Joe Panik Isn’t the Shortstop of the Future; This Isn’t Terrible

Troy Tulowitzkis don’t grow on trees. Jose Reyeseses can’t be made from a Promethean mold. JJ Hardys don’t get released by two teams and then blossom into elit- sorry Brewers and Twins fans, got a bit off track there. Point is, there aren’t a lot of quality big league shortstops in the known universe. Few can combine an above average bat with crisp glove skills and enough speed to go deep into the hole and up the middle. The Giants are a team that has especially had trouble at the position, choosing to sign veterans like Juan Uribe, Miguel Tejada, and Orlando Cabrera to make sure Panda has someone to talk to. Since the latter two vets failed to give even mediocre production at the position, the Giants have been forced to look to their homegrown talent to fill the void.

The Giants’ current shortstop, 25-year-old Brandon Crawford, has the aformentioned slick glove but lacks the offensive tools to be considered a long-term solution in San Francisco. Fortunately, the Giants used their first round draft pick in 2011 on a shortstop from St. John’s University named Joe Panik. However, the scouting consensus is that Panik and his plus hitting and limited defense would be better served at second base, creating an even deeper hole for the Giants to climb out of at the shortstop position. But hold on right there. Why? Why would Panik be better served at second in the big leagues, and where does this line of thinking come from? The answer is essentially defense, but it’s complicated.

Coming into the draft, Panik was scouted as a guy who could hit .300+ in the majors, and did nothing to tarnish that pedigree as he put up a triple slash line of .341/.401/.467 in Salem-Keizer, the Giants Low-A affiliate. Only three shortstops hit .300 last season in the majors: Tulowitzki (.302), Reyes (.337), and the Cubs’ Starlin Castro (.307). While Tulo’s power and Reyes’ and Castro’s respective base-stealing abilities make them more complete shortstops, Panik hitting at that clip would make him a rare breed among major-league shortstops.

With his ability to hit for average and limited power, Panik profiles in the neighborhood of Yunel Escobar, the 6-man for the Toronto Blue Jays who finished seventh in Wins Above Replacement among ML shortstops with 4.3. That number would make Giants brass and nerdy fanboys drool, considering the last Giant to surpass that number was Rich Aurilia in 2001 with an insane 7.6. However, Escobar’s value comes not only from his bat, but from his ability to save runs on defense. Though he isn’t a Gold Glove shortstop, Yuni is moderately above average and saves more runs than a replacement player would. With Panik, it appears his below-average defense will limit his value at shortstop. According to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, Panik lacks speed and a first-step quickness vital to the position. For the sake of blind comparisons, It would seem that at best he would field in the range of Indians’ shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, whose subpar fielding prevents him having an argument for getting MVP votes, despite his stellar numbers on offense.

So here’s the experiment. Let’s give Panik a major league line, both offensively and defensively, and see where he stacks up at both positions in fWAR, or FanGraphs’ advanced metric for player value. Briefly, fWAR takes into account runs created from the plate (wRAA), defense (UZR), and baserunning (BSR) to determine a value. Positional adjustments are also created, as some positions are more difficult to play and others are reasonably expected to have better offensive production. Disclaimer: without FanGraphs’ interface, some of these numbers are approximate but still provide a general idea of how fWAR works

SS projection:

For this, we will give him the run production of Escobar and the defense of Cabrera, with Baserunning set to 0 and Replacement set to 20 to normalize the numbers

13.5 wRAA, -11.8 UZR, 0 BSR, 7.5 Positional, 20 Replacement = 2.92 WAR

2B Projection:

For this, let’s keep the same offensive production but set his UZR at 0, as Panik is expected to be a replacement level second basemen defensively.

13.5 wRAA, 0 UZR, 0 BSR, 2.5 Positional, 20 Replacement = 3.6 WAR

Again, these numbers are approximate and slightly made up. Joe Panik could improve his defense and become an All-Star SS because of his ability to shoot the gap and produce near the top of the lineup. Or he could be Jamey Carroll. That’s why prospect scouting is so much fun. Because you never know. But as the scouting reports stand now, the Giants could gain more than a half win by pursuing Panik at second base. Even more if his good instincts and hands end up making him an above average second basemen defensively. Joe Panik doesn’t appear to be the shortstop of the future, Giants fans. But the heir apparent to Freddy Sanchez is a nice consolation prize.