The Baez And The Walk

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.

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  • What we talk about when we talk about Javier Baez.

  • "And to watch him and the Cubs simply laugh it off seems like almost a concession." There's some of that here at Cubs Den, too. When someone points out that Javy could be so much more, others rush to his defense. I loved the walk he took last night, but hated the strikeout in the previous AB, where it was obvious that he was gonna get high fastballs as long as he'd keep swinging at 'em. When I hear people clamoring for Machado, I can't help but think we've already got a player that's every bit as talented, but can't (or won't) be disciplined enough to control that talent.

  • I think most non-Cubs fans would take Moncada over Baez. Moncada's K problems are because he's too selective. He swings at 25% of pitches out of the zone, compared to Baez' 48%(crazy to actually type that). He only swings at 66% of pitches in the zone, compared to 82% for Baez. Moncada only swings at 44% of overall pitches, whereas Baez swings at 62% of pitches. Their contact rates are very similar. You can teach someone like Moncada to swing more, be more aggressive, but it's much harder to teach discipline. If given a choice between the next 5 years of Moncada or Baez, I think I'd take Moncada.
    And it's a shame, because I don't think very many players are as talented as Baez. He refuses to change though. When he drew a BB against the Mets, he said something to the effect of "Walking is not my game, I'm up there to swing." Well, laugh it off all you want, but the more selective you decide to be, the more HR you will hit. That's how this works. He's hurting the team, as well as his overall power numbers by not making an adjustment. Even when he was out of his mind hot in April, it wasn't because he had made an adjustment - he was actually swinging at more pitches than ever. He was just crushing them. And he's proven that kind of approach is not sustainable.
    There is no one like Baez: I love watching him play defense and run the bases, and I the watching him hit. Even when he's hot, you know it will not last because the approach remains the same - awful.

  • In reply to Kramerica20:

    *and I hate watching him hit

  • In reply to Kramerica20:

    He hits like he is on some kind of swing clock

  • In reply to Kramerica20:

    I was listening to an interview with Evan Longoria a few weeks back and he was being questioned about his low walk rate (3.8% now I think it was less then) and he got angry and said "who gives a rat's (you know what) about walks, I'm there to hit the ball" and the hosts proceeded to dissect that statement for an hour. It's not a good thing to say and while clearly it's just a sore subject for Longoria who at his peak had a 13% walk rate, for Javy it's just being a little petulant.

  • In reply to TC154:

    So many people bemoaned how bad the Cubs are with RISP. And I think that's a product of overemphasizing OBP and walks. Every lineup needs guys who are more about hitting the ball than drawing walks. I think they'r often called "sluggers."

  • He has a Soriano tendency of the big swing on the ball way out of the zone. As recent Heyward experience shows, the Cubs do much better offensively if they keep the line going.

  • I had just commented on this topic a couple days ago. I love me some El Mago and all that he brings to the baseball field. He may very well be the most naturally gifted player I've ever seen. I want him to become that unicorn I dream of, and I know it's in there. But I am also coming to realize that what is holding him back is Javy himself.

    I'm a bit old-school when it comes to my favorite players. I get comfort from watching the smooth professionalism of Ben Zobrist, the easy glide of Jon Jay, and the steady demeanor of Derrick Lee. But like any fan, I can be enchanted by a shiny object.

    I remember early in Zambrano's career. He was a tightly-wound bundle of energy, and I always rationalized to myself and others that he would mature and grow out of it. He never did; in fact it got worse. Some of that was surely due to the chemical enhancements, but I digress...

    Baez has the talent to be a top-10 player in all of baseball. He masters everything on a diamond except that elusive plate discipline, and this narrative of him laughing it off does piss me off, if only because it will keep him from fulfilling his potential and deprive me of enjoying it all unfold. Don't be selfish, Javy, just for me. Please?

    Bryant has that inner drive to constantly challenge himself to identify flaws and become the best player he can possibly be. Other players, Soriano comes to mind, simply ride their talent to limited fame and fortune. I hope Javy will emulate his current teammate.

