Last night the Rays and Padres made their second major deal of the offseason, as Tampa sent their closer, Emilio Pagan, to San Diego for two players.
Padres Acquire Emilio Pagan
In what was a shocking late-night deal, the Rays sent closer Emilio Pagan to the San Diego Padres last night in exchange for outfielder Manuel Margot and catching prospect Logan Driscoll. This was the second major deal these two teams have made this offseason, as the Rays and Padres previously made a deal in December that sent Tommy Pham and Jake Cronenworth to the Padres, while the Rays received Hunter Renfroe and Xavier Edwards.
Emilio Pagan in 2019
Pagan was acquired by the Rays in December 2018 as part of a three-team deal that included the Athletics and Rangers. In 2018, Pagan had a serviceable season, striking out 63 batters over 62 innings (9.15 K/9), while walking 19 (2.76 BB/9). But when looking at the advanced analytics, one can see why the analytically-friendly Rays wanted the righty back in 2018. The 28-year old is armed with a four-seam fastball that has a high spin rate, as well as a cutter than can be devastating. With the A’s in 2018, batters only hit .171 off the cutter (used 29.5% in 2018), and the pitch had a 39.1% Whiff% rate.
The South Carolina native may have started the 2019 season in the Minors, but he ended it as one of the best relievers in baseball. Pagan’s four-seamer, which had the 17th-highest spin rate (2486 RPM) among pitchers* who faced 250 or more batters, had a 36.0% Whiff% rate and batters only hit .166 off the pitch. Here’s a pitch breakdown of Pagan’s four-seam fastballs last season, and just take a look at all the whiffs he was able to get up in the zone:
Pagan’s secondary weapon, a cutter that I mentioned previously, is also a tough pitch to pick up, thanks to the movement and run Pagan gets on the pitch. Batters only hit .190 in 2019 off the cutter, a pitch Pagan said has more “slider action” than cutter action. Whatever you want to call, it’s a difficult pitch to hit.
Pagan With the Padres
Pagan had 20 saves last season and emerged as one of the better closers in the game, but with the move to San Diego, he’s expected to transition to a setup role. Last season, the Padres’ bullpen had the 12th highest ERA (4.59) in the Majors, but the fourth-best FIP (4.00) and sixth-highest K/9 (9.77). And given the addition of Pagan, as well as the talent that’s currently in San Diego’s bullpen, those numbers should improve this upcoming season.
Entering 2020, San Diego already had several strong options out of the pen, including fireballer Andres Munoz, young right-handed pitcher Michel Baez, Craig Stammen, who re-signed with the Padres a couple of weeks ago, and closer Kirby Yates. But with the addition of Pagan, the Padres have now bolstered their pen even more, and Pagan, who’s exit velocity numbers weren’t the greatest last year, should benefit by going to a pitcher-friendly environment at Petco Park.
Whether this move will pan out for the Padres, time will tell. Relievers can be tough projections at times, but Pagan, ever since he’s debuted in the Majors, has been an effective reliever when called upon. And considering that the Padres didn’t break the bank to acquire the 28-year old, it seems like the right move for a team looking to take a big step in 2020.
*-279 pitchers qualified (via Baseball Savant)
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