The 2016 postseason ended pretty well for the Chicago Cubs, but the amazing World Series run might not have been bigger for any player than second baseman Javier Baez. Throughout much of the NLDS, NLCS, and World Series, Baez’ elite baseball talent and athleticism was on full display. Whether it was the beautiful bare-handed plays, unbelievable swipe tags, acrobatic slides, or no-doubt homers, Baez was easily one of the brightest stars for the eventual World Series champs as fans all around the game marveled.
Let’s jump ahead to 2017.
While Baez wasn’t officially anointed as the Cubs everyday second baseman in 2017, it was safe to say that Baez wasn’t getting moved, especially after racking up an outstanding +16 defensive runs saved last year between three positions (2B, 3B, SS). Baez is a defensive wizard, plain and simple, and that hasn’t changed in 2017.
Prior to the 2016 season, one of the biggest knocks against Baez was his inability to make consistent contact and put the ball in play because of the length of his swing. During his successes in both the regular and postseason last year, Baez was able to shorten up the swing in order to make more contact thus increasing his batting average in the process. He hit .272 with 14 homers and looked to be showing a more mature approach at the plate.
This season, Baez hasn’t been terrible with the bat, hitting .248 on the season, but he has shown some signs of regression this season. Baez has reverted back to some of the old habits that plagued him early in his young career.
Baez has gone back to taking those big swings earlier in at-bats and making less contact. His contact rate has dropped from 72 percent in 2016 to 64 in 2017. While his strikeout rate hasn’t really increased from last season (24 percent in 2016 vs. 25.2 in 2017), there is a difference noticeable difference in the quality of his at-bats. There has also been an increase in power, shown by his six homers in 127 plate appearances and .222 isolated power.
Like many of the Cubs, Baez is still a fairly young hitter at the age of 24, but with almost 900 career plate appearances, it’s time for him to start making consistent adjustments. He showed that he can make the adjustments, now he has to show he can continue to build on them.
Sometimes it is easy to forget that it’s unusual for players to come up and play as well as the Cubs’ young stars have. Last season during a pre-game press conference, I asked Joe Maddon if we have come to expect too much from these young players.
“Absolutely yes. But if we didn’t expect anything out of them, they wouldn’t be here,” said Maddon.
Expectations are high for Baez, and rightfully so with all the talents he has begun to show and the flashes of natural ability he puts on display every night. As he continues to mature as a player he will have to find more consistency to become the player and hitter he has shown he can be.
Lead photo courtesy David Banks—USA Today Sports