Javy Baez: Limit Breaking Potential by Kyle Van Zandt
Javy Baez: Limit Breaking Potential
By: Kyle Van Zandt
Come Back Liner
Anyone who hasn't been living under a rock the past 2 years knows the name Javier Baez, the Chicago Cubs 25 year old 2nd baseman. He makes some of the most exciting plays on the field look effortless with his skill and instincts. From finger waggles at opposing runners trying to steal bases, to lightning quick tags, compounded with a cannon for arm, there is little the man can't do on a baseball diamond. All while clearly having the time of his life, the infectious smile rarely straying from his face.
If there was one rub on Baez, it was on the offensive side of the ball. He has good speed on the basepaths and is borderline elite in his ability to read the play in front of him and take the extra base whenever he can, as well as make some circus slides to avoid being tagged out. Baez has one of the most prolific looking swings in baseball. He generates near impossible bat speed with how quick his hands are. This translates into an amazing amount of power from a guy with a 5’11” 190lb frame. Here stems his issue, the ability to consistently get on base to use those fantastic base running skills.
Now we aren't talking about Billy Hamilton type issues here where the skill of getting on base just isn't there. Baez has more natural talent than any middle infielder i can remember seeing play the game the last 20 years. Is this finally the year he’s able to put it all together? Many people in the local media and even some national media have started proclaiming Baez finally reaching his MVP caliber play after his 1st 6 weeks this season.
Looking at the surface numbers, as of May 13th, Baez slash line is a very healthy .283/.320/.623 with an OPS of .943 to go along with 10 homers and a league leading 34 RBI. Anyone with an OPS over .900 is considered to be elite level of offensive production. One can argue that for 7 weeks of baseball, Baez has been putting up fantastic almost MVP like numbers. However is this current rate of production sustainable for an entire season?
Here is where the numbers get interesting. Baez has a total of 6 walks on the season. 4 of those walks are intentional while the last 2 he has worked himself. In 147 plate appearances thus far in the 18 season his walk rate is only 4.1%. He hasn’t walked since April 11th, and his last non intentional walk was April 7th, meanings it has been a full calendar month between walks. Digging deeper into plate discipline uncovers that Baez is currently swinging at 61.4% of the total pitches he's seeing. Thats total pitches, not just strikes, all of them. He swings at 84.4% of the pitches deemed strikes, as well as 47.1% of the pitches deemed as balls. Here is where the numbers get very interesting, Baez is making contact with 60.1% of the pitches outside of the strike zone, which is an absurdly high number. In addition to pitches off the plate, he's making contact with 82.1% of the pitches in the zone. That leads me to believe this man has an unparalleled ability to put the bat on the ball.
Adding another layer to the absurd contact rates Baez is currently producing, his BABIP(Batting average on balls in play) currently sits at .293. That is slightly below league average but just barely. However if you split off his 1st 9 games of the season where he was 4-27 with 5 of his 6 walks and a BABIP of .190 and start with game #10 on the season his line is unbelievably good. Baez has been hitting .315/.319/.694 with all 10 of his homers and 30 RBI. His BABIP over this span has been .316 which is slightly misleading because homers do not count as a ball in play. If adjusted to add in the home run totals his BABIP jumps nearly 70 points. Thats with over 25% of his balls hit resulting in “soft” contact.
Baez is a very streaky hitter, he goes on massive cold spells as well as monster hot streaks. His current hot streak has started to decline back to his normalized numbers, all of his major stat lines are dropping back to career normal levels. However this can be bolstered by a better understanding of the zone. If you take his contact rates and eliminate the huge swing percentages at pitches outside the zone and focus more on driving hittable pitches in the zone, his numbers shouldn't regress to career norms and remain at an elite level of play.
Javier Baez has so much natural talent that he could end up being one of the best players in professional baseball. He just needs to refine his judgment on what to swing at. I in now way think he needs to shorten up that massive swing because he clearly has the bat speed and hand/eye coordination to make contact with it. He just needs to understand the strike zone better. If he can cut down the swings at balls by just half, you will see a man who will become on of the most feared hitters in the game today. Prospects are always judged by how high of a ceiling they have, or what sort of potential they possess. Javier Baez has a limitation as a ball player right now, however his potential is so great that breaking that limitation is within reach. Once broken, you may witness one of the all time greatest players ever to lace up the cleats.