>Everytime a Bell Rings, an . . . Well, You Know.

>To honor my third most-favorite holiday movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, I want to pull a George Bailey, back away from the bridge for a moment* and remember to celebrate one of the things I did receive as a Met fan this year. I’d like to honor a Met player who performed well above my expectations in 2009, one of the few bright spots in this Hindenburg of a team. Outside this post’s honoree, only three other players exceeded my expectations for 2009: Pedro Feliciano (8.95 K/9 and 3.28 K/BB in 88 appearances and for just owning Ryan Howard), Wilson Exxon-Valdez (who played a solid SS and set career highs with a lofty .256/.326/.337 line, which indeed exceeded my low, low expectations for him), and *gulp* Jeff Francoeur (.350 wOBA with the Mets, and I do think he’s a better fielder than UZR gives him credit for. See? I have some good things to say about Jeff Francoeur. BABIP of .343. 3.7% walk rate. Makes weird faces when he hits, almost like a gopher trying to understand calculus. Oh, I there I go again.) These three players performed admirably, but I would like to take this space to honor the player who will be sitting on the bench while Jeff Francoeur hacks away at sliders in the dirt and overthrows first base trying to throw out a pitcher from right field in 2010. The player I want to honor the most is, of course, none other than the amusingly named Angel Pagan.

*Here’s my one problem with “It’s a Wonderful Life.” What exactly is George Bailey’s plan at the bridge? How does he plan on killing himself? Because a straight jump into the river below apparently isn’t enough to kill anyone. First Clarence jumps in without dying – and granted, he is an angel, so maybe he can’t die – but then George jumps in to save Clarence and also fails to die. So the jump off the bridge clearly isn’t enough on its own. I guess George could freeze to death or drown, but both of those options sound slow and excruciating, and neither requires the jump off the bridge, so he just as easily wade into the freezing water. Maybe he never was seriously contemplating suicide, but rather just thinking to himself, “what if I did kill myself”, and Clarence and the Pottersville scenes are just visualizations of the battle that is taking place in George’s mind? Or maybe he was going to tie a rock to his leg and then jump? I’m not sure.

And in case you were wondering, loyal readers, my top five holiday movies are:

1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Possibly my favorite movie ever.
2. Muppet Family Christmas
3. It’s a Wonderful Life
4. Die Hard (which indeed does take place at Christmas)
5. Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer  

Honorable Mentions: A Christmas Story (which is #5 if you don’t want to include “Die Hard”), How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Elf, The Santa Clause, Home Alone & Home Alone 2.

Angel Pagan was a shining star in the vast, dark vacuum that was the 2009 New York Mets. He was of course not immune to the many Met maladies this year, missing time due to bone spurs in his elbow as well as due to a groin strain. He also doesn’t like to pay his parking tickets. However, whenever Pagan was on the field and not on the DL (or in traffic court), he hit .306/.350/.487, mashing 37 extra base hits – including 11 triples, two off the Major League lead – in 376 plate appearances, and provided a 5.8 UZR combined between all three outfield positions, spending most of his time in center. Fan scouting reports backs up the UZR data, stating that Pagan has better range and hands than Francoeur but a worse throwing arm, which agrees with what I saw this year. Pagan brought back to the top of the lineup some of the excitement that went MIA with Reyes, and when David Wright was on the DL, Pagan was the best player the Mets had on the field. So yeah, it was a rough year.

Angel Pagan played a major role in some of the memorable moments of 2009, not that there are necessarily a bevy of good choices. Here are just a few:

August 1: With the Mets and Diamondbacks tied 5-5 in the bottom of the eighth at Citi Field, Clay Zevada, famous both for his pitching abilites and for tying women to the railroad tracks, walked Alex Cora and surrendered back-to-back singles to Omir Santos and Angel Berroa – was this even a Major League game? – Anyway, Angel Pagan came to the plate with the bases loaded and unloaded them with his first home run in two years, putting the Mets ahead 9-5. The Mets would win 9-6 and Frankie Rodriguez was paid $12 million dollars to earn one-out save with a three run lead.

October 4: On the final day of the season against the Astros, Angel Pagan went 4-4 with a triple and two doubles, scored two runs, and raised his season average to .306. Nelson Figueroa pitched a complete game shutout and Pagan fittingly caught the final out of 4-0 victory, securing a winning home record for the Mets in their first season at Citi Field. I attended this game, and I was watching the end of batting practice as the PA played “Thunder Road” and the sun made the day just warm enough to be comfortable, but not so warm where your back gets all sweaty and you try to avoid hugging anyone so they don’t feel your copious amounts of sweat that are soaking your t-shirt. In other words, paradise.

