The two easiest ways to look stupid as a baseball analyst (amateur or otherwise) are trade proposals and player comparisons. There is a high demand among fans for these two types of analysis, but the reality is that when you engage in either you tend to look foolish in a very short of amount of time. The demand for each skyrockets around this time of year as both fit nicely together.
Fans want to know what moves their team is likely to make to either build for the future or supplement the current playoff run. And there is also demand for understanding more about the unknowns almost always involved in those moves. We do not know what Javier Baez is going to be as a major league player. We do know that he will get a shot in the major leagues at some point in the relative future, but what he will be as a major league player is a huge unknown.
I do know what Gary Sheffield or Pedro Alvarez looks like as a major league player, so citing either as an example gives me an idea of what Javier Baez could be. The problem is that all of these forced comparisons distort our picture of the player Javier Baez will be more than they inform it.
Gary Sheffield was the first comp thrown out for Javier Baez, and this one thankfully disappeared rather quickly once Baez started to pile up professional plate appearances. You can see why people made the comparison initially, what with the bat waggle and tremendous bat speed. Coming up as a shortstop with an eventual move to 3B made the comparisons oh so perfect…until Baez started playing pro games.
The easiest way to show the difference between the two players is to point out that through 1153 PA Javier Baez has struck out 301 times. In his first 3867 professional plate appearances (minors and majors combined), he struck out only 325 times. Sheffield’s unbelievable plate discipline (more walks than strikeouts in his career) is why the comp fails miserably to explain Javier Baez.
Obstructed View put it best last year when discussing Baez: just because Charlie Morton‘s delivery looks like Roy Halladay‘s, that doesn’t Charlie Morton will yield the same results as his look-alike.
So forget aesthetics and focus on the numbers that Javier Baez has put up so far in his career. The reality is that not many successful players have walked so little and struck out so often in the minor leagues. A few interesting comparisons have been thrown out by a variety of different sources.
In that earlier-referenced article, OV mentioned Matt Kemp. Tommy Cook here at Cubs Insider mentioned David Ortiz. Ryan Davis, also here at Cubs Insider, brings up on Pedro Alvarez, and ZiPS made perhaps the highest compliment by offering Cal Ripken as the best comparison for Baez. However, all of these comparisons are forced at best, offering perhaps just one or two similarities between the players.
I don’t think any of the people offering those comps thought they were perfect fits; in fact, most mentioned that they were limited in their illustrative power. Matt Kemp struggled with low walk rates and high strikeout rates like Baez in the low minors, but made drastic improvements in both areas in the high minors, which Baez has not. Kemp also has a much higher BABIP than Baez has shown at any level.
David Ortiz and Javier Baez look pretty similar in terms of plate discipline at this age. However, David Ortiz at age 23 suddenly developed a much more patient approach. By the time he was a full-time regular in the major leagues, his BB% was routinely over 10% and his K% was well under 20%. Expecting that level of jump is unrealistic for Baez, and offers little in terms of a comp if Baez’s career numbers remain in the same ballpark.
Pedro Alvarez hits for a lot of power and strikes out a lot like Baez, but he also walks at a high level (9.2%) for his career. Baez’s career high walk rate at any level was 7.9% in 54 games at AA last year. Cal Ripken appeared as a comp for Baez in ZiPS merely because of the rarity of power from the SS position. Cal’s career 10% strikeout rate in the majors is simple enough to show how little the comp offers value.
The statistical comps for Javier Baez are generally not pretty. Names like Brandon Wood and Drew Henson pop up when scanning minor league careers with Baez’s low BB% and high K%. I will admit to some concern when reading the long list of players with similar production in the minors and finding far more Drew Hensons than David Ortizs.
The reality is that Baez’s physical gifts are far greater than those players on the list, and just as the comparisons to those good-to-great major league players are forced, so are the comparisons to famous busts.
Every major league player is unique, but Javier Baez is a special talent. That does not mean that he be a great ballplayer, but the complete package that is Javier Baez has never been seen before.
— Jason Parks (@ProfessorParks) June 13, 2014
No player has succeeded at the major league level continuing to walk as little and strike out as much as Baez. The players before either flamed out in the high minors or majors or took a giant step forward in terms of plate discipline. But that does not mean that Baez is doomed to follow in those well-worn paths. Javier Baez is going to be Javier Baez.
What it means is that is no one really knows at this point, but it is going to be exciting to find out in the relatively near future.
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