San Francisco Giants: Joe Panik still has something to offer
By Marc Delucchi
While his time with the San Francisco Giants has come to an end, second baseman Joe Panik still has something to offer other MLB teams.
On Monday night, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy had one of the hardest meetings of his career when he had to tell longtime second baseman Joe Panik that the organization was designating him for assignment.
A first-round pick out of St. John’s University in 2011, Panik seemed destined to be a key cog in the San Francisco Giants infield from the moment he debuted in 2014.
He made his MLB debut on June 21, 2014, and hit .305 in 287 plate appearances the rest of the way to finish sixth in NL Rookie of the Year voting. He also made his presence felt in October, turning in one of the most memorable plays in Giants postseason history in Game 7 of the World Series.
After winning a ring as a rookie, Panik took another step forward in his sophomore season. He put up a .312/.378/.455 line and was worth nearly 4.0 WAR while earning a spot on the NL All-Star team.
His offensive production dipped the next couple of seasons, but he remained an elite defensive option at second base, which was enough for him to remain a solid everyday player.
Then things went from bad to worse at the plate last season when he went from a league-average hitter to something well below that. Since the start of 2018, Panik has hit a meager .245/.308/.325 in 780 plate appearances—production reminiscent of middle infielders in the 1980s.
Unfortunately for Panik, he plays in an era where some of the biggest mashers in baseball play his position. The decision to cut ties didn’t come as a shock to anyone. Many had been calling for a Panik replacement for at least a month.
His fate was sealed when the Giants acquired another underperforming, left-handed hitting, second baseman at the trade deadline in Scooter Gennett. He isn’t close to the defensive player that Panik is, but his offensive ceiling far exceeds Panik’s recent production and that was reason enough for the Giants to make a change.
Now Panik hits the waiver wire where the other 29 MLB teams will have a chance to claim him. His defense will definitely be enticing and his bat may be more appealing to other teams.
For one, Panik continues to put the ball in play at an elite rate. Even with his struggles, he is one of just three qualified players to have struck out in less than 10 percent of his plate appearances. He also consistently works deep counts, and he has walked at a solid 9.3 percent clip.
While no one would argue he has elite power, there’s also some evidence to suggest Panik has suffered from some bad luck this season. His 2.8 percent home run-to-fly ball percentage is nearly half his career average (5.1 percent) and is easily a career-low.
According to Baseball Savant, Panik’s contact has amounted to a .300 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA), while his actual wOBA is just .277. While a .300 wOBA is still below league-average, it is more in line with a player like Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Adam Frazier.
Frazier has a .305 wOBA on the season and he’s been worth 1.3 WAR by providing great defense. That’s exactly the kind of potential a contender might see in Panik.
While that might lead you to question why the Giants gave up on him in the first place, it’s not that simple. Baseball Savant’s projections are made assuming a league-average park environment, and Giants fans are well aware that Oracle Park is a pitcher’s haven.
Also, the Giants don’t have the luxury of an elite offense. Gennett is an inferior defender, but they’re willing to roll the dice on his upside because they are desperate for offensive production. A contender with enough offense to cover for Panik’s shortcomings at the plate could see more value in his glove.
Even non-contending teams could see Panik as an interesting buy-low candidate. He’s under control via arbitration for another year, so a team could take a flier on him for the final 50 games of the season and simply non-tender him if he underwhelmed.
The timing could be worse for Panik.
Many teams, including some contenders, have struggled to find consistent production at second base and they could be willing to bet on his surefire defense. The New York Mets are a particularly interesting potential landing spot as they have surged into wild-card contention and just lost Robinson Cano for the season.
Regardless of what happens on the waiver wire, Panik will likely be in another big league uniform soon. It was time for the San Francisco Giants to part ways, but no matter what, he will always remain #ForeverGiant.