Joe Panik’s hot streak still leaves him below average

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!”

17 comments for “Joe Panik’s hot streak still leaves him below average

  1. John Fox
    August 25, 2019 at 10:36 am

    I like Panik, he’s definitely an old school type player. He got down a key sac bunt in Cleveland series that lead to the tying run scoring, and how often do other Mets batters successfully sacrifice? On defense he nabs those popups with two hands, another rarity. That being said, he undoubtedly will not be back with the Mets next year, the depth chart for the organization at 2b is ridiculously long. He’ll end up somewhere next year, and this interlude with the Mets might prove mutually benficial for both, he’s had some key hits for the Mets and has chance to showcase for other teams for next year.

    • Metsvibes
      August 25, 2019 at 10:50 am

      Thank you for your comments which were on the mark, all these statistical numbers make my head swim. I believe if we take into account all these statistics half the players would be out of baseball. I laugh when I hear pitchers with a era over 5.00 more hits than innings would be a great pickup because their ops, gps, abc, nbc are league average.

  2. Peter Hyatt
    August 25, 2019 at 10:38 am

    I hope Panik starts at 3B today.
    Good glove steady defense, cautious 2 hand catches
    and…

    Last 15 games he has .702 OPS for us.

    Todd Frazier last 15 games 484 OPS

  3. August 25, 2019 at 11:05 am

    Anyone who has been actually watching games rather than playing weeny computer fantasy geek with “advanced metrics” will recognize that the team has been better because of Panik’s heads up, steady, solid fundamental play and upbeat but focused demeanor. He’s a winning ballplayer and has been clutch making plays and getting hits when needed. We are a better team with Panik than Cano and frankly I’d much prefer if it was Joe rather than Cano coming back next year but of course that won’t be the case. Robby take your time getting that leg better. Like the next 4 years!

    • holmer
      August 25, 2019 at 11:18 am

      Thanks for articulating exactly what I was thinking. There is a place for the aforementioned metrics but, in the final analysis, the whole needs to be greater than the sum of it’s parts. In this case the Mets are a better team with Panik as the second baseman. On another matter, yes it is the business of baseball but Hechavarria got screwed out of a million bucks by the Wilpons and it upsets me that I root for a team who are owned by a team run by “Jeffy” and his dad. If the Mets haven’t been a part of my marrow since 1964, I would switch teams because of ownership.

    • Peter Hyatt
      August 25, 2019 at 4:18 pm

      Consider the psychological impact of hustle upon teammates.

    • August 26, 2019 at 9:42 am

      Does it ever make you reconsider things when you’re in a position where the only thing you can offer in defense of a player are platitudes?

  4. Eraff
    August 26, 2019 at 6:04 am

    OBP?…OPS???????….Pshhhhh!!!!…. He catches Pop Ups with Two Hands!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Me: Parrothead, You: Peckerhead
      August 26, 2019 at 8:30 am

      And he can bunt for an out!!!!

      And he’s from Yonkers!!!!!

      And he’s White!!!!!!

  5. August 26, 2019 at 8:00 am

    I really hate those new fangled analytics…what a waste !
    Hitting a baseball is one of if not the most toughest things to do in any sport. What other sport can you be considered very successful if you do right 3 out of 10 times ? or if you actually get close by hitting it somewhere 5-6 times..?
    The kid Panik has done everything right on this team, from defense, bunting, moving runners over, etc, etc, all the things winning teams do and the Mets constantly fail at. One team,
    we all may recall did this to the Mets to death and won the 2015 WS, the KC Royals. No, Panik cannot start vs McNeil at 2B, but he has done a great job and has made Queens and St Johns proud. I am happy he is a Met, analytics be damned !

    With Nimmo coming back to play CF, McNeil to 2B, maybe even Lowrie to 3B, Mets still have a chance. Hopefully next time the play the Braves, Atlanta doesn’t even care about the last three games of the season because they are a juggernaut, winning and winning even without their full lineup.They are scary.

