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San Francisco Giants: Will Joe Panik ever return to form offensively?

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 18: Joe Panik #12 of the San Francisco Giants singles in the eighth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on August 18, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated San Francisco 7-1. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 18: Joe Panik #12 of the San Francisco Giants singles in the eighth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on August 18, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated San Francisco 7-1. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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San Francisco Giants
CINCINNATI, OH – AUGUST 18: Joe Panik #12 of the San Francisco Giants singles in the eighth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on August 18, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated San Francisco 7-1. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Joe Panik showed up to camp in shape and made some mechanical changes to his swing. However, the results are still not there for the San Francisco Giants second baseman.

Second baseman Joe Panik had a really impressive start to his career with the San Francisco Giants.

In his first two seasons in the majors in 2014 and 2015, he hit a combined .309/.364/.419 for a 119 OPS+, and he was named to the NL All-Star team in 2015.

However, his production at the plate has been trending downward since the 2016 season. There could be several reasons for this.

The most logical answer is injuries.

Panik has been a frequent visitor of the injured list over the years. In addition sustaining injuries to his thumb, leg, and back, he also suffered a concussion from a Matt Moore fastball in 2016.

As a result, since the start of 2016, Panik is hitting .260/.324/.377 for an 89 OPS+, a far cry from his early career production.

Things have gone from bad to worse in the early going this season, as he’s hitting just .208/.294/.245 in 61 plate appearances.

For a player whose offensive value is always going to be heavily dependent on his batting average, a .208 clip simply doesn’t cut it.

Luckily, there are two pieces of good news here.

The first being that Panik continues to show elite bat-to-ball skills.

He is only striking out in 6.6 percent of his plate appearances, which is below his already excellent 9.2 percent career mark.

The second is that Panik is back to hitting left-handed pitching.

In 2018, he posted a dismal .489 OPS against southpaws and found himself relegated to a platoon role as a result. This season, he has a .702 OPS against lefties, so he’s back to swinging more than just a wet noodle against same-sided pitching.

Unfortunately, he’s now struggling mightily against right-handed pitching, with a .184 batting average and .472 OPS in 42 plate appearances.

Here’s a look at Panik’s batted ball data since 2016, via FanGraphs:

While the career-high hard-hit rate is promising, it’s at least partially negated by his rising ground ball rate and declining fly ball ate.

One could make the argument that if his launch angle improves while maintaining his hard-hit rate, his production would improve as well. That hasn’t happened to this point, though.

Big picture, most of the stats above do not show much variation, and that’s not good news for Panik.

Despite making changes to his swing this offseason, the results are still not there. He’s making better contact, but the way he is hitting the ball remains largely unchanged. And here in the launch angle revolution, establishing a good launch angle seems like half the battle.

Evaluating any hitter is difficult because the season is still young.

However, Panik’s bat has been on a decline for several years now, and his results so far this season have been eerily similar to the trend he has demonstrated since 2016.

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The 28-year-old can still turn it around at some point. He took the initiative to make mechanical changes to his swing, but the numbers don’t lie. At this point, a turnaround seems unlikely.

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