You can't ever accuse the Cubs of not co-opting any comedic theme about them. It's the best way to squash anything used to deride, to simply use it yourself. And we know these Cubs have fun. I can't wait to see how they play their more strident media members as the season goes on.
But it can also be a way of ignoring a genuine issue, turning it into farce and basically labeling anyone who wants to point that out an old scrooge who misses the point. And hey, I have my scrooge tendencies, more than I'd care to think about really. But at the end of the day, we both want the same thing, the Cubs to be really good and win a a lot.
The "Baez Walk Watch" has become a thing, and even Javy himself seems to be playing into it. And Javy is wonderful, and the kind of personality to take the game forward, and I'm not arguing against that. Certainly he's aware of the discussion around him at times, and has basically laughed it off. And hey, that's what this team does. It laughs pretty much everything off, which it kind of has to given the atmosphere around the Cubs at all times. If you took it seriously most of the time, you'd drive your head through the dry-wall.
The problem is Javy's on-base skills are an actual problem. Over at BP a little while ago, I highlighted just how rare and difficult what Baez is trying to do to be a productive hitter is. Essentially just about no one has achieved this low of an OBP and that high of a slugging-percentage over a full season.
And here we are. After his Human Torch beginning to the season, his so-so May and woeful-so-far June have given way to over the whole season so far, Baez is basically an average offensive player. His wRC+ is 109, which or a middle infielder is pretty good, but more of this June and he'll be right at 100 which he's been his entire career essentially. He's on pace for just under a 3-WAR season, which again, for a middle infielder is pretty good but it's not exemplary. It marks him out as the ninth-best 2B in baseball, and he ranks right there with Joan Moncada. Moncada is really good too, but it's not really what you think of given the popularity of Baez. Ask any Cub fan if they'd swap Baez of Moncada in a vacuum where personality and entertainment don't matter, and they'd still making a barfing sound. But basically, that deal would be a push right now and wouldn't cost either side anything.
With Baez's defense (even if certain metrics don't love his defense all the time) and base-running, even average offensive seasons make him a useful player. He's certainly exciting, and maybe that's all he'll be. You can throw out a lot of useful players with two or three genuine stars and be really good. That's what the Cubs have done. Rizzo and Bryant are your genuine stars, and then everyone else who fills out the lineup are useful or useful-plus, let's say.
And yet you can't help but feel there's more to come from Baez. He could be an actual star, instead of just treated like one (and I'm not saying that treatment is undeserved, given the verve and pop he plays the game with and the eyeballs he attracts). If Baez were to go the rest of his career as a 3-WAR player, you'd have to feel like something was lost.
Which is why the outright mocking of his lack-of-walks habit, from him to the fans, leaves me a little cold. Because I love everything else about Baez, but he's not going to be the player he flashes at times with a .297-.301 OBP for his career. He simply can't slug over .530 to balance that out for more than a month or two at a time few can. Even Bryant can't manage it. There are only 20 guys in baseball right now with a SLG of over.530, and all of them walk at least 5% of the time.
No one's asking Baez to become Joey Votto up there, and if anyone was then they might as well ask for an elephant that can play "Tommy" all the way through on two or more instruments. But a 3.3% walk-rate with Baez's lack of bat-to-ball skills (skills he's pretty sure he has but doesn't) is an issue. And to watch him and the Cubs simply laugh it off seems like almost a concession. Or simply hubris.
Because he doesn't have to do much to be a dominant offensive player. He just has to prove he can coax pitchers back into the strike-zone. A mechanical change, or more a tweak, to allow him to let the ball travel more for better recognition. A shorter swing here and there. Something, anything.
Hey, this Javy Baez is great television, and one of the many things we love about the Cubs. And it's good. But life and baseball isn't about settling for just what works, and it's a lot about dreaming about what could be. So much of Baez's game is about seeing what could be--the double play turns that look forlorn, the baserunning of the brave/crazy, the instincts in the field and on the bases--yet all those are in-game. If Baez could see what could be long-term at the plate instead of focusing on the fun of now, then we might truly have something.