Nothing Has Changed for Javier Baez

Nothing Has Changed for Javier Baez

As Javier Baez's strikeout rate has climbed higher into the stratosphere, there's been a, ah, profound sense of uneasiness in the hearts of Chicago Cubs fans. No one really wants to plainly state it, but, well...Baez has been awful in AAA so far. Through his first 105 plate appearances this season, Baez has produced a Darwinesque .151/.248/.280 line, striking out 38 times and walking only 10. There's no way to sugarcoat it - he's been very bad, and Cubs fans who expected him to rake on his way to a June call up are starting to panic and wonder whether he'll be the next Corey Patterson.

Personally, I'm unfazed.

I'm not here to tell you that a guy striking out in 36.2% of his plate appearances is good news (it's quite obviously not), but rather that if you didn't think that there was at least a good possibility of Baez struggling in AAA, you weren't paying any attention.

Before 2014, Baez struck out in a historically high percentage of his trips to the plate. Despite this, he was also producing at an equally insane level, forcing the Cubs to promote him through the system at a dizzying pace. In Spring Training this year Baez hit a bunch of extremely impressive home runs, and those who only caught the highlights missed the wild hacks he was taking at mediocre breaking stuff in between the dingers. The eye test repeatedly showed that he was swinging out of his shoes at everything he saw, had trouble recognizing off-speed stuff, and could be undressed by pitchers who knew how to attack him.

Everyone knew (or should have known) that this wild, deliriously swing-happy approach at the plate was going to get him in trouble eventually. And yet, at the first sign of that actually happening, many want to jump ship and declare him a bust because of it?

105 plate appearances ago Javier Baez was loved by nearly everyone despite his high-risk future. His strikeout problems in the minors were the type of crippling flaw that has ruined hundreds upon hundreds of good young ballplayers, yet 25 games ago he was a consensus top 10 prospect in the game. His unwillingness or inability to slow down at the plate mirrored issues that nearly every busted prospect dealt with, but there he was being debated as possibly the best prospect in all of the game, literally less than a month's worth of games ago.

These concerns weren't trivially ignored in the offseason, and they shouldn't be now, but there was a reason Baez was talked about the way he was. It wasn't Big Market Prospect Bias, it wasn't desperation. It was for the fact that he has some of the best bat speed and power in all of baseball and could play a middle infield position to boot. The rare tools Baez possesses combined with the drive that possesses him made him a great candidate to overcome his issues. Nothing about this has changed in a handful of weeks.

If you want to freak out about an extremely young and talented prospect in the PCL doing exactly what many expected he'd do against the types of older, crafty pitchers he'd see in AAA, be my guest. For me though, I will be waiting much longer to change my opinion on whether or not Baez succeeds in the MLB.

For one, Baez has clearly struggled  in the past upon reaching a new level before adjusting to the league and reigning in his strikeouts. Take a look at the graph below - after a while, his 10-game-average strikeout rate really starts to separate from his cumulative total strikeout rate to that point. (Click the picture to see a larger version)

baez k rat cumulative and 10 game

Furthermore, Baez is facing a type of pitcher he's really never faced before. In the low minors, he faced guys with poor command, strong fastballs, and marginal offspeed stuff. In AAA, he's facing plenty of washed up MLB vets and Quad-A types who get by on junk. Naturally, it's going to take a player a while to adjust to new types of pitchers, and that's part of what we're seeing now. If any player has the tools to adjust to new leagues, it's Javier Baez. His bat speed offers him the ability to wait longer on pitches than almost anyone in baseball, and if he's able to get his swing under better control, I see this secondary advantage of bat speed making a big difference.

Also lost in the Baez discussion is that nearly all prospects fail at some point; it's simply part of the developmental process. This is how the kinks in a player's game can be ironed out before they reach the majors. This process weeds out plenty of players, but those who break through are much better for it.

If Baez was to succeed, he was going to have to struggle at some point. Whether it was in AAA or at the big league level, the rough edges in his game needed to be smoothed out. The only way anyone should be freaking out about Baez at this point is if they expected him to continuously mash on his way to multiple All Star games, and they should be freaking out because they were so wrong about the player to begin with.

The rest of us should sit back and wait for much more of the season to play out before drastically changing our thoughts about Baez, cause 105 largely unsurprising plate appearances provide nowhere near enough new information to do anything else.

@TommyECook

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  • fb_avatar

    Tommy

    I don't have an issue with standing behind Javier's corner, but what you write is not what you believe. Yes, I think many people could have predicted that Javier Baez would struggle in AAA, but what he's doing is not struggling.

    This is the PCL; the league where every hitter finds a way to carve out .300 and 80 RBI by seasons end, and Baez, w/ his insanely terrible defense, has been going out every night, putting 0's in every category, except for the K's.

    Javier Baez would love to be struggling right now. Instead, he's staring down the barrel of a demotion because he simply can't play any worse than he currently is.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to TonyMikeAroldis:

    Thanks for reading, but I'm not sure it's fair or accurate to tell Tommy that he's being dishonest. I thought made his stance pretty clear. You can argue semantics all you want, but I still don't see how you can reach the conclusion that the writer's beliefs are at odds with his words.