August 23: Oliver Perez fails to escape the first inning and the Mets fall behind the Phillies 6-0 before they even come to the plate. Angel Pagan leads off the bottom of the first with with a fly ball into the left field gap and never stops running, even after Shane Victorino decides the ball is stuck beneath the wall and daintily throws his hands in the air, trying to signal for a ground-rule double and saying “Oh, dear me, I can’t be bothered to reach all the way underneath the wall and pick up the baseball. There might be dirt on it!” This play was especially memorable because: A.) Pagan hit an inside-the-park home run and B.) Shane Victorino looked like an idiot. Pagan would also lead off the third inning with a home run, this one being of outside-the-park variety. The Mets would lose this game 9-6 after Eric Bruntlett single-handedly set up and executed an unassisted triple play to end the game, doing so mainly because the Phillies were bored and just enjoy messing with the Mets’ heads at this point.

May 18: With the Mets trailing the Dodgers 2-1 in the top of the eighth, Angel Pagan led off the inning with a double and came around to score on a Gary Sheffield single. The game would go to extra innings and in the top of the eleventh, Ryan Church singled to left with two outs, and then Angel launched a triple into center field, sending Church around to score the go-ahead run – only Church neglected to touch third base. Remember that? That was fun. In the bottom of the inning Pagan and Carlos Beltran had trouble remembering the basic tenets of “who’s got it?”, Jeremy Reed, playing first-freaking-base, threw the ball away, and the Mets lost without the Dodgers getting a hit in the bottom of the eleventh. My personal favorite Met game of the year.

Hey, I didn’t say they would all be good, just memorable. It’s really hard to find good moments from 2009. I came up with the four top Angel Pagan moments and two of them happened to be losses, but this team lost 90 games so there isn’t exactly a netflix-sized selection of wins to pick from.
Looking ahead to next year, Pagan looks like he can be an average-to-slightly-below-average defensive center fielder and an average-to-slightly-below-average hitter (career .335 wOBA, Bill James predicts a .325 wOBA in 2010) – so something like what Aaron Rowand is now, only with triple power instead of home run. Basically, Pagan is an average-to-just-below-average player, but average players are of course valuable because they are better than below average players (Jeremy Reed, Cory Sullivan). If the Mets can flip him to a team in need of a center fielder and get a starting pitcher back in the deal, great. If not, Angel makes a great fourth outfielder, solid in center, good in right, and great in left, getting 350 PA spelling people and pinch hitting. He also provides much needed outfield depth should Beltran again succumb to his irreversible knee damage or Francoeur return to his old ways (which is likely. Seriously though, what is up with Francoeur’s swing face. Keith Hernandez mentioned it during a Mets-Braves broadcast in May, saying something along the lines of, “Dear Lord, get that man a glass of milk. Jeff needs to lay off the Red Bull!” when the camera showed a slow motion replay of a Frenchy hack.) Pagan should be about an average player at any of the outfield position, making up with his defense anything lost by his hitting (probably a 2 WAR player anywhere). His occasional cluelessness on the bases and in the field is compensated for by his tremendous athletic ability, so while he may get picked off occasionally, he makes up for it by going first-to-third better than most. Angel Pagan is a legitimate major leaguer and can be an passible starter in center field; he’s not Carlos Beltran, but being Scott Podsednik is well within his abilities.

The 2009 Mets were a George-Baily-losing-$8,000-dollar-disaster*, only it was more like misplacing $147 million dollars rather than just a mere $8,000 –  I don’t know, maybe it’s the same when adjusted inflation or something. Anyway, the team was plain ol’ disappointing, maybe the most disappointing Mets team ever when expectations are taken into account. However, there were some bright spots; Angel Pagan was the brightest. It was a jump-off-a-bridge-into-icy-waters kind of year, but in the spirit of the holidays, let’s remember what we did receive this year. Angel Pagan is an exciting player, and not just because he doesn’t know how to run the bases. He can steal, he plays a nice center field, he can hit an inside-the-park home run or lay down a beautiful drag bunt. Most importantly, he’s fun to watch. Sometimes Angel Pagan going 4-4, Nelson Figueroa pitching a shutout, Blue Smoke chicken wings and Bruce Springsteen on warm October day is enough to remind you that it really can be a wonderful life.   

*When the Mets blow all their money on Jason Bay and Bengie Molina this year, Omar Minaya’s replacement is going to have a heck-of-time trying to sign anyone else in the winter of 2010. It’s going to play out like the bank scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life”:

Joe Mauer’s agent Ron Shaprio: Well, my client Joe would really like to play with your team, Mr. Bailey. What do you think, 7 years, $140 million?

GM George Bailey: *stammering*  No, but, you’re thinking about this place all wrong. Well, well I don’t . . . I don’t have your money, don’t you see? It’s in Molina’s contract, and K-Rod’s contract, and . . . Oliver Perez’s contract. What are you going to do, foreclose on them?

Ron Shaprio: No, I, uh . . . what are you talking about?

Joe Mauer: *signs with Yankees*

Hey, I made it through a whole post about Angel Pagan with out having to resort to saying “Angel’s in the Outfield” . . . oh, blew that too.

Image of Pagan from wikipedia

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