Fantasy Baseball

Heat Check: 2019 Fantasy Baseball Emilio Pagan

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The best laid plans of Sox and Yanks rarely go awry. For these familiar characters to falter, exceptional talent must emerge with consistency. Some years see a bird rise above. A Blue Jay or perhaps the Oriole.

In 2019? Capitalizing on a surprisingly successful 2018 campaign, the Rays of Tampa Bay have emerged as potential disruptors yet again. Fielding an impressive rotation highlighted by reigning AL Cy Young Blake Snell, the Rays and manager Kevin Cash have demanded and received the attention of their AL East brethren.

Behind this success are shrewd and calculated roster moves orchestrated by GM Erik Neander. The most prominent move that comes to mind was last season’s Chris Archer deal that netted the Rays Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows. A close second was the deal trading alleged fantasy breakout Jake Bauers in a three team deal that netted actual fantasy breakout Yandy Diaz. The icing on the cake was bringing in savvy veteran Charlie Morton on a two year deal. Whatever “savvy” means…


It is thought-provoking that a little over a calendar year ago, I was ripping the Rays for dumping Corey Dickerson for peanuts. But I learned my lesson. When the Rays threw their hats into a minor three team deal that delivered today’s heat check, Emilio Pagan, to the Trop, I began monitoring him with intrigue. Neander and President of Baseball Ops Matthew Silverman do not waste time, or players. They always seem to have a plan.

The 2019 season has seen the Rays rock a trio of starters who’s peak potential make fantasy players drool. You know who and what Snell is. Check out Mike Lott’s previous spotlight on the aforementioned Glasnow. The lineup is middle of the pack, but young and not without intrigue. The defense is stellar. The Rays are for real. And there’s plenty of high leverage and reliever opportunities that make Emilio Pagan worth discussing.

Then he went ahead and messed around last week. Got himself a triple-double. That is, he snagged his first three career saves while doubling his value from mid-relief to potential closer. And he did it with little to no rest in-between appearances. Kevin Cash challenged Pagan early in his Rays tenure. Pagan answered the call, emphatically.

With no closer expected to be named, can deep leaguers begin to envision Emilio Pagan returning Jeffress, Devenski, or Betances level value? Is he even worth rostering, period?

This week we check the heat on a player who has been traded two consecutive offseasons and is looking to finally establish himself as a valuable major league and fantasy asset.

Heat Check: 2019 Fantasy Baseball Emilio Pagan

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RHP Emilio Pagan, RP, Tampa Bay Rays

Embed from Getty Images

AGE: ~28, 3rd MLB Season (10th Round Pick in 2013 MLB Draft)
4/29 Ownership: ESPN – 6.9%, Yahoo! – 34%, CBS – 35%

Standard Pitching
Year Age Tm W L ERA G SV IP ER BB SO FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2017 26 SEA 2 3 3.22 34 0 50.1 18 8 56 3.28 0.934 7.0 1.3 1.4 10.0 7.00
2018 27 OAK 3 1 4.35 55 0 62.0 30 19 63 4.92 1.194 8.0 1.9 2.8 9.1 3.32
2019 28 TBR 0 0 1.23 7 3 7.1 1 1 8 1.36 0.273 1.2 0.0 1.2 9.8 8.00
3 Yr 3 Yr 3 Yr 5 4 3.69 96 3 119.2 49 28 127 4.01 1.028 7.1 1.5 2.1 9.6 4.54
162 162 162 4 3 3.69 68 2 85 35 20 90 4.01 1.028 7.1 1.5 2.1 9.6 4.54
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/29/2019.

One Pitch Away No More

A look at Pagan’s velocity doesn’t yield much information as his fastball is up only 0.4 mph to 97.33 mph. His slider is up about 0.47 mph to 89.83 mph. But what about that change up?

Pagan’s take on his early season success per MLB.com’s Maria Camerato:

“That’s been a big pitch for me lately,” Pagan said of the curveball. “Just being able to show something else other than just a fastball or slider that I can throw for a strike.”

