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2 To Watch: Joe Panik and Chad Bettis

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Each week during the season, I will profile two players that are interesting either because they are in the midst of a breakout, are performing way above their heads, are widely available and useful, or are interesting for other reasons. This week, it's Joe Panik and Chad Bettis.

Joe Panik is demanding your attention this season. Is he for real?
Joe Panik is demanding your attention this season. Is he for real?
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to week 4 of 2 to Watch! To read previous editions of 2 to Watch, check out this link. As usual, we'll start by checking in on last week's players to see how they've done in the past week.

Note: all stats from Fangraphs and current up to 6/9

So, I may have just created the 2 to Watch curse. Both of the guys I profiled last week, Javier Baez and Raisel Iglesias, have landed on the DL just days after my column posted. Iglesias' injury seems minor and he may only miss two weeks with an oblique strain, but Baez will reportedly miss 4-8 weeks with a broken ring finger. Oblique injuries can linger, so I am concerned about both these guys for the rest of this season. It makes me sad. Also, don't blame me, Andrew Miller owners, I wasn't going to write about him this week, you can't blame the curse!

It is really a shame that we won't get to see Baez in the majors again until late in the year now. I wanted to see him take his improved approach and still-amazing power back up to the Cubs. Iglesias is less of a loss, but I wanted to see him continue to develop his pitch mix and get some more innings under his belt. Oh well.

Let's talk about some healthy players (for now)!

Joe Panik, 2B, SFG

With middle infield always a difficult place in fantasy baseball, it's nice to have some young guys step up and become consistent performers to replace veterans past their prime (I'm looking at you Martin Prado, Ben Zobrist, etc.). Kolten Wong has been one such breakout youngster and ever since his callup last year, Joe Panik has been another. Unlike, say, Scooter Gennett, he has maintained his performance into this year. He has even improved well beyond his good 2014 season.

The risk with guys like this is that they become an empty batting average like Marco Scutaro and others have in the past. The scouting reports on Panik seem to indicate a no-power, high-average slap hitter with an average walk rate, low strikeout rate, and just a little speed.

So far this year, Panik has been much more than that profile would suggest. Check out this table to get an idea how well he has played this year compared to his minor league and major league career previously.

Season Level PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO AVG OBP SLG BABIP
2013 AA 599 4 64 57 10 9.70% 11.40% 0.09 0.257 0.333 0.347 0.285
2014 AAA 326 5 50 45 3 8.30% 10.10% 0.126 0.321 0.382 0.447 0.346
2014 MLB 287 1 31 18 0 5.60% 11.50% 0.063 0.305 0.343 0.368 0.343
2015 MLB 239 6 32 25 2 8.80% 12.10% 0.152 0.318 0.384 0.469 0.346
2015 ROS Projection 410 4 49 36 3 7.10% 11.90% 0.095 0.275 0.331 0.370 0.305

2015 has seen him increase his walk rate, power, average, OBP, and even steals while maintaining a BABIP very close to his previous marks. He hit 6 homers all of 2014, so having 6 already is obviously a huge jump for him. How much power does he really have? To answer that, I'm going to look at two things. First, his batted ball mix.

Year LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB Pull% Cent% Oppo% Soft% Med% Hard%
2014 22.80% 50.20% 27.00% 14.10% 1.60% 32.40% 40.30% 27.30% 23.10% 52.90% 23.90%
2015 22.30% 40.20% 37.50% 5.80% 7.20% 33.90% 38.70% 27.40% 17.20% 54.80% 28.00%

He is hitting more fly balls, which is good for power. His HR/FB ratio is closer to league average this year and he is popping out less. These are all good signs of increasing power. His hard-hit and medium-hit percentages are also up a little. More good signs. However, the first bit of bad news is in his pull percentage. It has only increased a tiny bit. For most hitters, an increase in power is accompanied by an increase in pulling the ball and a specific change in approach designed to pull the ball more. That doesn't seem to be the case here.

The second piece of bad news lies in his average home run and flyball distance. It's at 259 feet, which puts him with Juan Uribe, Nick Markakis, Jose Ramirez, and Jimmy Rollins at a rank of 195. Not great power company. Furthermore, his average batted ball velocity of 86.62 mph puts him with Adeiny Hechavarria, Anthony Gose, an aging Aramis Ramirez, and others way down the list. His average distance last year was 263 feet, slightly more than this year even.

