Ah, finally we get to have some fun like the Sox guys are. Other than Anthony Rizzo, the players we’ve looked at so far either had iffy or debatable seasons and/or might end up trade bait. Or they’re just irretrievable assholes. But Javier Baez is pure energy. He’s The Drej, but in a good way.
Where the fuck did I dig that reference up? Like maybe four of you saw “Titan A.E.” Whatever. Let’s move along.
138 games 561 PA
29 HR 89 RBI
5.0 BB% 27.8 K%
114 wRC+ .347 wOBA .847 OPS
15.7 Defensive Runs Saved 4.4 WAR
Tell Me A Story: It might be hard to separate the decline, however small, of Baez’s ’19 from his ’18 from the pure exhaustion he assuredly felt. And that almost certainly would have had to contribute to his injury problems which basically had him out all of September. Sure, you don’t fracture your thumb because you’re tired as Baez did, but the dip from the first half to the second half was clear and his heel problem was at least partially due to overuse.
In the season’s first two months, Baez didn’t really drop from his MVP-consideration form of last year, putting up a 138 wRC+ in April and a 124 in May. But something went off the boil in June, and Baez didn’t really ever get back to the heights of the season’s first third. Part of it was that Baez simply stopped walking, which he had been doing within at least emailing distance of league average in the first two months. Now we know with Baez the walks are the outlier and the 2.0% rates of June and July are probably closer to what he is. But he doesn’t have to be.
Luck was also a part of it, as in June Baez only had a BABIP of .257 which is some 80 points off his career mark and season mark. That recovered in July and August, and Baez still slugged over .500 in those months, but it wasn’t as dominant as it had been before. Mostly because Baez just wasn’t getting on base as much, though when he was it almost always was for extra bases, and even those handful of walks he eschewed were making a difference. Baez isn’t ever going to be Adam Dunn or Anthony Rendon and he doesn’t have to be. But a walk-rate of 5-6% makes a huge difference to his overall OBP and offense, and that isn’t beyond him.
There was also a big difference in contact for Baez after the season’s first two months. Whereas in April and May he was hitting the ball as hard as just about anyone (43.4% and 51.6% hard-contact rates), he never got over 40% in the final three months he played. Part of this could have been playing every day slowing the bat a touch, part of it could have been the heel, part of it something else. 2018 saw him with a 22% line-drive rate, and we know what Baez should look like when on song. He had some pretty sad line-drive numbers in both June and August.
We know something must be wrong physically, because Baez’s average exit-velocity on fastballs went from 94.5 MPH in July to 85 MPH in August. That just shouldn’t happen. And it’s not like he was seeing more or less of them when August hit.
One thing pitchers did do was move their fastballs from high and tight to the outside, which would seem weird given that Baez has huge power the opposite way:
But Baez never really adjusted, sending less than 20% of his contact the other way which rocketed his ground-ball rate to 59% in August, by far his highest monthly mark of the year. This should never happen to Javy given the damage he can do to right field, but he gets pull-happy at times. In the season’s first two months, when over a third of his contact went to right field, you’ve seen the numbers. This is something Javy needs to lock in.
Contract: 2nd arbitration year, projected for $9.3M in 2020
Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: Welcome him back and never let him go. The Cubs have made noises about at least talking about an extension with Baez this winter, and he seems to be the only lock of the team’s core that will never see another uniform. There are trade whispers about Bryant and Contreras, Rizzo will be in his 30s when his contract is up, and Schwarber also will hear the trade winds blow. But the Cubs wouldn’t dare do that with Baez, though they should probably feel the same way about Bryant. Another talk coming soon. What that number would be to get Baez to sign is open to question, but you’d have to guess it starts somewhere around $22M a year. Baez and close friend Francisco Lindor probably will have some interesting conversations about this. Hopefully they’re about both playing in Wrigley together one day.
What will be interesting is how Baez meshes with a new manager. Joe Maddon saw exactly what Baez could be and never really meddled, knowing it would be a bumpy road at times until this was unveiled. A lot of other managers might have tried to shackle or smooth out Baez’s game, which would have been a waste. He’s now at least close to the finished project, so the new manager doesn’t have many decisions to make. But could he resist? Can a new manager keep Baez at least aware of going the other way at the plate, which makes him basically a doomsday device?
The other thing is getting him backup. He can’t play 155 games next year or something stupid like that, even if he wants to. Nico Hoerner being able to stick early in the season solves this, but that’s no guarantee. Giving Bote a spot-start or two there is a solution that Maddon never wanted to try. If Russell’s evil and dumb ass is catapulted into the nearest tire fire, the Cubs might have to find a cheap solution outside the organization. If they don’t, we’ll know how much they think of Hoerner already.
Either way, Engine #9 is most likely going to be thrilling you for a very long time. Keep him fresh and healthy to make sure that happens.
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