For a team that seems to want to destroy itself for reasons it or no one else can really understand, there sure are a lot of certainties. You know what you’ll get from Bryant and Rizzo. You’ll know what you get from Hendricks. Contreras is a pretty safe bet. Seems like Schwarber will be, too. Darvish a little less so but still good. Most would throw Javy Baez on that list. And I would 99% of the time. The thing with Javy is that so much of his game seems impossible that it’s hard to convince yourself fully that it can be repeated year after year. The whole thing is on a wire. Except that Javy is a Wallenda, so that’s ok. You and I aren’t Wallendas. Most major leaguers aren’t. But he is. More of the same this time around?
Javier Baez 2019
138 games, 561 PA
.347 wOBA 114 wRC+
5.0 BB% 27.8 K%
15.7 Defensive Runs
Some of Javy’s numbers are colored by the fact that he was a puddle come the middle of August, and then was hurt throughout all of September. The Cubs didn’t really have a backup shorstop on the roster, and Addison Russell’s strange attempts to play baseball, or something resembling it, didn’t really qualify. Javy was crackers during the season’s first two months, had some fiendish BABIP treachery in June, and then July and August were merely average as the amount of games started to pile up. July and especially August had some pretty worrying contact-type numbers, which we can only hope can be attributed to a slower bat due to fatigue. Otherwise…
YES! YES! YES!: Some combination of Hoerner and Bote gives Baez just enough days off to keep him fresh throughout the season, and maybe the Cubs medical staff will take less than a week and a half to diagnose anything that might be wrong this time around. Baez can get back to his 2018 offensive numbers, which means just a touch more pop (he needs to slug over .520 to be really effective thanks to his low OBP style) and less grounders (50% last year). Baez had one of the highest average exit velocities on the team last year (91.6 MPH) but saw his angle drop nearly a third from the previous season. The difference seemed to be pitchers getting more grounders from getting in on his hands last year, and again, some of that can be bat-speed from tiredness. Javy doesn’t need to raise his power much to be back to premier player status, but he does need to get the ball in the air more this season. Which shouldn’t be too much of an ask. And hey, there’s always a chance his approach improves. I mean, nothing is impossible, right?
YOU’RE A B+ PLAYER: Pitchers went to busting Javy inside last year with fastballs more often, and Javy gave them a greater margin for error as you can see here:
The fear is that will be a permanent solution, and even at 27 one could wonder if Javy can keep what is a ridiculous level of bat-speed going. One need look no further than Bryce Harper for a player that depended on other worldly bat-speed and suddenly at just 27 you could go up and in on him if you wanted. There are just some skills, as unique as they may be, that can only be maintained at mutant-level for so long. Unlike Baez though, Bryce still has a pretty solid approach to make up for it.
If that ends up being the case and Javy has to cheat, even the slightest bit, on heaters inside and high, then he becomes even more vulnerable to breaking balls away than he already is. And we know that he already is highly so. Which means that K% could start creeping up to 30%, as it slanted that way last year.
And if Hoerner doesn’t make it up for a while, and Bote looks like Duck Amuck at short in spot starts, Javy might have to carry to big of an innings-load there again, leaving him a doormat come the season’s final throes. And this Cubs team is likely to need to play well in the season’s final month to do anything of note. It’s likely not to run away from anyone. Baez looks slotted as the #3 hitter behind Rizzo, which should mean a ton of RBI opportunities. But if he slides back, and those have to go to Schwarber or Contreras, hitters who have struggled in that spot in the past, then the offense might not be the given we think it is right now.
Dragon Or Fickle?: I’m not going to be the asshole to forecast doom for Javy Baez. At worst, he’s still a defensive wizard who will provide a ton of value that way. But I have to admit at a slight worry, a slight tickle, about an offensive game that was based on stellar skill and not really any kind of solid approach. Baez’s approach has improved as his career has gone along, but you still wouldn’t call it good. And it’s not going to be. Javy has the extraordinary gifts, reflexes, skill, whatever you want to call it to overcome that and do more with a bad approach than anyone else could. But how long is that going to last? The margins of error are so thin, and it’s dazzling he’s been on the right side of it for three or four seasons now.
I think last season is probably more the norm for him than his near MVP-run of 2018. That’s hardly a bad player. Combined with his defense it’s a really good one. And there’s probably an offensive spike season still in his future with some bounces that makes him dominant for that campaign. But it’s the spike, not the baseline. At least until there’s some change in approach.
But you can do a fuckton worse than having a 4-5 WAR player at short who might end up your third-best player, maybe even fourth of Contreras goes a touch nutty.