Curveball? I asked about the change-up! The change up was used 2.39% of the time in 2017 much to the delight of batters. That change up was smashed to the tune of a .333 BAA with a 1.000 slugging percentage. His 2018 change up usage peaked at 7.88% in April before dipping to 1.8% by August. He began to phase out the change up in June 2018. Pagan did not throw a single change up in September 2018, nor has he thrown one this season.

In mid-2018, he attempted to add a sinker, but it too was phased out by August. Which is why his offseason commitment to finding a third pitch to add to the fastball/slider combo was key to unlocking his potential. The emergence of this new curveball has already virtually replaced his peak change up usage at 7.77%. It is a good rationale as to what is driving his early elite counting stats and ratios. If you’re willing to bet on the curve being a difference maker then grabbing Pagan for your fantasy team now might be wise. Before the secret gets out.

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Small Sample Stat Survey Says…

2019 Pitching Game Log
Date Opp Inngs DR IP H ER BB SO ERA BF Pit Str StL StS GB FB LD
Apr 17 BAL 9-GF 99 1.0 0 0 0 1 0.00 3 14 10 3 1 1 1 0
Apr 18 BAL 8-9 0 2.0 0 1 1 1 3.00 7 34 20 4 5 2 3 1
Apr 21 BOS 8-8 2 1.0 0 0 0 2 2.25 3 11 10 1 5 1 0 0
Apr 22 KCR 9-GF 0 1.0 0 0 0 0 1.80 3 8 6 1 1 1 2 0
Apr 23 KCR 9-GF 0 1.0 0 0 0 2 1.50 3 15 13 2 6 1 0 0
Apr 27 BOS 9-GF 3 1.0 1 0 0 2 1.29 4 17 11 2 1 0 2 1
Apr 28 BOS 7-7 0 0.1 0 0 0 0 1.23 1 4 2 0 0 0 1 0
0.8 7.1 1 1 1 8 1.23 24 103 70% 13% 18% 0.67 13%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/30/2019.

Seeing as the above was an explanation of his only “bad” appearance this season, let’s examine the early cumulative returns. Since his return to the majors after obliterating AAA competition once again (6 IP, 2 SVs, 0 Runs, 2 Hits, 4 BBs, 10 Ks) Pagan’s 1.36 FIP would rank 7th in theMLB, tying him with Greg Holland. His 1.23 BB/9 would rank 15th amongst qualified relievers. He has allowed one walk, one hit and one run. His SIERA sits at an elite 2.49.

His Swing% is 5.4% higher (57.8%) than it was in 2018, improving for pitches in and outside of the zone. The offseason work has paid off; he’s missing bats. As his Zone% has increased by 5.7% to 55.9% this season, overall contact% is down to 67.8% (-5.0%) with a major 13.1% dip in O-Contact thanks to keeping the change up out of the rotation. Tack on the juicy 4.5% increase in swinging strike % to 18.5%,  and it’s hard not to get excited about his season long value.

Kevin Ca$h: More Bang for Your Fantasy Buck

The Rays captivated baseball early last season with the rollout of the opener. Pagan, fortunately, does not look destined for that roll. This allows us to anticipate that he will be available for high leverage situations. High leverage situations such as Holds and Saves are how we would expect to maximize Pagan’s fantasy value going forward.

Play by Play Table
Score Out RoB Pit(cnt) R/O @Bat Batter Pitcher wWPA wWE Play Description
Top Top Top Top Top Top Top Top Top Top Top
4-2 0 4,(3-0) ..BBBB BAL Jonathan Villar Emilio Pagan 2% 89% Walk
4-2 0 1– 3,(0-2) CCB BAL Trey Mancini Emilio Pagan 2% 90% Wild Pitch; Villar to 2B
4-2 0 -2- 5,(1-2) CCB.FX O BAL Trey Mancini Emilio Pagan 0% 90% Flyball: CF (Deep CF-RF); Villar to 3B
4-2 1 –3 4,(2-1) BBSX RO BAL Dwight Smith Emilio Pagan 2% 92% Flyball: CF/Sacrifice Fly (Deep LF-CF); Villar Scores
5-2 2 2,(1-0) BX O BAL Renato Nunez Emilio Pagan 0% 92% Groundout: 2B-1B
1 ru 1 ru 1 ru
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/29/2019.

