Move to leadoff has sparked Pagan, Giants
Outfielder has thrived since taking lineup's top spot in early August
SAN FRANCISCO -- At the beginning of August, Giants manager Bruce Bochy came to Angel Pagan with a proposition -- move to the leadoff spot, shorten your swing and ignite the offense.
Pagan, who has started more games at the leadoff spot than at any other place in the lineup, was the sensible option to move atop San Francisco's batting order. The July 31 acquisition of Hunter Pence moved regular leadoff hitter Gregor Blanco out of right field and out of the starting lineup, and Pagan's speed and experience leading off made his move from the middle of the order to the top a logical one.
But Pagan didn't seem to be the likeliest of candidates to ignite a Giants offense in desperate need of energy. The 31-year-old center fielder was mired in a 9-for-52 slump (.170), which led to him taking a bat to an undisclosed inanimate object against the Mets on July 30, an act that took him out of the lineup for two days with a bruised hand.
It didn't take long for Pagan to agree to Bochy's proposed change in batting order, and it took even less time for him to spark the Giants' offense. Pagan batted leadoff against the Rockies on Aug. 2 for the first time since May 24, and he went 3-for-4 and fell a home run shy of the cycle as he crossed the plate four times.
"He had it in his mind and he talked to me about it, and I just got back to him and told him that I think it's the right time to do it," Pagan said. "I just feel like I'm getting there and that's the little adjustment that I needed to get back."
The move came after the Giants dropped seven of eight games, with an anemic offense being limited to five hits or fewer for five of the last six contests.
"I knew that would help me to get back to where I needed to be, and that way I can help the team a little bit better," Pagan said. "Obviously, at this moment, the leadoff spot is where the team needs me the most. We need somebody to get on base and score some runs. And at the same time, it was an opportunity for me to start helping the team again."
And from then on, Pagan has provided the offensive spark that Bochy had envisioned. Even after going 0-for-8 in the last two games against the Braves, Pagan has been hitting .358 since he became the team's leadoff hitter, raising his season batting average from .272 to .290 in just 23 games.
"He's playing such great ball right now," Bochy said, saying that Pagan has been nearly unrecognizable from his earlier struggles. "He's the catalyst with the way his week's been going, and he's having some great at-bats out there. He's doing a terrific job, and that's what you hope for from your leadoff hitter. And he's giving us more than that."
Most important to the Giants' offense has been Pagan's knack for getting on base as he takes advantage of his speed on the basepaths to produce runs. He has a .426 on-base percentage and has scored 27 runs in 23 games since moving to leadoff.
"I'm enjoying it a lot, and a lot more now that I'm getting the job done for the team," Pagan said of his leadoff role. "Every time I get on base in the first, it seems like we score. That's something that gives a lot of confidence to the pitching staff."
Pagan's 21 stolen bases this season leads the Giants, and getting on base at the top of the order has allowed Pagan to not only be more aggressive as a runner, but let his energy on the basepaths be "addictive" to the batters following him -- a lesson he learned from playing with Jose Reyes for four years with the Mets.
"Every time Reyes got on and put that type of pressure on the bases, that injected a type of energy into the whole club," Pagan said. "It's very positive and everyone wants to play hard. That's what I want to bring over here: a lot of energy at the top of the lineup, a lot of aggressiveness on the bases. I think that'll create a lot of good situations for us in the lineup."
And though Bochy said he had a hunch that a change of scenery within the lineup could help Pagan, he has been more than pleasantly surprised with Pagan's play, especially after the Giants lost their leading hitter when Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 games on Aug. 15 after he tested positive for testosterone.
"You're hoping he would, but for him to do what he's been doing, it's beyond expectations," Bochy said of Pagan. "Especially when you have to deal with some things, you want your club to pick things up, and he's done that for us."
Jay Lee is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.