Javier Baez: Acknowledging The Good Over The Bad and The Ugly

It has taken about 1,100 plate appearances at the Major League level, but we’re finally getting a sense of who Javy Baez is. Not that his skill set wasn’t always relatively apparent. But in his age 24 season in which he’s already logged almost 340 of those PAs, there’s finally some semblance of balance in his game. Or, at least as much “balance” as can be attributed to the free-swinging infielder. For Baez it’s about accepting the good with the bad, and potentially even the ugly. At the same time, the good that’s there likely will continue to far outweigh anything on the other side of the spectrum.

For those that follow Baez on a regular basis, and are thus privy to his wild hacking ways, his overall numbers on the season might actually present a source of surprise:

336 .268 .310 .223 28.0 5.7 .271 1.1

With a player with such a penchant for chasing pitches outside of the strike zone, and who demonstrates a seeming reluctance to take a pitch in key situations, the fact that Baez is maintaining an average as high as he is is actually somewhat surprising. Additionally, while a .310 OBP doesn’t scream consistent on-base threat, it’s still a respectable enough figure to rationalize a spot for Baez in the lineup on a near-daily basis, even after the lineup is completely healthy again, and Addison Russell returns.

Even more encouraging is the fact that as Baez nears his plate appearance total from 2016, his numbers have remained relatively constant against what he turned in last season:

2016 450 .273 .314 .150 24.0 3.3 .275 2.5
2017 336 .268 .310 .223 28.0 5.7 .271 1.1

There’s a lot of stabilization there, as well as some improvement in other regards. Despite a rise in strikeout rate, the walk rate increase is extremely encouraging. As are the steady average and on-base numbers. It’s worth noting that the last two seasons have featured BABIP totals of .336 and .332, respectively, which does help to indicate that this is potentially the type of production that we could expect to see from Baez moving forward. It’s also worth hoping that if Baez could improve his contact rate (currently at about 62 percent), he could see those numbers creep up above his 2016 output. His approach hasn’t changed much, with similar swing rates and pitches per plate appearance totals between the two seasons. It’s just a matter of covering the zone effectively.

Then again, while loud contact has always sort of been Javy’s bag, contact itself hasn’t necessarily been so. Which is one of the drawbacks that must be accepted. Especially because as we’ve seen recently, Baez is prone to stretches where contact simply alludes him, regardless of the moment.

Since the beginning of July, Baez has started 23 games. In those games, he has struck out 32 times, while walking only six. Four of those walks were intentional. Nine of those games have featured multiple strikeout performances, including a five strikeout affair against the White Sox on July 25th. Those strikeouts come in at a rate of 33.7 percent since his first start in July, with the walk rate sitting at a 6.3 percent, the latter of which is better than his overall walk rate on the season.

At the same time, over that same length of time, Baez has reached base at a .347 clip and demonstrated immense power to the tune of a .281 ISO. And that really lends itself to the point that I’m trying to make here, or at least one of them. Baez is going to do things to wow us on a baseball field. Potentially on a daily basis. During a stretch of time when he has struck out in more than one-third of his plate appearances, he’s also hitting the ball hard over 42 percent of the time, and serving as an extra base machine in the lineup. That type of upside is worth any shortcomings that his lack of contact and high strikeout numbers might present. This recent stretch is absolutely evidence of that.

The other point is that we’re finally getting a sense of what Javy Baez is, in terms of his overall production. His average and on-base numbers have varied just slightly over the last two seasons, and his strikeout and walk rates haven’t changed too significantly either. With his contact rate going down, there’s reason to think that if he could improve upon that, those numbers could creep up and we could actually see improvement. For the most part, though, it would appear that we have a sense of what to expect from Baez now that he’s set to turn in back-to-back full, healthy seasons at the Major League level. An average between .260 and .270, with an OBP between .310 and .320 doesn’t seem at all unreasonable. And if he can keep that ISO up above .200 for another season, he’ll be as consistent a threat as we could expect him to be.

Fans of the Chicago Cubs have largely been aware of the shortcomings of Javier Baez. But now that it’s become more than apparent of what those deficiencies in his game entail over the course of a couple of seasons, it’s still vital to acknowledge that the upside which Baez presents far outweighs the potential issues. If the average can remain strong and the power stays as constant as it’s always been expected to be, then it becomes significantly easier to overlook the high punchout numbers, even if they happen to occur five times over the course of a single game. And the upside presented here doesn’t even begin to take into account his fielding (hands, arm, and all) or his baserunning ability. Most of us have already reached this point, but for those that haven’t, it’s absolutely a necessity to accept Javy Baez for what he is and what he does well, flaws in his game be damned.

Lead photo courtesy John Hefti—USA Today Sports

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