Year in Review:
As hard as it may be to believe, 2017 was really only Javier Baez’s second full season at the Major League level, as injuries and inconsistency had hampered him in the couple of years prior. It was a season that showed us a lot more of what Baez had to offer, with modest improvements in a number of regards, as well as continuing to show us the wild range of outcomes that his skill set has to offer.
Baez posted an identical average to that of 2016, with an increase of just three percent on the OBP side. His walk rate did experience about a two percent increase, up to 5.9 percent, but he also increased an increase on the strikeout side of about four percent, coming in at 28.3 percent. TAv liked Baez as an above-average offensive player, while wRC+ had him just a shade below, if not right at about average. It’s probably unreasonable to expect huge increases in either of those figures moving forward, given Baez’s penchant for swinging at just about everything. His swing rate actually increased from about 51 percent in 2016 to 53.8 in 2017. One thing that Baez did have working in his favor was that the power came a little more consistently. His .207 isolated power figure was a 57-point increase from the previous season, with career highs in homers (23) and doubles (24).
Fielding metrics didn’t really favor Baez in any sense this year, and it’d be interesting to see where his WARP would have ended up had he had a better season in the field. Shortstop presented many of his struggles, with 11 errors overall at the position largely while filling in for Addison Russell. He did go for five Defensive Runs Saved and a UZR/150 over three at second base, though, which is far more likely to serve as his long-term position anyway. Overall, it was a year in which we saw exactly what we’ve come to expect from Baez: big power potential, lots of punchouts, and some lapses in the field completely outweighed by absolutely astounding plays that make you completely forget about the former.
There’s been talk that Javier Baez is a player that the Cubs would be willing to move in the right deal for a top arm on the trade market. Of course, the “right deal” bit could apply to just about any individual player in all of baseball. As such, it’s extremely difficult to see the Cubs actually following through on any thought of trading Baez. While he doesn’t get the type of “franchise cornerstone” label that is associated with the likes of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, Baez represents an immensely important piece of this franchise as a weapon of choice for Joe Maddon. While sometimes erratic in a number of ways, his upside and versatility at both the plate and the field, make him far too valuable a player to allow him to use his skill set for another club.
From an offensive standpoint, we’ve seen small improvements in the approach of Baez, but we largely know what he presents at this point. He’s not going to walk a lot (5.9 BB% was his highest since his first big league action in 2014), and he’s going to strikeout more than you’d like (28.3 K% was an increase from 2016). He’s managed to temper those free-swinging tendencies the slightest bit, with some two-strike adjustments evident over the course of the season, even if not consistently. Nonetheless, those brief moments of patience or when he demonstrates an emphasis on just putting the ball in play are encouraging. His on-base skills are never going to be tremendous, but the power helps him to compensate for a lot of it. His .207 ISO was a sizable increase from the previous year, and his 32.4 percent hard-hit rate was also higher. If he can provide consistent power, at the very least, you’ll take the shortcomings related to his approach. If he can find his way on base even the slightest bit more, he becomes even more valuable due to his excellent baserunning.
It’s unlikely that we’ll see Baez demonstrate the same type of erraticism in the field, though, moving forward. Of Baez’s 15 errors in 2017, 11 of them came from the shortstop position. Six of those were throwing errors. Much of that mess came when Baez filled in long-term for Addison Russell at shortstop. In the future, we’re going to see Baez primarily at second base, with his versatility being utilized plenty, but not in a longer-term situation that has the potential to reveal that kind of unpredictability in his game. As ugly as parts of that stretch at short might’ve been, Baez does so many things on a baseball field that most players cannot. His glove and his arm are strong, but his hands and his instincts are absolutely off the charts. There’ll be some miscues, sure, but every bit of razzle-dazzle that he has the ability to provide in the field makes it more than worth it. In short, Javy Baez likely isn’t going anywhere and will continue to be the absolute pleasure to watch that he has been, with the ability to incite whiplash by causing you to quickly turn your head to watch at any moment.
Lead photo courtesy Jim Young—USA Today Sports