Earlier in the year, I projected Joe Panik to hit five home runs. He hit four in May. Here's the finish to that projection:
Not a star. But he was never expected to be, and he'll never have to be.
Three months later, the question in front of you is this: Is Joe Panik is a deserving All-Star?
In order to figure this out, we'll apply logic! I love logic. You would think that wouldn't be the case, considering the Giants have amazed us with their illogical existence over the last five years and that Joe Panik is inherently illogical, but logic has its uses. The factors that will go into the pick:
Dee Gordon is leading the NL in All-Star voting, but that's a bad thing, considering he's also leading NL second basemen in value. It would be worse if the vote leader were a Chase Utley type, getting votes for an excellent career, which would mean that two 2B spots would automatically be spoken for -- the vote leader and the player having the best season. Those two categories are represented by one dude. Good job, Dee Gordon.
A list of NL second basemen by OPS:
- Dee Gordon, .849
- Kolten Wong, .837
- DJ LeMahieu, .826
- Joe Panik, .823
- Danny Espinosa, .804
It's mighty close at the top. But then you adjust for park, and Panik really starts to shine. According to the Giants' park factor for 2015, AT&T Park is preventing runs more than it ever has. The park factor is 82 right now, which as far as I can tell would be a single-season record. That's a pitcher-friendly park that laps Petco and the Astrodome. Now, single season park factors are subject to the same sample-size gremlins as other stats, so this is likely to regress. Still, the point stands: It's harder for Panik to do what he's doing at AT&T than it would be in other parks.
One of the most important things to note is that none of those players are household names. The only perennial All-Star second baseman in the NL is Chase Utley, who looks like a broken mess of a player. Once you start talking Wong, LeMahieu, and Panik, none of them are going to get any bonus points.
Except for the guy getting the most bonus points of all.
The sentimental favorite
The All-Star Game is in Cincinnati. Brandon Phillips has been with the Reds for 10 seasons, and he's hitting .290. He might not be the best choice when it comes to production, but the All-Star game has a lot to do with career value and longevity, and I'm okay with that. I'd rather see Hall of Famers and old-timers take a victory lap than I would a roster filled with first-half flukes.
So now you have Gordon (almost certainly) and Phillips (perhaps, if he keeps hitting just enough).
There have been four second basemen on a roster before, and there have been just two. Since the roster expanded to 34 players, though, there have usually been three. If we assume that Gordon is going to make it and the players/coaches vote Phillips in as a gesture of goodwill, that leaves a spot open for Wong, Panik, and others.
That's a good thing, considering ...
Bruce Bochy picks nine of the players on the NL bench
And Marco Scutaro, 2013 All-Star, can tell you that Bochy does enjoy the company of his own second baseman.
The key, here, is that Panik has to keep hitting. Jeff Sullivan had some thoughts on that today.
There’s a change in the behavior of the front foot — the second small step is gone, with Panik just lowering his heel. In the 2014 swing, Panik is more out over his front foot, while the more recent swing seems to be getting more from the back leg. And look at how Panik finishes. Previously, he cut himself off some. In the more recent swing, he turns his whole back to the camera. He finishes higher, having swung to get more loft. In short, it just looks like the 2015 version of Panik is a hitter who isn’t just content to put the ball in play.
There are differences. One of my favorite differences is that Panik doesn't hold the bat out with one hand as a timing mechanism anymore.
It used to drive me nuts. Baseball bats aren't light! Doesn't that make a feller get tired? Someone noticed. And now Panik is basically a less smug Utley in his prime. Coincidence? Probably. I mean, wait, no, of course not! Everything is always linked!
Regardless, if the question is "Will Joe Panik make the All-Star team?", the outlook is good. If the question is more, "Is Joe Panik a deserving All-Star?", we won't know for another month. So far, though, he's a lot closer than anyone figured he would be this early in his career. He's probably closer than anyone figured he would have ever been.
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