You don’t need me to tell you what a unique player Javy Báez is. There are things he does that we simply haven’t seen before—from turning tagging a runner from mundane activity into water cooler discussion, to his baserunning instincts, to this. He’s what happens when you have a point guard on a baseball field, while at the same time running a Run N’ Shoot offense. If I try any more sports metaphors I’ll probably pull a hamstring, so I’m going to stop there.
At times, because I’m a cold-hearted snake (look into my eyes), I’ve tried to point out that despite all the fireworks, and there are so many fireworks, Javy still has some work to do to be a dominant, or even plus-major league player. It’s a bit like being on Rush Street. The lights and noise make you think you’re in the center of something truly magical, and then you go inside and it’s just the same bar you’ve been in thousands of times, just louder.
Báez has only 4.2 WARP in his two full-ish seasons in the majors, which is hardly bad, but doesn’t make him an otherworldly player either. Again, all the flash and fun make you think otherwise, and boy does baseball need more flash and fun. Still, a good deal of Báez’s value has come in the field as well.
You know the problems at the plate, and you know the features. He has Gashouse Gorilla power, but can also look like he’s swinging at a Bugs Bunny changeup far too often. He doesn’t walk, and if he doesn’t hit for a ton of power he can’t really balance that out overall.
This season, Báez has hinted at being a plus-, or even dominant offensive player. He leads the NL in RBI, and has already amassed 1.0 WAR while actually being a negative defensive player in terms of defensive runs or FRAA. He was rated negatively last year too, where perhaps more of his problems were exacerbated at shortstop. But that’s not why we’re here today.
What’s stunning about Báez’s season so far, and what he aims to accomplish, and something that will definitely make you worry about its sustainability, is the sheer difference between his on-base percentage and his slugging percentage. Báez has his .287 TAv because of the abnormal amount of power he’s hitting for, given his position. He’s slugging .565, and while Ozzie Albies is doing the same from second base this year, only four others have slugged higher from that position in the past 20 years.
Making it more gross is that Báez’s on-base percentage is just .299. The difference between those two marks is 270 points, and that kind of disparity is hardly ever seen. In fact, in the past 100 years, it’s only been done 16 times:
|1994||Ken Griffey Jr.||11.4||14.8||.351||.402||.674||.272|
It’s not impossible to produce a <.320 OBP, >.500 SLG season. There have been 11 of those in the previous 35 years. I’ve included some other stats so you can see just how weird the way Báez is going about it. Most of these are .700+ SLG monsters who also walked a ton (and I’m not sure Bonds’s season should be judged by any measurement invented by a human). Looking around, really only Matt Williams’s 1994 season—and Albies’s current one—compares to the kind of output Báez is producing. He needed to slug over .600 to create a 4-win season, and he actually had a marvelous defensive season to get there. Clearly, Báez is never going to produce the OBP numbers of pretty much everyone on this list.
*Season in progress.
Basically, what these two lists tell you is that Báez is going to have to slug at least .550 to maintain being a plus-offensive player, and they can’t all be doubles. 30 homers might have to be the target, which you wouldn’t think is beyond him given he hit 23 last year. But keep in mind with all that he’s done already this year, his .291 TAv or 125 wRC+ is really just a “good” to “very good” mark, but it doesn’t make him Robinson Canó or José Altuve or Daniel Murphy or anything really even close. He doesn’t have to be a top-10 offensive player with his glove of course, but he also has to be really good with the glove, and defensive metrics haven’t loved him. It’s not impossible, it’s just really rare. And only Tony Armas’s season in 1984 comes anywhere near the bottomed-out walk rate of Báez. Even though no one on this list walked a ton, they at least would occasionally pretend to want to.
Javy puts on a great show. It’s one of the best shows in sports. It just might not signify all that much.
A tip of the cap to my friend Craig for compiling these lists at my request. He has no Twitter or blog because he is reclusive and hates people and prefers to be a mystery.
Lead photo courtesy David Banks—USA Today Sports