Javier Baez vs. the World (of Projections)

If the 2016 postseason was Javier Baez’s introduction to a national stage, then the 2017 season figures to be the Year of Javy. With his glove and his instincts, as well as his overwhelming power, allowing him to ascend to that point last fall, we’re likely to get our largest look yet at Javy Baez in the upcoming season. As flamboyant and entertaining as he is smooth and powerful, Baez figures to represent one of many nationally acclaimed players for the Cubs in 2017.

Of course, that’s definitely one end of the spectrum. But there’s another side to the wild card that is Baez. There are shortcomings in his game that have yet to be eradicated. There are still some questions about his plate discipline, and we’ve seen some mental lapses from him in the field over the last calendar year. Obviously his upside more than accounts for those elements of his game which still need to be developed, and given how high that upside can take him, it’s hard not to be “all-in” on Baez going into 2017.

But as much as we all love Baez and even keeping in mind all of the extraordinary things he does on a baseball field, his projections for the upcoming year don’t hold him in such high esteem. It’s time to fight the system(s).

The following represent Baez’s projections from a few different mediums for the upcoming season:

PA AVG OBP HR BB% K% P-A Offense Value
PECOTA 438 .243 .294 18 5.2 29.2 .254 TAv 1.5 WARP
ZiPS 453 .254 .303 19 5.0 28.1 92 wRC+ 1.9 WAR
Steamer 516 .259 .306 17 5.2 23.7 95 wRC+ 1.4 WAR

One additional note: An area where each projection favors Baez is in the baserunning game. PECOTA had him going for 13 steals, while ZiPS put him at 16, and Steamer has him at 10. Such an output would put him among the top five second basemen in baseball in that regard. We’ve seen those instincts on the basepaths, especially during the playoffs, and there isn’t any reason to think that he can’t be a significant presence on the bases for the Cubs in ’17.

While there’s not a tremendous disparity between any of the three projection systems, PECOTA is the harshest of the three toward Baez. Baez’s on-base skills might be suspect, but even a .294 OBP seems rough, along with a strikeout rate that would essentially have to see Baez revert back to his 2014-15 days, in terms of approach. Ultimately, each of the three systems represented here would have a negative offensive value from Baez, with the positive value figures likely coming thanks to his defense, which isn’t an overly surprising thing.

As frustrating as it might be, at least from the perspective of a Cubs fan, to see Baez being valued at such a low rate by multiple entities, it isn’t too terribly shocking is it?

After all, we’re talking about a guy who struck out 40 percent of the time in 2014 and 30 percent of the time in 2015. The same player who, while limiting those punchout tendencies to only 24.6 percent in 2016, still found himself hacking at 52.6 percent of pitches. That’s his highest total across parts of the three seasons in which we’ve seen him.

Baez posted the lowest contact rate among second basemen (since we’re still calling him a second baseman), with a 70.8 percent figure. With all that in mind, it actually isn’t astonishing in the slightest that the projections aren’t too favorable toward Baez.

In fact, taking his history into account, it’s entirely understandable, frustrating as it may be from a Cubs fan’s perspective.

As negative an outlook as the projections might show for Baez, he’s a player that seems more than capable of combating them as the 2017 season unfolds. We saw flashes of essential improvements throughout 2016 that could lend themselves to him not only proving the projections wrong, but seriously outplaying them.

While there are absolutely some spots in Baez’s plate discipline and contact trends that can support the prosaic attitude toward his 2017, there’s still a lot to like here. This is especially true when you look at the evolution over the last three years, sample size notwithstanding. While Baez has always maintained a characteristically high swing rate, his Contact% has actually improved across the board:

Swing% Z-Contact% O-Contact% Contact% SwStr%
2014 46.5 75.7 37.7 56.6 43.4
2015 51.1 81.8 46.4 66.2 33.8
2016 51.8 81.1 58.3 70.8 29.3

It’s unreasonable to expect the aggressiveness to be sapped completely from Baez’s game. He’s a free swinger and that is unlikely to ever change much. But he’s clearly gotten at least some semblance of control over his hacking tendencies, to the point where he’s been able to maintain that aggressiveness but adjust to big league pitching in order to make more contact. Between rising contact rates and lowering his whiff rate, there isn’t a reason to be overly concerned moving forward. The more plate appearances he gets, there should be a steady improvement in approach and overall contact in the way that we’ve seen to this point.

The ideal approach is the one we’ve seen thus far in the exhibition season from Baez. It calls for him to be aggressive against the hard stuff, while practicing more patience against the offspeed and breaking pitches. Making harder contact off of fastballs could be one element in offsetting some of his low walk numbers, while still allowing him to reach base. Either way, 2017 represents a big year for Baez in terms of continuing to develop that approach and continue to grow his contact and shrink his whiff numbers.

And in doing so, he should be able to exceed what the projections have set forth for him. We’re all bullish on Javy Baez, there isn’t any question about that, even if the projections aren’t. But he’s shown an ability to adjust that should continue to manifest itself moving forward, and I, for one, look forward to Baez doing his best to dismiss these early projections with a strong showing at the plate in 2017.

Because we know it’ll be there in the field.

**ZiPS & Steamer Projections via FanGraphs

Lead photo courtesy Joe Camporeale—USA Today Sports

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1 comment on “Javier Baez vs. the World (of Projections)”

I am making the prediction that Baez will a very similar breakout year against expectations as Hendricks did as a pitcher.

In fact, I suspect by August Javy will be starting at 2B more than Zo.

Javy crushed EVERY fear against him last year – markedly making improvement in every area – and his work ethic, desire and coaching/mentoring structure hasn’t changed a bit.

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