The San Francisco Giants are staying afloat atop the NL-West pennant race with a pivotal three-game series against second-place Los Angeles Dodgers set to kick off Friday at AT&T Park. Currently, San Francisco holds a 4.5 game lead over their west-coast rivals in a division series heating up at just the right time. Fortunately for the Giants, two unlikely players have been hitting their stride this year — not to mention since the All-Star break. Let’s take a look at two unlikely producers set against their 2012 salaries. This is no place for Matt Cain’s hefty five-year contract and Madison Bumgarner’s recent extension.
Since the departure of Melky Cabrera, not many experts thought the Giants could keep a full steam ahead. They lost their middle-of-the-order guy who produced All-Star numbers on a week-to-week basis. After breathing in the news, the Giants were headed towards a downward spiral.
Insert Angel Pagan.
The 31-year-old outfielder was relatively unknown when coming over from Mets. He produced mediocre numbers (.262/.322/.375) in the 2011 campaign with a bloated $4.8 million contract due in his 2012 year. The Giants were willing to take the risk, knowing full well they’d be parting with their popular center-fielder Andres Torres. Fortunately, they couldn’t have asked for more. With unlikely pitchers suffering — two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and the recent struggles from Cain and Bumgarner — Pagan has kept his team afloat almost single-handedly (let me explain).
Since the All-Star break, Pagan has registered team-highs in hits (56), runs scored (40), doubles (17), triples (4) and stolen bases (8). His speed alone makes pitchers queesy. Pagan is 23-for-30 on stolen base attempts and legs out singles into doubles and doubles into triples as if his contract depended on it. He also carries a 3.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) rating, second best behind Buster Posey. And for the year, he’s hit at a steady .284 clip with a .336 on-base percentage and a hefty .430 slugging percentage for a leadoff hitter. Not too shabby for a player relatively unknown to most of the league.
Giants general manager Brian Sabean sounded off on Pagan’s undervalued success and his due praise.
“With all the analysis and statistical profiling, people don’t always notice that there are baseball players all over this game…Are they going to 20-plus home runs? Probably not. Are they going to steal 40 bases? Probably not. Are they going to hit .320 every year? Probably not. But beyond that, you’ve got a pretty damn good all-around baseball player [in Pagan]. We’re talking about switch-hitters who can hit almost anywhere in the lineup, play all three outfield positions and help you on both sides of the ball. There’s a lot to like.”
Brandon Belt has also had his fair share of ups and downs, to put it lightly. In some weeks, he can’t seem to find a whole in the defense, let alone the fence (he only has five home runs for the year at a position that warrants homers). He’s played through weeks of replacement chatter, either through free agency or supplanting him through Posey and letting the hot-hitting Hector Sanchez play out the year at catcher. But other times, he buoys the bottom half of the lineup, keeping innings alive and registering more pitches for the opponents’ starting arms.
Still, Belt has contributed beyond many experts’ expectations. Since the All-Star break, the awkward-looking, Giraffe-like first-baseman has come into his own, posting a solid .302 average with a .373 on-base percentage and a .416 slugging percentage. If that doesn’t wake you from your stupor, his 25.2 line drive percentage is the highest on the team (not counting Marco Scutaro’s short-lived stint with the Giants) and a 38.4 ground ball percentage ranks second-lowest on the Giants. At $480,000 per year, any means of production will help ensure his spot in the order, as well as keeping the replacement rumors at bay.
With both these bats in the lineup, it’s fair to say that the Giants would give their 2010 World Series team a run for their money. I’m picturing Pagan and Belt pulling through a-la Cody Ross in the NLCS vs. the Philadelphia Phillies. Check your history books, kids.