league debut on May 3, 2017. He’d give up three runs in just a third of an inning against the Angels. You’ll be delighted to know those were the only three runs he’d give up against the Angels on the season.

After a few tough outings and a few trips down to AAA Tacoma, Pagan stuck in the bigs after being called up in early July. From that point forward, he pitched 39⅔ innings with 45 strikeouts and worked his way up the Seattle pen, becoming one of their most reliable late inning relievers.

Like most, Pagan started as a bit of mop up man throwing two or more innings in seven of his first eight outings. As his success stuck and his innings increased in leverage, the length of his outings shortened. It’s likely the A’s will use him in a higher-leverage capacity, but his ability to throw multiple innings is nothing to ignore.

Here’s Pagan’s rookie line:

The stuff, the scouting reports, and some links

From John Sickels at Minor League Ball at the time of Pagan’s call up

Pagan is listed at 6-3, 210, born May 7th, 1991. He features a classic middle relief profile with a 92-94 MPH fastball and a slider that has been effective against both left and right-handed hitters, at least when his command is working. He has been a successful minor league closer but projects in the back part of a major league pen.

From Eric Longenhagen at FanGraphs, again prior to 2017

Emilio Pagan, RHP, 1.9 KATOH+ – A righty reliever who works up in the zone with a fastball at 92-94 and throws an average slider, Pagan is in Triple-A but not on the Mariners 40-man and projects as middle-relief depth.

Here are some great reads with a more recent read on Pagan:

From this truly excellent in depth look from Zach Milkis at Lookout Landing with fun gifs and video! Read this one, it’s great.

As a result of his excellent rising fastball and proclivity for throwing up in the zone, Pagan is an extreme fly ball pitcher. In fact, out of anyone in baseball to have thrown at least 20 innings in relief, he has the second highest FB%, trailing only Keone Kela. As for his ground ball percentage? It’s the lowest in baseball by a significant margin. And not just for relievers—for everyone.

A deeper look at the numbers from Ryan Romano at Beyond the Box Score

How has Pagan put up such impressive numbers? It’s all about his fastball. Pagan’s thrown his four-seamer 72 percent of the time this season, relying on a slider and a scarce changeup aside from that. For a pitcher to trust his heater that much, it has to be a pretty deadly pitch, and Pagan’s four-seamer definitely meets the standard. He’s thrown the pitch for strikes and gotten hitters to swing-and-miss at it

The TL;DR version? Pagan’s four-seam fastball won’t blow you away with its velocity, but its high spin rate and vertical “rise” make it a plus pitch that induces whiffs an impressive 15% of the time. His slider is elite, inducing whiffs on nearly 14% of all pitches. Pagan gave up just six hits all season long against the slider, though he threw it far less than his fastball, particularly against lefties.

Splits are an issue, and Pagan does have some fairly stark numbers that aren’t backbreaking but will require caution. If you took Pagan’s stats against righties and turned them into a big league hitter, he wouldn’t be a big league hitter at all. His .218 wOBA against RHH is dominant, a fully 50 points worse than the worst hitter in the league. That’s excellent.

The left-handed version for that is passable, but potentially prohibitive. Against Pagan, lefties were basically the equivalent of Matt Joyce (.342 wOBA), an above-average hitter. Should the A’s find themselves in a high leverage situation with Pagan on the mound and a slew of lefties available off the bench, Bob Melvin will face a difficult decision. Getting lefties out should be one of Pagan’s focuses in 2018. Like many pitchers, Pagan is reluctant to throw the slider against opposite-handed hitters, and with it being his only secondary pitch (he barely throws his changeup) he’ll have to be precise to retire those lefties.

One other thing of note is Pagan’s flyball tendencies. In a league where just about any ball in the air can get out, some of Pagan’s innings will wreck your nerves. He did a good job of keeping his flies in the park in 2017, but with 56.9% of his batted balls being flies that still added up to a healthy dose of dingers. Not a problem amount, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Overall, the A’s got a solid reliever with excellent stuff and six years of team control. He should slot into the pen right away, and for now he looks like a potential setup man in 2018. The A’s chances at contention rest on their ability to find pitching across the board, and Pagan should play a huge part in dictating the direction of the team.

A hot take and some cool water

Pagan looks like the real deal, and while the A’s have had some struggles lately, they’re still a team that knows pitching. The stuff is for real, and Pagan has the potential to be a late inning, high leverage arm with the potential to eat innings if needed. He’s got years of team control, a perfect fit for a team just starting to compete.

The problem with pitchers, relievers in particular, is their unpredictability. Great relievers come and go, their shelf life always in question. One of the biggest draws for Pagan is that his contract makes him a potential staple for years to come. But nothing is certain.

Think of Liam Hendriks. Prior to being acquired by the A’s, Hendriks dominated in relief for the Blue Jays. He had all the makings of a late-inning stud, but due to inconsistency in his stuff, some injuries, and probably a pinch of poor luck, he’s been rather disappointing for the A’s.

There’s nothing stopping Pagan from taking a similar route, and there’s really no way to predict it happening. So while Pagan looks like a fine get, a high-leverage reliever, and a building block that could get the A’s to the promised land, remember too that this is baseball. Shit happens.

And with that bit of cold water, I owe you some positivity. Please enjoy some truly filthy stuff.