    • August 26, 2019 at 9:44 am

      Edwin, you’ve been commenting at the site for awhile now and I thank you for visiting.

      But really I’m thinking this site is not for you.

  6. Metsense
    August 26, 2019 at 9:48 am

    Once again Brian, you wrote a informative and good article.
    I also thought that Herrera could be a better promotion also. But, I could see the reasons for the Panik signing. Panik bats left and at that time there was a need for a left-handed batter. He is similar offensively and defensively to Hechavarria this year and cheaper than also. If Panik failed they could also fall back to Herrera if there was still a need.
    If, statistical numbers make your head swim, and think that this site playing computer fantasy game with advanced metrics then maybe should reevaluate why they are reading this site because this site uses those statistics. By the way, I’m a 65 year old Met fan, who saw them at the Polo Grounds, was a season ticket holder between 86 to 91 and I never played fantasy baseball although as a kid I did Dabble with strat-o-matic. I am glad I read Bill James.

    • Chris B
      August 27, 2019 at 8:22 pm

      Well said Metsense. This article is the reason why I come to Mets360 and would encourage a lot of my fellow Met fans to become more informed on simple baseball metrics. The game is growing all around us and there is a world of information to consider.

      Met fans are some of the more passionate fans in all of sports. Channelling that passion with knowledge is imperative to hold ownership, the front office and tabloids accountable.

      • Chris F
        August 28, 2019 at 9:19 am

        As we briefly mentioned chatter last night as the slippery slope unfurled in front of our eyes.

        My question is whats next? It would be great to see a much more sophisticated statistical approaches in management management of information like bootstrapping or monte carlo simulations. While its easy to knock BA, ERA, RBI etc, newer metrics pretty much just reshuffle things. Its not like there is a natural law that makes a calculation for WAR particularly special, in fact that different people calculate it differently means there is no law governing it. Of course a bigger buffet table of metrics to hyperventilate over, which is so much fun, is useful to describe what happened in an event, the number of undefinable variables in a game is so large that all numbers need to be viewed with a certain caution. Im not a statistician by training, but use enough to know that fancy abbreviations and hyper down-sampling of data sets is imposes all different types of error. If the game could be gripped and taken down by math, Las Vegas would already have done that.

        I like ERA and WHIP for pitchers. Im a big proponent of pitches per out as well particularly because it removes the manager from the equation (meaning IP is stupid). The W and L record is also a thing of the past, but was much more appropriate when starters went 8 innings. No longer applies. I think the story of Ks is the same: with Ks on a steep climb league wide, 200 in 2019, is a lot different than 200 in 69. Furthermore Ks involves a bystander, the umpire, to the equation, which is not good.

        I think BA is one part of a useful set of things to understand offense of a player. OPS is certainly superior as a bigger scale viewer of offense. I think there is a next-level consideration in offensive matters beyond comparing OPS across players…I’d like to see OPS normalized to only people batting in the same batting order. Suppose your 8 hitter has a pretty crappy .720 OPS, but league avg at 8 is .695, then you have to say we have a good player. Im sure this happens internally with team-generated analytics depts.

        One question I always get back to is this: if we look back through time will we see a change in broad numbers (team winning %) across the MLB for the “analytics era” like the dopers, dead ball/live ball, mound lowering etc.

        • August 28, 2019 at 10:01 am

          NL 2019

          2nd place hitter (where Panik has hit 8X with the Mets)
          NL average OPS – .824

          8th place hitter – by far the worst of the non-pitcher slots (and drug down slightly by times where the pitcher bats 8th)
          NL average OPS – .697

          Joe Panik with the Mets – .636 OPS
          Panik 2019 overall – .628 OPS
          Panik in his last 836 PA – .633 OPS

          But yeah, let’s keep running him out there because he’s solid with the old fundamentals

          • Chris F
            August 28, 2019 at 10:04 am

            Yeah, hes a real “keeper”

  7. Chris B
    August 27, 2019 at 8:27 pm

    After starting Tuesday night’s game 0-2, Joe Panik is now 5 for his last 23, which equates to a .217 AVG.

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