In an era of constant change and free agency, San Francisco celebrated their third World Series Championship in five years. This time a newcomer, Joe Panik, strengthened the lineup and infield defense while doing it all as a rookie. Out of the Giants infield, all of the starters were home grown.
Buster Posey was selected in the 2008 first round, Brandon Belt 2009 fifth round, Panik 2011 first round, Brandon Crawford 2008 fourth round, and Pablo Sandoval was signed as an international free agent in 2003.
Panik, 24, grew up in New York rooting hard for the Yankees and Derek Jeter. He attended St. Johns University, Rich Aurilia’s alumni, and wasn’t highly scouted due to the east coast weather. Giants general manager Brian Sabean and the front office took a chance on him in the first round, shocking many baseball minds. Now he’s holding the Commissioner’s Trophy in his first major league season.
The left-handed bat Panik played just 73 regular season games for San Francisco hitting for a slash of .305/.343/.368 with a .711, 107 wRC+, and 1.6 fWAR. He played in the sixth most pitcher friendly ballpark and received many rookie of the year votes, but not enough to be a finalist. He showed off his defense in the playoffs while not committing an error. Remember this game saving, maybe World Series saving double play?
In the minors, he hit for a .296/.365/.403 slash while walking 10.5% of the time and striking out 11.1% of the time. His BB% went down to 5.6% with the Giants, but will likely improve with time, but K% nearly stayed the same at 11%. He played shortstop until 2013 when he switched to second base. In 221 games at shortstop, he had a .977 fielding percentage compared to his .988 fielding percentage at second base in 178 games. Needless to say he’s found a home at second base.
In the majors, he was a well above average fastball hitter. According to FanGraphs Pitchf/x he had a 6.0 fastball value, -0.7 slider value, 1.7 curveball value, and 0.7 changeup value. He only missed 14% of the pitches he swung at and swung at 27.3% of pitches out of the strike zone, which is impressive. Compared to the other ball players, he performs particularly well against off-speed pitches, where he swings at 83% of pitches in the zone and only 36% outside the strike zone, per Brooks Baseball. You could say he likes cutters as well after hitting this mammoth go ahead home run off Adam Wainwright that helped the Giants clinch a World Series birth.
Here’s a FanGraphs heat map showing his swing% on the left and contact % on the right. He only had 300 plate appearances, so the sample size isn’t quite large enough to make assumptions.
As you can see from his spray chart below, Panik will be played straight up in 2015. He rarely pops the ball up while having a good ratio of line drives to ground balls. He hit a majority to ground balls to his pull side( right side of infield), but he balanced it out enough to keep the defenses from shifting. If anything, the defenses will move the third baseman to his left three to four feet.
FanGraphs steamer projects Panik, in 2015, to hit for a slash of .265/.318/.347 with a 94 wRC+, .665 OPS, and 1.8 fWAR in 138 games. Part of the regression is that he had a .343 BABIP, where .290 to .310 is average. A higher BABIP generally tells you that he was lucky and will regress to the mean with more chances (at-bats).
Some good news is that Joe hit lefties very well in 83 at-bats, posting a 143 wRC+ and .839 OPS. He struggled vs. righties, posting a 93 wRC+ and .655 OPS. Expect the latter to rise and the former to regress in 2015. I know it’s a particularly small sample size, but it’s something to keep an eye on for 2015.
The young second baseman won’t hit for power and will likely never put up an All-Star offensive season, but his defense will stay strong. He is now expected to be part of the core for the Giants and that might be expecting too much. His ceiling is likely a 3.0 fWAR and a 115 wRC+ while being a top tier defensive second baseman. For now, expect him to be a middle of the pack second baseman in the coming seasons.