Javier Baez has always had a tremendous amount of upside. While he did help the Chicago Cubs win their first world championship in over 100 years, Baez has still struggled at times, specifically at the plate.
Baez is a “free swinger,” who will attack almost anything near the zone. In the past, it has created some problems, but through a month and a half in 2018, Baez looks like an early MVP candidate. He is slashing .267/.302/.580, while also being fifth in home runs (10) and first in RBIs (36) in the National League.
If you’re one of those people who likes the advanced statistics, Baez has been pretty good there as well. He has an ISO (Isolated Power) of .313 (anything over .250 is considered excellent according to FanGraphs), wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average) of .360 (above average and way above his .207 wOBA from last season), and a wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) of 127 (well above average).
With his unbelievable defense, and now consistent bat, Baez appears to be the answer for the Cubs in the infield. His play has been so good, it has even made Addison Russell expendable. The Manny Machado rumors have made their way to the North Side of town, but even if something like that doesn’t happen, the Cubs could still move Russell and slide Baez over to short.
“El Mago” will always be a great defender, which will keep him in the lineup. The question now is will his bat continue to be as good as it’s been? Or will there be some regression?
Something Baez has always struggled with is plate discipline. Having discipline at the dish is important because it’s usually correlated with a player’s approach. Some hitters can be too aggressive, other too passive. Baez has a history of being too aggressive.
Given his early season success, one would think that would have improved so far in 2018. Let’s take a look at the numbers.
Swing% is a fairly simple stat that takes a players amount of swings and divides them by the pitches they see. In terms of swing%, Baez leads all of baseball at 60.6%. Clearly, Baez is still aggressive, and the next two metrics I will show you support that as well.
O-Swing% and Z-Swing%
O-Swing% looks at how many times a player swings at pitches outside of the strike zone. Once again, Baez leads the MLB in this category at 46.1%. The good news for Baez is he seems to be making contact with more pitches outside the zone than ever before. That can be seen with his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) of .280.
The Z-Swing% tells us how much a player is swinging at pitches inside the zone. To the surprise of no one, Baez leads baseball in this as well with a Z-Swing% of 83.2%. Now, that tells us Baez is swinging at more pitches that are strikes, which is obviously a good thing. Clearly, there has been some progression in Baez’s approach, though it may not seem like much.
Just for fun, I wanted to show you another stat that tells us that Baez swings more than anyone in baseball. SwStr% takes swings and misses, then divides it by total pitches. Of course, Baez leads the majors in that category as well with a SwStr% of 18.0%.
What Does It All Mean?
While there appears to be some small progression in Baez’s approach, he is still one of the most aggressive hitters in baseball. So far in 2018, that has been a good thing. However, don’t be surprised if we see some regression sometime in the future.
Baez isn’t walking much either (just six BBs on the year), which is more of a concern against pitchers like Max Scherzer, who could very well be throwing against the Cubs in the postseason.
Clearly, the Cubs would benefit from Baez getting on base a bit more than he currently does. That means taking more walks, which means being less aggressive.
After taking a look at some players on the other side of town, there is no reason Baez can’t tweak his approach. Both Matt Davidson and Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox were notorious for not taking walks last season and being too aggressive at times.
So far in 2018, it has almost been two completely different hitters. Davidson has already passed his walk total from last season with 22 on the year, while Anderson is one free pass away from matching his season total from 2017. Oh, did I mention it was still May?
It may take a month or two, but Baez could do the same.
Overall, Javier Baez has some of the rawest talent in the majors. He is having a great season so far, but he can make it even better by being more patient at the plate. It would help the Cubs greatly, especially in October.
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Featured Photo Credit: USA Today