.254/.307/.332, 392 PA, 4 HR, 24 RBI
The season started out so promisingly for Joe Panik. He began his 2018 campaign by homering off of Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen in back-to-back games leading the Giants to twin 1-0 wins over the Dodgers. While that presaged Jansen being in for a rough year more so than Panik hitting 162 home runs, it looked like Panik was going to pick up where he left off in 2017.
He did not pick up where he left off. Panik hit well enough through April, putting together a .267/.323./.389 slash line. That may seem unimpressive, but Marcus Semien just put together a four-win season with a similar line. If Panik continued to hit like that, he could have been a solid contributor with his defense.
But then Yasiel Puig ran into his thumb and caused him to miss all of May.
After Panik returned, he was never the same. Since returning from injury, Panik hit .250/.301/.313 for a not-nice 68 wRC+. The power left him as he only hit one more home run over the rest of the season after hitting two in the first two games and another in the first month.
Over the course of the season, Bryan and I wrote our respective, “Joe Panik will be fine” pieces. It didn’t really make sense that he was so bad considering he had the same batted-ball profile as his 2015 All-Star season. It figured to be BABIP nonsense, and it would stabilize in time. It never did.
Two troubling trends arose from Panik’s season. First, he walked less than he had since his rookie season. Walking has never been a major-strength of Panik’s game, but he’s always done so at a league-average clip. Panik’s strength lies in his ability to avoid the strikeout. If you’re looking for silver-linings, he also did that less than ever before.
What’s more concerning is that Panik hit the ball on the ground more than he had since his rookie year. His 48 percent ground ball rate was five percentage points higher than it was in 2015. It also doesn’t help that he was a bit unlucky on grounders, too. In 2018, all major leaguers hit .212 on grounders, but Panik hit just .171. That might not seem like a huge difference, but a league-average BABIP on grounders would have raised his average to .270.
Panik also wasn’t doing himself any favors with his hard-hit rate. Among all batters with 150 batted-balls, Panik’s 29.4 hard-hit rate ranked 272nd. If he could hit the ball with a little more oomph, maybe he’d have an easier time getting the ball past the infield.
Of course, it would simply be better if he could just get the ball in the air with more regularity.
Role on the 2018 Team
Panik was supposed to be the everyday second baseman. It’s the role he’s played since the Giants gave Dan Uggla a shot. Then Panik got hurt, and then Panik struggled. Then he got hurt again, and he continued to struggle. He never lost his job, but toward the end it started looking like the Giants would consider alternatives.
Role on the 2019 Team
Unless the Giants trade and/or replace him, Panik will continue to be the starting second baseman. Without knowing who the new GM will be, it’s tough to say what the plan for Panik is. His trade value has certainly diminished, and Larry Baer’s letter indicates the Giants plan to stay the course. That likely means sticking with Panik.
That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Panik will be 28 next year, so he can still turn things around. It’s hard to say home much the thumb and groin sprain hurt his ability to square the ball up, but maybe that’s what was really keeping him back. That’s a more optimistic explanation than the alternative, which is that hyper-specific defensive alignments have made contact hitters like Panik obsolete. Let’s just go with the groin thing.
This was easily Panik’s worst season as a big leaguer, and he’s become another question mark heading into an offseason that’s already riddled with question marks.