LaVelle E. Neal Ready to Die on ‘Emilio Pagan is Better Than You Think’ Hill

Jun 21, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Emilio Pagan (12) pitches against the Cleveland Guardians in the eighth inning at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins are 24-21 entering Saturday and they lead the AL Central by 2.5 games. But the season, so far, has been far from perfect. Carlos Correa is struggling to keep his batting average above .200, Byron Buxton is still the DH (not centerfielder) and the bullpen has had a knack recently for blowing late leads.

The bullpen issues became a noticeable problem last week. Twins’ relievers blew late leads in three of their last four games and all three ended in losses. It happened twice in LA vs the Dodgers and again on Friday night vs the Angels.

There have been two pitchers, specifically, who have struggled. Emilio Pagan has given up 4 earned runs on 2 hits and 3 walks in his last two appearances. Griffen Jax has been nearly as bad, allowing 3 earned runs on 6 hits and 1 walk, all coming in the Twins last three losses.

When this sort of thing happens, it’s expected that fans will react negatively. In Emilio Pagan’s case, the fans are demanding the Twins cut bait. Can you blame them? We’re talking about the team’s worst reliever for each of the last two seasons. We get it, he has great stuff. But, that doesn’t matter if your great stuff doesn’t get anyone out.

LaVelle E Neal III stands up for Emilio Pagan

Unless, of course, you are talking to or reading Star Tribune columnist and former Minnesota Twins beat writer, LaVelle E. Neal III, who has decided he will die on the ‘Emilio Pagan is better than you think’ hill.

See, LaVelle is one of the most loyal sports writers the Twins have in this market. Rarely will he question or criticize anything the front office or coaching staff does. And that has proven true again over the last few days, as LaVelle has battled tooth and nail for days with fans on Twitter who are ready to rid the roster of Emilo Pagan.

Yes, you read that right. LaVelle E. Neal’s column in this Sunday’s Star Tribune was written in defense of Emilio Pagan, who has a 5.60 ERA, 1.472 WHIP and 79 ERA+ this season, after posting 4.43 ERA, 1.365 WHIP and 88 ERA+ in 63 IP last season.

Neal tries to plead Pagan’s case…

What numbers did he have to prove everyone wrong? Well, his Sunday column is available online Saturday evening and his big “gotcha” stat is right handed batting average against. See, Pagan is using his cut fastball more often and now, righties are hitting just .159 against him vs .270 last summer.

Pagán entered the season looking to establish his cut fastball. After throwing it 19.2% of the time a year ago, he is throwing it 33% of the time this season. And he’s throwing it harder, averaging 87.1 miles per hour. It has allowed him to hold righthanded hitters to a .159 average after they hit .270 against him last year.

LaVelle E. Neal – Star Tribune

It’s true that Emilio Pagan was terrible in 2022. We already established that above. But Neal is the only person in town who would look at his numbers this season and tell you Pagán is better now than he was then. Nearly every single metric suggests he is not. Except one. LaVelle dove deep into Emilio’s numbers from the last two years found literally the only statistic that would shine Pagan in a more positive light this season vs last.

But, even if you accept the false premise that Pagán has been slightly better in 2023 than in 2022, in what world does that mean he should keep his job? At the end of the day, he’s still been terrible for two straight summers. Argue semantics of when he was worse, if you’d like.

Aaron Gleeman (The Athletic), who is much more of an advanced statistics guy than LaVelle, can’t even find any excuses for Pagan. His Win Probability Added (WPA) is worst among MLB relievers since 2020.

This isn’t the first time LaVelle E Neal III has defended the Minnesota Twins in a moment that is indefensible. He was one of the biggest “Pohlad Pocket Protectors” in town before the Twins decided to pay for a competitive roster the last handful of years.his premise was the same then as it is now. It’s not as bad as it used to be so why worry about improving?

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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