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The Transformation of Angel Pagan

After a mistake-filled 2009, Angel Pagan has turned himself into an intelligent, clutch-hitting asset.

Last year, if you said the words "Angel Pagan," you instantly thought of base-running mistakes, mental lapses or some other boneheaded baseball maneuver. Pagan was the poster boy for the blunders of the 2009 Amazin's.But sometime between the last out of last season and April 2010, a transformation took place. Or was it a transplant?

While Oliver Perez keeps getting dumber every day, Pagan gets smarter. There's a new, streamlined, intelligent version of the Mets' center fielder. While the Mets miss Carlos Beltran, who's been one of, if not the, best all-around center fielder in baseball, the "Where's Carlos?" talk has been muted lately. And now the Mets are thinking about playing Beltran in right field if he ever comes back (the center fielder claims he's "running at 80%" - which gives him a 27% chance of coming back before the All-Star break, a 56% chance of coming back before the season ends and a 99% chance that he'll start a game for the Mets before Perez ever does).

The main reason for the lack of panic concerning Beltran is the play of Pagan. In Monday's game, Pagan took off in an attempted steal of second while Rod Barajas hit a towering pop-up to first. Pagan quickly picked up third-base coach Chip Hale, and he hurriedly made it back to first without getting doubled off. Ron Darling astutely joked that the 2009 Pagan would have ended up standing on third base while the 2010 Pagan made a fundamentally routine play fundamentally routine.

Pagan's erased all the mistakes in his game, while his hitting, base-running and fielding have just gotten better and better. He's hitting at a .295 clip, with a .356 OBP and is slugging .432. He's belted four homers, driven in 23 runs, scored 30 runs and has stolen nine bases. And he can hit just about anywhere in the lineup.

But more impressive than those basic stats are his at-bats with runners on base and late in games. He's hitting a scorching .381 with runners in scoring position (with a .460 OPB and .643 slugging percentage). His Late & Close stats? .393/.433/.607. And in the ninth inning, he just gets better: In 12 at-bats, he has a .455/.500/.818 line. Anyway you slice it, he's been the Mets' best hitter when the game is on the line.

The 28-year-old Pagan has filled in beautifully for the Mets in center field. He hasn't made an error this season, and his range and slew of acrobatic catches is impressive. The new, more intelligent Pagan has been one of the bright spots for the Mets this year.

(For more in-depth Mets news and information, go to SB Nation's Amazin' Avenue.)