San Francisco Giants: What Does This Year Mean for Joe Panik?

By Daniel Sperry
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The San Francisco Giants home-grown infield (for the most part) has to be the envy of most teams. They’ve brought success in terms of individual accolades (4 Gold Gloves in 2 years) and have eight world series rings combined, all with the Giants.

The newest member of the San Francisco Giants home-grown infield is Joe Panik. Panik burst on to the scene in 2014. He didn’t necessarily beat his ETA, but he did beat most draft projections of his ability. Panik’s defense, combined with a plate approach and knack for hitting that lines up perfectly for a No. 2 hitter in the lineup, blew away everyone. Panik made easily the biggest defensive play of the 2014 World Series, with his diving stop leading to the rally quelling double play in Game 7.

In 2015, Panik got his well-deserved status as an NL All-Star. In his ’14 and ’15 seasons combined, Panik accrued a .309/.364/.419/.783 slashline, with 201 hits in only 653 official At-Bats. Panik’s wRC+ over that time was a 124, good for third amongst 2b with a similar number of plate appearances or more (via Fangraphs). Only Jose Altuve and Robinson Cano had a better number.

Then, Panik’s injury after the all-star break set him back. He got a late start on gearing up for the 2016 season. And then a 2016 with a lot of small injuries, including a significant concussion after being hit in the head with a pitch (by future teammate Matt Moore nonetheless), easily set course for a difficult season. He had lost his entire approach at the plate. He looked lost standing in the batters box, which was a stark contrast to the confident rookie we all saw step into the box in 2014.

I’ll give Panik a pass on the 2016 season, mainly for the concussion, which he spent a significant amount of time out with. We all saw how Brandon Belt‘s concussion affected him. It’s a case by case thing when it comes to concussions. Panik still looked like he was struggling to get back to normal for a large part of 2016.

Then came the 2016 postseason. Panik had a .600 batting average in the series against the Cubs, getting on base in 8 of his 13 Plate Appearances. Not only were the numbers nice, but that was the first time in a long time we saw him look back to normal. His swing was balanced, he looked confident in the batter’s box, and ultimately his swing timing was back.

Looking at his 2016 overall, the biggest thing missing was his timing. His approach and vision were still there. He walked 50 times in 2016, while only striking out 47 times. That’s the patented “Panik Eye” we all know. What was significantly missed was the timing.

Panik’s contact percentage in 2016 (via Fangraphs) on all of his swings was actually the highest of any season in his career. But the timing is what made his hitting approach so difficult to handle for pitchers. His BABIP in 2014 and 2015 combined was a .336. In 2016 it plummeted to a .245. That is a significant drop, and I would consider it mainly down to swing timing.

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His ability to time his swing, make contact and send the ball exactly where he wanted was uncanny when he burst onto the scene. But with that disappearing for most of the ’16 season, it was nice to see Panik back to normal in the postseason. It gave plenty of fans, and those in the organization hope for his 2017.

Joe Panik has been rumored to be a part of trade rumors dating back to Andrew Miller last season, and now into this offseason for J.D. Martinez. The Giants didn’t pull the trigger on either, mainly because they believe Panik will be their second-baseman for a long, long time.

So going into his 2017 season, Panik has a couple of things to play for. One, is his acclaimed all-star second baseman spot and being one of the most patient and best hitters at the position. The other? A possible contract extension.

The Giants are not fans of going to arbitration. They also learned from waiting until big players are nearing the market, and either over-paying for what they get, or not even keeping the player at all. Bobby Evans has not hesitated to wrap up players that deserve it, to long-term deals. Panik is not the Pablo Sandoval type. He likely will want to stay here for a long time if the Giants want him. If the Giants won’t trade him for Andrew Miller, or J.D. Martinez, they likely want him to stick around for a very long time as well.

Madison Bumgarner has gotten all the contract extension talk this offseason, and rightly so. But Panik might be next in line. If they are smart about timing, they might be able to get him on a “Bumgarner” type deal before he really breaks out, or the market for him commands more than what the Giants want to pay.

For Panik, we’re looking at a Crawford/Belt type deal. They still have time to do it. He’s under team control for next season, then has three remaining years of Arbitration. The extension talks probably won’t take place until after this season. The timing would be similar to Belt and Crawford, with the Giants buying out their final years of arbitration, and extending the contracts beyond that for 3-4 more years. But this season will mean a lot for Joe Panik if that’s the route they choose.

It would be a really smart route for the Giants, but that just means Panik will be playing for even more in 2017. Should it ramp up the pressure on him? Not necessarily. But the timing has it all lining up. We’ll see what comes this year, and hopefully it is a successful and healthy year for Mr. Panik.

Next: What This Year's HOF Class Means for Bonds

Stay tuned to Around the Foghorn as we build up towards the 2017 Season!

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