In an era of free agency and player transience, San Francisco celebrated their third World Series Championship in four years bolstered by an entirely home-grown infield, supported by recent newcomer Joe Panik. Throughout the playoffs, Giants pitchers were surrounded by players who only know the Giants' system. Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, and Brandon Crawford were all amateur draftees and Pablo Sandoval was signed as in international free agent out of Venezuela. Joe Panik is the newest member of the Giants' infield, and is likely to receive National Rookie of the Year votes after posting a solid first season in the big leagues.
|Player||Acquired by Giants|
|Buster Posey||2008, Round 1|
|Brandon Belt||2009, Round 5|
|Joe Panik||2011, Round 1|
|Pablo Sandoval||2003, International FA|
|Brandon Crawford||2008, Round 4|
Panik grew up in Yonkers, New York, and attended St. John's University. Although many players from the Northeast aren't heavily scouted (see Trout, Mike), Panik was selected by the Giants with the 29th pick in the 2011 draft. He became a regular in Bruce Bochy's lineup in late June, and held down second base for the Giants from that point until they hoisted the championship trophy.
In only 73 games, he posted a .305/.343/.368 slash line in a pitcher-friendly home park (sixth most pitcher-friendly based on run environment). Along with Jacob deGrom and Billy Hamilton, Panik will get some National League Rookie of the year votes, having amassed a 1.6 fWAR in few than 300 plate appearances.
Beginning the year with AAA Fresno, Panik hit 17% above league average in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, posting a 117 wRC+. He struck out 10.1% of the time, and walked 8.6%. His plate discipline translated fairly well to the major league level, where he struck out 11.5% of the time and walked 5.6% of the time. With time, it can be expected his plate discipline and walk rate will improve in the big leagues, but it is encouraging his K-rate is already far below the league-average 20.4% rate.
Per PITCHf/x, Panik is a deliberate hitter --- he made contact on over 90% of the balls he swung at in the zone (92.0% Z-contact %), and made contact with approximately 75% of the balls he swung out outside the zone (74.6% O-Contact %).
Per Brooks Baseball, Panik showed a league-average eye against all fastballs (66% swing rate at pitches in the zone versus 26% swing rate at pitches outside the strike zone) and only a 10% whiff rate. Compared to the rest of the league, he performs particularly well against off-speed pitches, where he swings at 83% of pitches in the zone and only 36% outside the strike zone.
|Pitch Type||Zone Swing Rate||Out of Zone Swing Rate||Whiff Rate|
Panik is a lefty hitter who sprays the ball to all fields. Per his spray chart, he limits infield pop-ups (which are generally viewed as ineffective as a strikeout), and has the ability to hit line-drives to all fields. He is not a hitter who can be successfully shifted against, as he does go to all fields irrespective of pitch type with both liners and ground balls, and although he does hit more ground balls to the right side of the infield, he hits enough to all fields where the gap between third and shortstop must be defended.
Panik's .343 batting average on balls in play is higher than league average (we would expect a .290-.310 BABIP), and in the future, some of those opposite field ground balls will probably be turned into outs. Having said that, he has the ability to hit ground-balls for hits to the opposite field, particularly when pitchers pound the lower portion of the zone mitigating potential shift opportunities, and increasing his BABIP.
Like Buster Posey, Joe Panik's rookie season ended with a story-book ending World Championship for the Giants (not counting the seven games Posey logged in 2009). The Giants' home-grown infield may potentially have a new member if the team does not re-sign Pablo Sandoval, but Panik won't go anywhere in the near-term and will be the starting second-baseman in San Francisco for quite a while.
We can expect Panik to improve as he gains more experience in MLB; considering he has already played on baseball's biggest stage in October, it will be fun to see him as the everyday starter in San Fran in 2015 and beyond. Provided he can continue to hit to all fields, he should put up above-average numbers playing an up-the-middle position.
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Steven Martano is a contributing writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano.