Season Preview: Javier Báez

If there’s such thing as an ‘X-Factor’ in the game of baseball, no one would fit the bill better than Javier Baez. The 24-year-old infielder has made such an impact already in his big league career without really doing anything substantial on the surface. However, those that know and watch the game of baseball know that Baez is truly one of the game’s multi-dimensional stars; a player that can absolutely do it all. Coming into the 2017 season he’ll once again be Joe Maddon’s super utility player, a role that he has taken to heart. However, more playing time is inevitable as the season goes along, and the impact Baez can have on a ballgame is staggering.

The types of plays that Baez can make don’t just lie in his bat or fielding. No, that’d be too ordinary. Baez can make extraordinary plays revolving around sliding, awareness and even tags. Name another player with a montage of tagging plays.

Even something seemingly as menial as tagging, Baez turns it into a highlight. His natural baseball instinct and otherwordly talent is always on full display whenever he takes the field, and when given the chance to start every game at 2B in the playoffs last year, he didn’t disappoint, impacting the game on both sides of the ball. It’ll be interesting to see just how many innings Baez ultimately logs this season in the IF, where he can play SS, 2B and 3B. Ben Zobrist, the starting day 2B, is a fine defender, but the numbers say he’s just not as effective as Baez.

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These numbers, courtesy of Fangraphs, may be a lot to take in, but the stat we’re highlighting is DRS, or defensive runs saved. That stat measures how many runs a defender saved or cost his team, and as you can see Baez saved 11 runs compared to Zobrist’s -3. Baez had the 2nd most among 2B with more than 350 innings logged while Zobrist was ranked a lackluster 12th worst. Now this doesn’t mean Zobrist is a bad defender by any means; it just means that he doesn’t have the game-changing glove Baez has.

Speaking of game-changing, Baez has that kind of ability with the bat as well. Possessing as much raw power as anyone on the team, he is still trying to be more consistent at the plate. The young star had the 2nd worst walks per strikeout ratio of anyone with at least 450 plate appearances last year, and by looking deeper into his plate discpline, we get a better understanding of why.

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Once again courtesy of Fangraphs, first we want to look at O-Swing percent, which measures how often a player swings at pitches outside the strikezone. Baez ranked 6th worst out of anyone in the league with at least 450 PA at 42.9 percent, 12.1 percent higher than league average. By the same token, he’s only making contact at those pitches 62.4 percent of the time, 3.1 percent lower then the league average. So not only is Baez swinging at pitches out of the strikezone more than average, he’s missing those pitches more than average – not the most ideal combination. Known as a free swinger all throughout his baseball career, Baez too often either hits a gargantuan home run or strikes out on three pitches. He’s defnitely going to have to improve upon last year’s .314 OBP if he wants to develop as a hitter.

The wildcard of wildcards, the Cubs went as Baez went last year more often than not. In the 91 games he played in which resulted in a win, he batted .321/.353/.489. In losses? .191/.248/.309. That’s a full 100+ points lower in every category in defeats, so if Baez can be more consistent at the plate the team will benefit tremendously. Hopefully another year of experience helps Baez develop into the everyday-caliber impact player we know he can be.

Our 2017 season predictions: .265/.320/.440, 18 HR, 65 RBIs, 55 runs

 

*Image via Arturo Pardavila III

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