    I really believe that at some point Javy will get frustrated with being just "good". He will finally see what everyone else does, that his arrogance and selfishness at the plate is what is keeping him from taking that next step. He'll never be Votto. I get that. But so should he, and a little discipline and a little less hubris will carry him a long way towards fulfilling my fantasies.

  • Baez finally eliminated his high front leg kick while hitting, so there's hope. Maybe with a bit more maturity, he'll see the role of walks in getting him better pitches to hit and expose his skills.

    Shawon Dunston, similar to Baez in many respects, and one who I pegged/hoped early on as a possible HOFer, never learned to lay off that low outside slider. He had a 3.2% walk rate and an OK career, but not a great one (7.4 WAR over 18-yrs).

  • In reply to wthomson:

    Funny u mention Dunston (7.4 WAR,yikes). Xouldn't help thinking of him, while reading thru here. Maybe it was the swing clock comment above by KJ Ryno. How about a good old fashioned fan Javy-Meter with his OBP every game, out in the bleachers.

    I don’t know if anyone else caught it, but after that ridiculous K before the walk, there was a shot of Javy in the dugout, looking at video (I’d like to think, of that AB), Coincidence? I try to give players the benefit of the doubt, because baseball is HARD. It would be a shame, though, to not see him put it all together.

  • Wholeheartedly agree with most of the comments here re Javy. And it's actually worse than it looks, because 4 of his 8 total walks were intentional walks. They all came early in the year and I believe all 4 intentional walks were in the 8th spot in the order. I think it is reasonable to exclude those walks as "unearned" both because they were intentional and because they simply signify that the opposing team would rather pitch to our pitcher than to Javy (on the other hand, you can argue that an intentional walk to a 3 or 4 hitter is earned out of respect for their talent). If you exclude those 4 intentional walks, Javy has earned 4 walks this year for a walk rate of 1.7% and his "effective" OBP drops to about .270. In addition to the obvious importance of walks, they are particularly valuable for Javy because more walks = more good pitches to hit = more homers, and because he is such a good baserunner. I also read recently that there was a pitchout on one of his unintentional walks early this year, so he has only taken "4 balls" 3 times this year! Given this, it is truly remarkable that he has 14 homers and 46 RBI, but I think we all agree that is not sustainable with a 1.7% walk rate.

  • I thought Javy had turned the corner when he was NLCS Co-mvp, hitting .318, taking pitches to RF, and only striking out 4 times in 24 PAs. As much as he basked in the well deserved spotlight, I thought he would have wanted to keep that approach going.

    But, alas, Jekyl (or is it Hyde, I always forget), returned for the WS - batting .167 with 13 Ks in 30 PAs. It was like he completely forgot his successful approach from the week before.

    That said, I still NEVER leave the room when Javy is coming up.

  • Is there anyone on the club - player or coach - that gets on Javy after a game of purely selfish at bats i.e. swinging from his heels at every pitch no matter the situation? I don't think he's going to change on his own, he needs a mentor.

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    In reply to JohnCC:

    Isn't that Chili's job?

  • If it spins, let it go. I remember Mike Schmidt making Sutter throw fastballs by taking anything thigh high or lower.

  • Excellent stuff, Sam. And really surprised that there aren't 150 comments. Javy is such a lightening rod. Hot and cold. But, boy, when he's hot, he's something to behold.
    -
    And Javy is probably the best evidence that the -- otherworldly, only us "baseball aficionados" (as Sam's brother once called them) really understand them and you old timers are dinosaurs who foolishly think RBIs are a meaningful stat -- metrics ain't all that. Sam recognizes them, but I wish he had pointed out the crap. Here:

    Just checked fWAR. That say Javy is a -0.6 defensive WAR player. That is completely idiotic. Infuriatingly so.

    So given the lack of WAR credibility, I won't in Javy's defense point out that as for offensive WAR, they have Javy at 5.6 and Mocanda at merely 0.5. But between the two, it must be so close in overall WAR because the geeks say Mocanda is soooooo much better than Javy on defensive. And to that, I say @##$%# them!

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