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Joe Panik will be fine

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The Giants’ second baseman is having another lost season that has been marred by injuries and bad luck. He’s still good, though.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at San Francisco Giants Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Panik is having a down year even by his normal down year standards. After winning the first two games of the season singlehandedly, he’s been worth an even 0.0 fWAR. To say that the former All-Star being exactly replacement level is a disappointment is an understatement.

Panik is one of the many Giants to be thrust into the wood chipper of the disabled list. He missed a month after Yasiel Puig ran into his thumb, and he missed another month with a groin strain. He’s slashing just .238/.304/.350 which is worse than his lost 2016. In 2016, he had some supremely poor batted-ball luck, but he also hit fewer line drives. Those two things combined to bring down his batting average 80 points.

This year, his batted ball profile hasn’t changed significantly from his previous career averages. In 2015, Panik hit .312/.378/.455. See if you can determine which profile belongs to 2018 and which belongs to 2015. For one, Panik hit for a 134 wRC+. For the other, he hit for a 78 wRC+.

Joe Panik 2015 and 2018

Year Line Drive% GB% FB% Barrel% Weak% Hard% Avg Exit Velo BB% K%
Year Line Drive% GB% FB% Barrel% Weak% Hard% Avg Exit Velo BB% K%
A 25.7 45.7 21.4 3.3 1.9 31.4 86.8 7.7 6.5
B 29.7 44.1 20.2 2.6 4.3 30.8 86.3 8.8 9.7

These aren’t the profiles of an elite hitter. That’s a lot of balls on the ground and the hard-hit rate is pretty average. It should be noted that Panik benefitted from batted-ball luck in 2015. He had a .330 BABIP and a xwOBA 30 points lower than his actual wOBA. It’s definitely not bad either. Mark Canha has similar quality of contact statistics while striking out three times as often, and his wRC+ is 114.

The answer is that Year A is 2018 and Year B is 2015. There’s a 50 point difference in wRC+ despite Panik hitting the ball just as hard and walking more and striking out less. He should be better than average with his discipline and contact. His strikeout rate is in the 98th percentile and his BB/K rate is in the 93rd percentile.

This year, Panik’s luck has gone in the other way. He has a .237 BABIP and his wOBA is 60 points lower than his xWOBA. It’s not that teams have suddenly figured out how to defend against Panik. Teams mostly play him straight up. Panik has always sprayed the ball, so it doesn’t make sense that he’s had such poor luck on balls in play.

Had I included the HR/FB% in the above table, it would have given it away. The difference between 2015 and 2018 is Panik isn’t hitting the ball over the fence. After hitting two home runs in the first two games of the season, he’s hit two in the following 61 games he played.

I’ve been staring at Panik’s various player pages, and I can’t find anything to suggest that he shouldn’t at least be average. If anything, there are signs that he should be heating up.

He’s hitting the ball harder as of late, he’s hit four doubles in the last week. For the rest of 2018 and going into 2019, Panik will be fine. We’ve seen him be successful with the same kind of approach. We’ve also seen him be bad with the same approach. That’s just the gambit of being a contact hitter with doubles power. He’ll probably never be 2015 good again, but he shouldn’t be 2016 bad again either. If he had a full season’s worth of plate appearances, he wouldn’t be.