The Giants have invited a lot of veteran infielders to Spring Training (I’ve already written about the fight for the third base backup slot in a previous post) and it seemed such an uncharacteristic break from their recent faith in their young core of mostly-homegrown infield talent that I started wondering if there was anything behind it.
Despite last year’s Gold Glove there’s no denying that 2016 was a bit of a let down in terms of Joe Panik‘s batting compared to his 2015 All-Star season. His batting average dropped from .315 to just .239 and the slugging dropped 71 points to .379. Hit by a Matt Moore (then still pitching for the Rays) pitch on Jun 18th, Panik played on for 9 days before revealing to medical staff symptoms of concussion.
If we look closer at the 2016 season we see that after a strong April and decent enough May Panik’s OPS fell away after the HBP. Then a gradual recovery of sorts was stalled by further hits in the late season. The graph below shows Joe Panik’s OPS and also the four HBP’s he took in 2016.
In 57 games after June 18 he averaged just .215. Panik has explained that his eyesight took a long time to return to normal and that he has struggled to see the ball as well as before the beaning, and an article in February revealed that his poor end to the season (batting average .215 in 57 games after the HBP from Moore) was due to the fuzzy eyesight. The biggest change in the period whilst Panik adjusted to poor vision and difficulty tracking balls was the change in his batting stance. He went from having a compact, closed stance to a much more open one, in order that his head could face the pitcher to more easily track balls. This blast, from 2015, shows his characteristic closed stance.
Although quick footage, you can see he sets up side on to the pitcher, and delays before releasing through the ball with enough power to clear the fence. The gif below is taken from September 2016, after the Moore HBP, and the stance is noticeably more face on, and the body much more open.
Panik struggled to generate power using this stance, and his characteristic line drive hitting suffered as a result. Indeed the adjustments necessary to see the ball better significantly hurt his ability to hit pitches on the the outside of the strike zone. The first heat map below (from BrooksBaseball.net) shows Panik’s 2015 season, in which he owned pitches across the middle, and both the inside and outside of the strike zone.
The second (also from BrooksBaseball.net) shows that in 2016 Panik was shut down outside of the middle of the plate.
In 2014 he got NL rookie of the year votes, in 2015 he was an all-star and in 2016 he won a Gold Glove, so in terms of career trajectory things are still looking pretty rosy for Panik. All noise coming out of the Giants organisation since February has been clear that Joe Panik
has now made a full recovery and is experiencing no more dizzy, fuzzy or blurry symptoms. Furthermore, all projection systems are forecasting a recovery season in 2017, and at time of writing he has a Spring Training OPS of 1.029. So why have the Giants stockpiled veteran infielders in the form of Jimmy Rollins, Aaron Hill, Juniel Querecuto, Gordon Beckham, to compete this spring? Especially given the competence of Kelby Tomlinson, and the versatility of Eduardo Nunez. Perhaps they are being extra cautious given that they were a bit caught out last season with the lack of bullpen depth when things started to go wrong. Or do they know something we don’t – that Panik may still be feeling ill-effects, or that his playing time may be significantly reduced again this season? Let’s hope not.