Thursday, September 4, 2014
Thoughts on Joe Panik
Eno Sarris has an article on Fangraphs today entitled Joe Panik Changes By Not Really Changing At All. It's definitely worth a read. The gist of it, based on statistics and extensive comments by Panik himself, is that the elements of his success in his rookie MLB season are the same things he has done throughout his baseball career. What emerges is a picture of a young man with unusual insight into his own strengths and weaknesses and how to get the most out of his abilities. He has an equally unusual confidence to stick with his approach both in good times and bad.
The Giants have a certain reputation for drafting, signing and developing prospects who, while sometimes successful, do not adhere to classic statistical thought of how to be a successful hitter. In short, they have had a lot of kids come through their system who swing a lot, strike out a lot and not take many walks. In even shorter terms, hackers. Nate Schierholtz, Lance Niekro, Brett Pill, Francisco Peguero, Gary Brown, even the successful ones like Pablo Sandoval tended to hack a lot! Buster Posey was the big exception, but Buster Posey was close to a no-brainer pick high in the first round.
Then with pick #29 in the first round of the 2014 draft, the Giants took Joe Panik. The commentators on MLB Network did not have him on their draft boards. Bud Selig mispronounced his name. The Commentators shrugged and said, "well, the Giants do what they want to do!" ESPN analyst Keith Law criticized the pick heavily. But, Joe Panik was not a typical Giants hitting draftee. If you looked closely at his college stat lines, he was an unusually disciplined hitter:
While the walk rates were strong, what you don't see in the stat line was a strongly reversed K/BB. Most hitters strike out more than they walk, some by a large margin. While hitters with reversed ratios are not rare in college baseball, a ratio of almost 1/2 is. Panik had almost twice as many BB's as K's.
Panik signed immediately, again unusual for a first round draft pick, and was assigned to Salem-Keizer, the more advanced of the two short season leagues the Giants have affiliates in. He raked the league going .341/.401/.467. He had 28 BB's and 25 K's in 270 AB, not quite a 1/2 ratio, but reversed ratios are exceedingly rare in pro ball.
He was promoted to High A San Jose for 2012, a moderately aggressive placement. He stumbled in mid-season but finished strong and ended up with a .297/.368/.401 line. Again he had that slightly reversed K/BB with 54/58.
Joe was invited to spring training in 2013, but suffered an early hamstring strain that would plague him until almost mid-season, a little know fact about his 2013 AA season. He struggled to a .257/.333/.347 line. He struck out more than he walked, but just barely with 68 K's against 58 BB's in 522 AB's. It should also be noted that his 27 doubles and 4 triples were exactly the same as the number he hit with San Jose. He hit 3 fewer HR's, but mostly hit a lot fewer singles suggesting an element of BABIP bad luck. When park and league factors were included he actually hit about as well as he did in San Jose the year before.
In 2014, a fully healthy Joe Panik again raked the PCL for AAA Fresno to a slash line of .321/.382/.447 and continued to show that excellent K/BB of 33/27. He has pretty much continued that line at the MLB level.
If you dig deeper into Panik's plate discipline, you find some interesting numbers in how he handles pitches in and out of the strike zone. He swings at 26% of pitches outside the strike zone which is one of the lower numbers among Giants hitters. He swings at about 60% of pitches within the strike zone which is also one of the lower numbers. He is judicious with his swings! The one number that really jumps out at you, though is his contact rate on pitches swung at inside the strike zone, 94%, the highest among Giants hitters with 100 PA's or more! When he swings at a strike, he is going to make contact! His overall swing an miss percentage is right at 5% which is one of the lowest on the team. We don't have those numbers from the minor leagues, but his similar K and BB rates would suggest they are not much different.
Lastly, is the drafting and development of Joe Panik by the Giants an anomaly or does it represent a shift in philosophy? The Giants have accumulated several other hitters in the system with similar plate discipline profiles, and many of those hitters are doing quite well including Matt Duffy, Andrew Susac, Christian Arroyo and Ben Turner are a few hitters in the system showing similar K and BB tendencies, although there are still a fair share who like to hack away. Brian Sabean is a guy who tends to go back to what has worked. With the success of Joe Panik and other contact oriented prospects in the system, it will be interesting to see if Sabes goes back to that well more in the future.