You know, for an odd year, the Giants sure had a lot of things go right last year. That's the scary part. That's the comforting part. Either those things are never going to be repeated, or we just watched a few players blow past whatever their modest career projections were supposed to be.
On Thursday night, the CSN broadcast flashed Stephen Vogt's 2015 numbers on the screen: .261/.341/.443. And I thought, dang, that's pretty nice for a catcher in Oakland. I know he slumped in the second half, but he was still an All-Star catcher with those numbers, and deservedly so.
Then Joe Panik came up later, and his numbers were even better: .312/.378/.455.
Did that really happen? When I tally up the unfortunate parts of 2015, I lump "the breaking of Joe Panik" as one of them. At the same time, we sure got a lot of excellent Joe Panik last year. A second baseman did that. And he did it with great defense, too. Panik played in just 100 games, but he was incredibly valuable. Here, I'll put it in perspective:
I loved Ray Durham. He was a switch-hitting second baseman with power, a jovial, good-clubhouse guy who could hit and run well. Good Giant. He had a down year, and there were some unfortunate injuries mixed in, but he was a delight to watch when he was healthy.
Durham never had a season with the Giants that was better than Panik's 2015, according to WAR.
That blew me away. There have been just a handful of second baseman in San Francisco history to do better than Panik did in just 100 games last year. Jeff Kent several times, of course. Robby Thompson. Bill Madlock for a season. Joe Morgan (when he was 38!). And Ron Hunt twice. That's it. Pretty impressive, considering that Panik played two-thirds of a season.
He's just 25. He's already walking as much as he's striking out, which is something of a rare feat in baseball these days. Even if he doesn't improve from last year, other than the health, he'll still be one of the best second basemen in baseball. Yet he's young enough to keep improving.
That's when the music shifts into an ominous minor key. Oh, he doesn't have to keep improving. He doesn't have to stay this good. Don't you remember what Panik was supposed to be? He was a utility player, at best, who was overdrafted in the first round. And if you'll remember 2014, it's not like he was called up immediately after Marco Scutaro was hurt. The Giants fiddled with Dan Uggla on purpose. That's because the season before, Panik hit .257/.333/.347 in Double-A. It was a rough park in a rough league, but still. Future All-Stars don't do that when they're 22.
Maybe we're too attached to a high-average, great-eye hitter that still has the potential to mix in a few .257 seasons. That comparison between Panik and Vogt up there wasn't to suggest they're the same kind of player. It was to note that I was impressed with Vogt's raw numbers and then realized one of my favorite Giants hitters was even better. Except those numbers were buoyed by average. Take away the shiny average, and you're left with a low-power player who isn't nearly as impressive. Considering that average is a slippery gremlin, it's fair to be concerned about that.
Then you watch him hit.
And field. And take the extra base. It's almost like being overly cynical about Joe Panik is an admission that you have absolutely no idea what in the hell you're doing when you watch baseball. Because he looks like the archetype of a solid baseball player who offers contact as his best tool.
Last year, the projection systems weren't so wild about him.
The projection systems ... aren't quite as impressed with Panik.
It's here that I would make fun of the nerd numbers, but we need those nerd numbers to be right about Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. So play nice.
I spent an entire post puffing up my ~~~daring and bold~~~ projections for Panik last year.
Joe Panik (2015 projected)
He was like, "Okay, I'll take that OBP, but for my batting average, and that SLG is cool, but I'll use that as my OBP, and I'll just add 200 points to your stupid average and make it my SLG. Dork."
Fair enough! Now we have to figure out what he'll do in 2016, caught between the two realities of "overdrafted utility player who struggled in Double-A" and "contact deity we've enjoyed over the last year-and-a-half."
ZiPS isn't super convinced, predicting a .277/.331/.383 line. But Marcel -- which tries to dumb projections down in a very smart way -- is much nicer, with a .299/.359/.426 projection.
Me? If I was bolder than the computers last year, only to look cynical, I'll be bolder than the computers this year, while noting it would be super, super rad if it looked cynical by this time next year.
Joe Panik, 2016 projected
Don't ask me about the stolen bases. Just a feeling