So, we have good power news and bad power news. One final piece of the puzzle is his xISO, or expected isolated slugging percentage. Found here, it shows what a hitter's ISO should be based on batted ball data. For him, it shows that on June 2, his 0.147 ISO was almost exactly equal to his xISO.

You can take all this however you want to, but I tend to side with the batted ball distance and the player's previous history. Because of those two factors and the fact that his rest-of-season (ROS) projections show a big drop in power, I'm going to say he ends up with a 0.120 ISO and his batting average will fall to about 0.300.

The improved walk rate is nice and the power does seem to be improved from last year, but I don't expect more than 5 homers the rest of the way. Nonetheless, he is a clear top-10 second base option the rest of the way, especially hitting high in the Giants lineup.

Chad Bettis, SP, COL

Here's someone I don't think anyone saw coming. At 26 years old, he isn't really a prospect anymore, but he is still young and certainly unproven. He's had 40-ish inning stints for the Rockies in each of the last two years, so this isn't his first taste of the big leagues, but this is by far his most successful run. Let's look at his numbers the past few years.

Year Team IP K% BB% BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WHIP
2013 Rockies (AA) 63 26.30% 5.00% 0.307 75.70% 3.71 3.52 1.16
2013 Rockies 44.2 14.40% 9.60% 0.327 62.70% 46.70% 12.20% 5.64 4.93 4.68 1.68
2014 Rockies (AAA) 55.1 24.40% 9.30% 0.303 69.50% 3.09 3.25 1.19
2014 Rockies 24.2 10.20% 7.90% 0.384 57.00% 45.90% 13.80% 9.12 5.52 4.87 2.11
2015 Rockies (AAA) 34 18.10% 6.90% 0.324 78.60% 3.97 4.94 1.41
2015 Rockies 33.1 19.90% 6.60% 0.283 71.10% 50.00% 0.00% 2.70 2.39 3.65 1.11

Well, his strikeout rate is way up from his previous MLB starts and his walk rate, HR/FB ratio, and WHIP are all way down. He's been a little lucky with BABIP, especially considering he pitches half his games in Coors Field, and he won't continue to give up 0 homers in that park forever. Even regressing some of his luck, you get a 3.65 xFIP, which is still better than league average. His ERA and FIP so far would indicate a much better than average starter, though, and I think that is a problem.

While I love using K%-BB% to predict in-season performance and his 13.3% is above the league average of 12.2%, it isn't far above average and not nearly enough to maintain that great ERA and FIP. His groundball rate is a very good sign and does help him limit the damage in that park. Let's look a little deeper at his individual pitches and see if there is some hope there.

First, he has increased his usage of both his curve and change-up dramatically, at the expense of his four seam fastball and slider (see the lovely Brooks Baseball chart below). His fastball velocity is down about one mph, and his pitch mix change has increased his swinging strike rate to a career high 9.9% (league average is 9%). I am worried about how much he is throwing the curve. It is hard to maintain throwing your main breaking ball more than your fastball. Very few pitchers can get away with that. It either leads to injury or a drop in your strikeout rate and hitters stop chasing the breaking ball out of the zone. Either way, it is really hard to maintain your stats without throwing your primary fastball more than 50% of the time. That is a big concern here.

chad bettis pitch usage

His swinging strike rates on both his curve and changeup are above average and he has well above average groundball rates on his fastball and changeup. His velocity is only 92 mph on his fastball, which is about average. All of this adds up to a guy with an above league average arsenal. His K%-BB% and swinging strike rates are just above average, along with his velocity and that leads me to believe he will end up with a just above average ERA of about 3.7 or so, which matches his xFIP nicely. Thus, if you can sell him as a sub-3 ERA young breakout pitcher, do it in a hurry. Otherwise, he will regress back to just above average, but still better than he has ever been before. Also, that high curveball usage should come down as he trusts his fastball more, but the strikeouts may decline with it.

He has made real changes to his pitch mix and still gets good ground ball rates, which will help him survive in Coors. His good walk rate is also a boost. He needs to strike out more hitters to turn into a 3.4-3.5 ERA type pitcher in that ballpark. I would like to see a 22-23% K-rate from him to reach that level. His current swinging strike rate does not have much upside for his overall K-rate. He may end up being the best starter on the Rockies this year, but he is still a streaming option only in most fantasy leagues, despite his hot start, so don't buy into his 2015 stats so far. That's all for this week, tune in again next week for more profiles! Tschus!