  • In reply to TonyMikeAroldis:

    I don't know exactly what this will do to the point you're trying to make, but how many guys have beaten the hell out of PCL pitching only to come to the majors and be huge busts? I mean the Cubs could fill several rosters with guys like that from the history of their franchise. I'm not saying it's better to be struggling this bad in the PCL, but being great in the PCL doesn't always do much for anyone either, at least on the Cubs.

  • In reply to TonyMikeAroldis:

    I'm not totally sure what you mean by this comment. I absolutely believe what I wrote. I was worried about Baez's K rate in April 2013, and February 2014, but this streak of 100 really poor PAS hasn't made me more worried than I am. If after a few more months he hasn't adjusted, I'll start getting really worried

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Tommy Cook:

    110 PA's now ...

    Forget the K's for a minute. When Javier makes contact, the ball isn't going anywhere. The fact that he's doing this in the most extreme hitter friendly league professional baseball has does not bode well for when the pitching actually takes another step.

    The batting average will improve, it's simply impossible for anyone to hit this low in this league; but if the power doesn't show itself quickly; the Cubs may not hold on to Baez much longer.

    Again, I don't care what you say; NO ONE expected Baez to start out this poorly. Not even you.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to TonyMikeAroldis:

    You are letting your narrative about the PCL cloud the truth. Yes it is a hitters league except in one of the few pitching neutral parks in the league (Iowa). The Iowa team has played (until a week ago) more home games than any other team. They have played 23 games already at home in the high plains in APRIL AND MAY. So that pitching neutral becomes pitching friendly with the added wet and cold weather. So your view of the PCL is a little off because of the idea that they have not been seeing 80 degree sunny days like most of the PCL sees before Memorial Day. I expect as the weather heats up so does all the offense for Iowa. Who by the way are still leading the league while being last in batting average, slugging percentage, OBP, and almost every offensive stat.

  • In reply to TonyMikeAroldis:

    Well nitpicking point here, but the PCL is not the most extreme hitter friendly league in professional baseball. I think that distinction is likely to go either of the rookie leagues if you want to count short season ball (Pioneer and Arizona). If you want to only look at domestic full season I would guess that the California and Texas Leagues both rank as more hitter friendly. The PCL is a very hitter friendly league overall, but as Richard Hood correctly points out Iowa is not the rest of the PCL.

    There is reason for concern at this point, but given adjustment period and injury I don't think we need to head for the ledge just quite yet. I might be eyeing the open window across the room at this point though.

  • In reply to Gunther Dabynsky:

    Obviously Theo and crew knew what they were doing when they didn't move him to a new position either. I assume they thought he'd struggle at the plate, since that's what he's done to start every new league he's been in.

  • Cubs need players who can win....not players who have a high ranking on some expert's list.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Just go give you an example of some guy's on an "expert's list"...in 2012 in the top 5 on Baseball America were Bryce Harper at 1, Trout at 3 and Teheran at 5. Any one of those players can win. Granted there are a lot of other names on that top 100 from 2012 that haven't helped their team win. And some others who have been very impactful, and some who have been only somewhat impactful, but will probably never be hall of famers.

    You have to know that scouting has changed drastically in the last even 5 years, but for sure in the last 10. I realize that we as Cubs fans have been burned severely by can't miss prospects. The difference between now and then is there are more scouts out there, working for other teams or for independent sources like Prospectus or BA. More guys, seeing more players. It used to be if you wanted to know who the Cubs top guys are you had to go to a game and figure it out or hear it from someone who worked for the Cubs. Not exactly an objective source. But when Jason Parks is high on a guy, it's not because he works for the Cubs, or is a Cubs fan, it's because he has seen the guy first hand, has watched extensive video, has studied box scores and so on. I get where you're coming from, and I'd be lying if there wasn't a small part of me that is worried these guys will flame out. But you have to know that things are very different now, and if a guy is going to be a bust it starts to show much earlier than it used to, and if a guy is going to make a huge impact, it also starts to show much earlier.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    You should really expand on the comment. You know what types of players win? Ones with buttloads of talent. You know who experts rank really highly? Guys with buttloads of talent. There's a lot of overlap in these groups

  • Experts and right and experts are wrong. That has no bearing on what any of the Cubs prospects will or won't become.

  • fb_avatar

    1-13 w/ 7K since this article was written on Monday.

    Just a slump.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to TonyMikeAroldis:

    Just because I've got nothing better to do, he's 7-19 since you posted this, which is .370. Maybe it is just a slump.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to TonyMikeAroldis:

    As of tonight, when he was 4-5 with 2 doubles and a homer, Baez is now 11 of last 24 with 3 HRs and 5 doubles. His avg is nearly 50 points higher than when Tommy first wrote this; so, yeah, just a slump.

  • Almost funny reading these comments a few months later!

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