The San Francisco Giants are looking for a number of their veteran players to have bounce back seasons in 2019. A lot of the attention has gone to their bigger or more expensive stars. But Joe Panik has gone relatively overlooked. I got you, Joe!
Joe Panik was tendered a one year contract to remain with the San Francisco Giants and was immediately subject to trade rumors, which is pretty rude. In addition to potentially being shipped off, there was a lot of speculation that Joe Panik will be forced into a platoon role entering the 2019 season.
Many critics have pointed to his .191/.244/.245 slash line against LHP in 2018 as a justification for suggesting a platoon, but how quickly people seem to forget that Panik hit 2 of his 4 home runs last season of lefties. That’s like, half! Plus, Joe Panik hit .290 against lefties in 2017 and .291 in against lefties in 2015.
Joe Panik is more than capable of holding his own against left-handed pitching. In fact, he’s shown he can excel against southpaws. Joe Panik is still an exceptional every day player and everyone who disagrees is nuts.
First of all, Panik is only 28 years old. Although he struggled with injuries and performed below expectations last season, he bookended his 2018 season with a strong start and a strong finish. It’s also important to emphasize that strong start to his 2018 season ended abruptly due to a thumb injury and subsequent thumb surgery.
When Panik returned to action he found himself on the bench watching a scorching hot Alen Hanson take a lot of Panik’s reps at second base. The fact was, Alen Hanson was having the run of his career in the absence of Joe Panik and the Giants were in the thick of a playoff race. Alen Hanson’s play forced Bruce Bochy to give him innings over Panik.
The combination of Hanson’s play during a period where the Giants were competing for a playoff spot and Panik’s injuries, resulted in his loss of playing time. But Panik’s playing time wasn’t the only thing that suffered. The loss of playing time also resulted in a loss of reps. In turn, the lack of reps had a negative impact on the adjustments Panik had worked on in the previous offseason.
In 2017 Panik’s shoulders were on an even plane, which helped Panik keep his hands on a better path to keep his hands in the hitting zone longer. A main thing to note is that he had a very simple toe tap stride with a horizontal move to align his front side before he plants his front foot and swings.
In 2018 he changed his stride. He went from a simple horizontal stride, to pronating his front leg in order to create more hip rotation. The other thing I noticed in his 2018 swing was that his shoulder plane was different. His shoulders are on a downward plane from his rear shoulder to his front shoulder.
Often, this plane is implemented in order for hitters to “swing down on the ball” in order to create backspin on the ball. Although, this is true when executed correctly, it alters the hand path to the ball. So rather than having the hands travel on a flatter plane and staying in the hitting zone longer, the timing of the swing has to be more precise in order for the bat to meet the ball at an angle instead of straight on.
During the telecast last week vs the Cincinnati Reds, Panik said in an interview, “Going into the offseason…I talked about changing my load a little bit and kind of getting a little bit more explosive with the legs and kind of giving myself a more consistent bat path and kind of give myself a better chance to hit.”
You can see all of those things coming together in Panik’s 2019 approach. I immediately noticed his front shoulders were back on an even plane like they were in 2017, but his stride was still the same as it was after his adjustments in 2018.
Another thing to note is that this year, Panik is deeper into his squat than in past seasons. You can see in 2017 and 2018 he was standing a little bit more upright than he is now.
What I’ll be keeping an eye on this year is if this hybrid of 2017 upper body/hand path work and 2018 stride adjustment can help get Panik back on track offensively.
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Over his five and a half year playing career Joe Panik has posted a wRC+ over 100 three times and he still remains one of the more difficult hitters to strike out in the game. Hopefully the adjustments he’s made to his swing in combination with his ability to put the ball in play, results in better contact and more hits.
He’s had a couple of down years due to injuries over his career, but when healthy Joe Panik has shown he can be an impact player on both sides of the ball. I will restate this as well; Joe Panik is only 28 years old. At this age, Panik not only could be the Giants best candidate for a bounce back season, but he could be on the verge of having a career year.