11 Days Till Opening Day: Projecting Joe Panik

joepanik

Pun headlines are beneath me, only because I don’t get paid to write them, and so there’s a nice, straight Joe Panik headline for you. The rest of this post will be just as nice and straight, so don’t Panik.

You probably expected that, and if not, you should’ve. But what we can’t expect is for Joe Panik to be as good in 2015 as he was, briefly, in 2014. In the second half last year, once he became the everyday 2nd baseman, he hit .327/.360/.396—for an overall rookie season line of .305/.343/.368, which in that ballpark and in this era makes him a solid player. That was the projected best-case-scenario for Marco Scutaro when the Giants signed him, and if Panik can produce like that while earning the league minimum, the Giants would love it.

I’m just not convinced he can do it.

Here’s what I like about Panik: good strike zone control. He didn’t swing at pitches out of the zone very often last year (as often as David Ortiz and Troy Tulowitzki, which is the only time you’ll see Panik mentioned alongside those two), and generally looked more comfortable at the plate than you’d expect a rookie to be. Still, he struggled against lefties (ignore the slash line, it was great, but fueled by an absurdly high BABIP—he was lucky), walking just once in 84 PA.

There just isn’t a whole lot to glean from last year’s results. The sample sizes are too small to be meaningful. Just looking at the overall package, it isn’t very impressive. He has no power to speak of, but also no speed. He is patient at the plate, but pitchers won’t be afraid to challenge him so he won’t walk a ton. He hits a lot of grounders but lacks the speed to turn them into hits. I think his performance last year is the ceiling for Panik, absent a fluky season where a few extra fly balls drift over the fence. Enough of his soft line drives fall in and grounders find holes that his batting average is decent; he can battle pitchers until they make a mistake and walk him; and he can slice a few balls into the gap and hit 25 doubles. Add to that his adequate (but nothing more) defense and you have an OK player at the keystone.

If he can manage a .330 OBP while hitting second, which I think is very optimistic, and Nori Aoki can run the same, those two hitters will be an adequately productive, pesky as hell 1-2 in the lineup. It’s easy to imagine first innings where the opposing pitcher has thrown 15 pitches to the two combined and they’re both on base, with Posey and Belt coming up. It could be fun.

Panik will hit .280/.320/.360, play adequate defense, and add a little bit of value on the bases with instincts, not speed. He’ll produce basically what a 39-year-old Scutaro would’ve done in the final year of his contract, had Marco’s body not ended his career for him. Young, cost-controlled, average second basemen aren’t sexy. But they’re no reason to Panik.

Got you.

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