THOMA COLUMN | Similar numbers and dissimilar roles for Jax, Pagán

·3 min read

May 22—One Twins righty reliever has an ERA of 5.60, and manager Rocco Baldelli typically looks elsewhere when he needs a lead protected.

Another righty in the Minnesota bullpen has an ERA of 5.59, but Baldelli repeatedly turns to him for key outs against quality hitters.

The first is Emilio Pagán. The second is Griffin Jax. And while the Twins fan base (at least those prone to venting about the team in public forums) is weary of both, I doubt either is going anywhere — and I also doubt that either is going to see his role change.

Pagán and Jax have been similar statistically this season beyond the ERA. Jax entered Sunday striking out 9.3 men per nine innings, Pagán 8.7. Jax has allowed no homers, Pagan one (the grand slam on Wednesday). And both have FIP — Fielding Independent Pitching — stats that suggest that their ERAs are unfairly inflated.

I have long been puzzled by Pagán's career usage. He emerged in 2019 as a bullpen weapon with Tampa Bay — a 2.31 ERA with 20 saves and eyepopping strikeout and walk rates.

The Rays, who cycle through relief pitchers aggressively, then traded him to San Diego in the deal that brought them outfielder Manuel Margot. And in the pandemic season of 2020, the Padres pretty quickly decided to go with other options to close, games, although he certainly got leverage innings as a setup man in both 2020 and 2021.

The Padres traded Pagán to the Twins before last season. Baldelli spent much of the first half using Pagán to protect leads, and Pagán racked up seven saves by the end of May with an ERA of 2.12. But by the end of June his ERA was 5.56, and by August he was strictly a low-leverage arm.

The high leverage work was transferred to trade acquisition Jorge Lopez and Jax, who earned the role in a classic example of what I have long called the "Greg McMichael Rule" — if you get outs, they'll find a role for you.

Jax in recent weeks has stopped getting those outs. To a large degree, I think it's bad luck. The blown lead on Friday, for example, featured a single with an expected batting average of .140 and another single with an exit velocity of 75 mph.

That said: The job of a relief pitcher is to dominate small sample sizes. If, as Pagán did in 2019, you strike out 12.3 men per nine innings, luck has less of a chance to sting you.

The travails of Aaron Hicks

I snickered to myself Saturday when I saw a tweet from a national writer identifying former Twins first-round pick Aaron Hicks as a center fielder.

Hicks used to be a center fielder, but at some point last year the Yankees decided that Aaron Judge at (officially) 280 pounds covers more ground.

Hicks got cut as he was showing some signs of getting his bat going. Mild signs, to be sure, in very limited playing time. Still, he got lopped from the roster to make room for Greg Allen, who is not exactly a high ceiling player.

Nobody's going to claim Hicks on waivers, because that would mean picking up the rest of the contract, and I'm not sure that there's going to be interest in him as a free agent.

But let us not weep too profusely for him. He rode a 27-homer season into career earnings in excess of $70 million. Yankee fans can boo him all the way to the bank.

Edward Thoma is at Twitter: @bboutsider.