The Mets saved ownership a million dollars by cutting Adeiny Hechavarria one day before he was due to receive a roster bonus. To take his place on the roster, they signed the recently-DFAd Joe Panik, in a move applauded by those who are fans of acquiring guys who were good three (actually, in this case it was four) years ago on another team. With Robinson Cano and Jeff McNeil both on the IL, Panik is playing every day and he’s hitting second in the order, which is the spot where the more advanced clubs are putting their best hitter.
To those who still think a player’s offensive worth is best described by batting average, Panik looks like a great pickup. In 14 games with the Mets, he’s batting .298 and how often can you get a guy from the scrap heap who’s a .300 hitter? The problem is that AVG is far from the best stat to use to judge a player’s offensive worth. And once you look past AVG, you see how uninspiring Panik’s actually been, even in a time when the hits are falling in for him.
The average NL second baseman has a .741 OPS this season and they’ve accomplished this mark with a .294 BABIP. Panik checks in with a .702 OPS and a .333 BABIP. So, with the hits falling in at a well-above-average rate, Panik has below average offensive production for his position. And what happens once the hits stop falling in? Another thing to consider is that a .300 BABIP is considered normal – but what’s normal for the group isn’t necessarily normal for the individual. It’s better to look at a player’s lifetime BABIP to see what should be expected. In 2,649 PA in the majors, Panik has a .288 BABIP. So, he’s 45 points above his lifetime mark.
It’s very rare to find someone in a hot streak with a BABIP around their usual mark. It’s what makes Wilson Ramos’ recent surge so impressive. Ramos has a lifetime .298 BABIP and since May 10, he has a .309 mark in the category and an .837 OPS. A much more common thing is to find someone like Amed Rosario, who here in the second half has a .405 BABIP, compared to his lifetime .327 mark.
But it’s okay if you’re on a hot streak with an inflated BABIP. Hopefully your production when the hits are falling in is so good that it helps cover up when the inevitable cold streak comes. But what happens when, like what Panik is experiencing now, the inflated BABIP still leads to a below-average OPS? Well, that’s when you know that you’re no longer a starting-caliber player.
Panik’s career year came in 2015 when he posted an .833 OPS and made the All-Star team in his age-24 season. But there are two things to note about that year. First, he had a .330 BABIP, by far the highest mark in any season he’s had with at least 300 PA in the majors, and second, he only played in 100 games. Yet even with playing in just over 60% of his team’s games, Panik posted a 3.8 fWAR that year. It seemed like he was in for a bright future.
Except he wasn’t. He was league average the next two seasons and replacement level last year and this year. And that’s exactly what the Giants did – they replaced him. They didn’t do it to save a million dollars, they replaced him because that’s what you should do with a guy who puts up a .639 OPS in 392 PA in one season and who follows it up with a .627 OPS in 388 PA the next year.
The Mets needed a short-term fix at second base and opted to go outside the organization rather than promote from within. Instead of signing Panik, they could have promoted Dilson Herrera from Triple-A. If you look at AVG, Herrera has an uninspiring .257 mark. But he has an .861 OPS, thanks in large part to 52 XBH in 423 PA. It’s impossible to say if Herrera would have performed better than Panik if given the same shot. But it seems pretty clear that if the hits fell in for Herrera like they have for Panik, that his OPS would be significantly better. And for what it’s worth, Hechavarria has a .930 OPS since being cut by the Mets to make room for Panik and joining the Braves.
With these types of moves, you hope to catch lightning in a bottle. You hope that in the two weeks that he plays that he goes on a BABIP hot streak and is a productive bat in the lineup. And all of the planets aligned for Panik, the hits fell in at a completely unsustainable rate – and his production was below average for his position. Second base (.741 OPS) ranks sixth among the eight positions, just beating out center field (.740) and catcher (.739). He didn’t have a huge bar to clear and still failed to be productive for his position.
Undoubtedly, the troglodytes will wave off any new-fangled stat that isn’t a Triple Crown number. Who cares that OPS+ is now on the scoreboard at Citi Field, that OPS has been on the back of baseball cards for 15 years and that the stat dates back at least until 1984, when John Thorn (now official MLB historian) and Pete Palmer referenced it in The Hidden Game of Baseball. It wasn’t what their daddy told them was important when they were growing up so it’s meaningless.
Regardless, what’s done is done. Now the big issue is that with McNeil back, Panik should take a seat on the bench and not start another game the remainder of the year. We’ve already seen the shine coming off, regardless of what type of numbers you think are important. After starting his Mets’ career 9-27, he has just five hits in his last 20 ABs. Regression is coming and it won’t be kind.
But you know that they’ll look for reasons to get him in there. You’ll hear that so-and-so needs a day off. Or that Panik’s got great numbers against that day’s starter. Shoot, knowing that Mickey Callaway goes against the analytics 85% of the time, he might just have a “hunch” that Panik will do good and put him in the lineup.
With all things regarding Panik and the Mets, the only appropriate response is, “Good grief!”