The above is an outline of Pagan’s only appearance this season in which he allowed a run and walk. Switch hitter Villar walked on four pitches to start off the inning, taking second on a wild pitch. Two sacrifice hits later, Pagan had allowed his first and only run in 2019. Villar’s speed got the last laugh, but consider that Pagan was up 0-2 on the next batter when the wild pitch came. This is his only “poor” performance so far in 2019. It was also his only appearance lasting longer than an inning.

Pagan also was coming off pitching the day before. So really this was three innings and 48 pitches across two days. Kevin Cash should continue to utilize Pagan heavily, but the early hiccup allowed him understand his capabilities early. Pagan should be locked into a one inning, high leverage roll going forward.

Diego Castillo, who served as the opener in 11 games last season, currently sports a 4.67 FIP through 14 2019 appearances. On the heels of a debut season where he dazzled with a 29.3% K-rate, he remains strong competition for 8th and 9th inning usage. Nine of his fourteen appearances in 2019 have come in or after the 8th inning.

Jose Alvarado‘s role is complicated by his handedness. Adam Kolarek and Jalen Beeks are currently the only other lefties in the pen. Beeks has pitched in >3.0 inning in half his games and performed admirably following an opener for his first “start” of the season last week. He’s headed in the direction of assuming a role similar to Yonny Chirinos, following the opener.

With Kevin Cash committed to playing match-ups and scenarios, predicting Alvarado’s save and usage potential is difficult from night to night. Kolarek is mid-relief as five of his previous seven appearances have been in or before the 7th inning. Alvarado’s usage outcomes will be sporadic as one of two true lefty relief options and the only one Cash trusts late in games.

Ryne Stanek handled the bulk of openers so far in 2019. That leaves Pagan and his new curveball as a strong high leverage righty option for Cash. With Cash’s willingness to use the best pitcher available for the situation, slate Pagan in for a hefty amount of set-up work and holds.

Heat Check: Emilio Pagan’s is a Rare Kind of Hot

The Rays team ERA is tops in the majors at 2.95, almost a full half point lower than the next closest team (Toronto at 3.33). The defense behind Pagan late in games is also worth noting. The Rays are ranked third best in the majors with only 10 errors and a .990 fielding percentage through 27 games.

The best case historical comparison I have for Pagan is created by combining the 2014-2016 Royals bullpen under Ned Yost and the 2017 Astros rotation. On the back of the lethal 7th-8th-9th inning combo of Kelvin Herrera-Greg Holland-Wade Davis, the Royals owned the AL and won the 2015 World Series. I imagine that some combination of Pagan-Castillo-Alvarado is used to fill similar rolls as the season continues. But this Tampa Bay and Kevin Cash iteration will not have defined rolls like the Royals did. Cash has no set closer, so any night could be Pagan’s night. Especially on nights playing team’s who field righty heavy lineups.

The World Champion 2017 Astros’ rotation featured an ace in Justin Verlander, and emerging ace in Dallas Keuchel, good spot staters in Joe Musgrove and Brad Peacock, and of course, Charlie Morton. With ace Snell and emerging ace Glasnow, Chirinos and Beeks spotting after openers, and, of course, Charlie Morton, the Rays pen is set up for opportunities similar to the 2017 Astros. Recall the values of Chris Devenski and Wil Harris in that fantasy this season. Imagine there being no Ken Giles to muck up that saves, but rather, equal opportunity saves sharing.

Ultimately, Pagan has the kind of mid-reliever potential and situation/opportunity worth rostering. A 2019 ceiling would be close to what Adam Ottavino was able to put up in 2018; but with double the saves from six to around twelve.

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In your traditional 10-team category leagues, he may not warrant roster capital. But if the ratios continue, he will be. Soon. If your league has Holds or is ratio-centric, shallow 12-team and higher can make the move and utilize him going forward. Keep your expectations realistic, but in world losing true closers, a high-end committee member on a playoff caliber team can be a season long gem.


Check out the rest of our 2019 Fantasy Baseball content from our great team of writers.

About Samir Qurashi

Samir Qurashi is from the Bay. He thinks football is a good time. You can get at him with any fantasy football questions on the tweeter: @FSPsamir and by electronica: ssq.FSP@gmail.com. He remains unspooked.

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