I had plans, while constructing the beginning of this article, to share with you some of the defensive highlights from Javier Baez’s 2016 season.
The idea was, you see, to say something along the lines of, “Although Javy Baez’s defense gets all the attention (here, here or here), his offense has been quietly excellent too.” The problem is, as I was going backwards through his defensive highlights, I was shocked by just how many huge moments he’s already had.
In 2016, Baez has already made one, two, three, four, five, six (!) sterling defensive plays (it’s actually been quite a bit more than that, those are just the ones we were able to write-up and share) and those don’t even capture his magical base running abilities. Indeed, Baez has provided no shortage of highlight reel plays this season, but I don’t want to lose sight of my original point: he’s been quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) awesome on offense, as well. Buckle up, you might be surprised.
Before we zero in too granularly, let’s take a look at his season as a whole. In 2016, Baez has slashed .266/.309/.441 with 7 home runs, a 3.7% walk rate and a 21.8% strikeout rate. That’s good for a 98 wRC+ which, when paired with his above average defense at just about every position he fields, plus excellent baserunning, yields a really valuable player. Period. The simple fact that he’s been able to cut down his strikeout rate from 41.5% in 2014 to 21.8% in 2016 while maintaining a .440 SLG and a .175 ISO is truly mind-boggling.
With that said, let’s make this a little more fun. Baez has stepped up to the plate 188 times this season, but, if you recall, he didn’t start the year out at the Major League level. After getting hurt near the end of Spring Training (and then getting slowed down further while rehabbing in Arizona), Baez didn’t make his first appearance with the Cubs until April 16. Given that he was working on ramping back up his timing at the plate, before he was thrust back in against Major League pitching, I think we can (legitimately) give him a bit of a slide on the first few weeks of the season. Just humor me.
Since May 24, Javier Baez has had an even 100 plate appearances for the Chicago Cubs. During that stretch, he’s slashed .290/.340/.516 with 3 stolen bases, 5 home runs (about a 30 homer pace), a 4.0% walk rate, 23.0% K-rate, .226 ISO, .362 wOBA and a 127 wRC+.
With the exception of a below average walk rate, he has really been excellent across the board (with or without his plus defense at multiple positions). And I wasn’t quite cherry picking those statistics, either. Instead, I was genuinely looking for his last 100 plate appearances. If you don’t believe me, consider that I could have chosen:
- 70 plate appearances: .308/.357/.523 (.371 wOBA), or
- 47 plate appearances: .310/.383/.548 (.390 wOBA)
… to prove a similar (though maybe more effective) point. To be perfectly fair, Baez hasn’t started every single game, so his match-ups have been chosen effectively, but there’s no arguing the fact that he can be very successful against Major League pitching without striking out at a crippling rate. And again, I’m not suggesting this is the level at which he’ll stay (indeed, a 127 wRC+ super utility player is on another level entirely), but it’s an encouraging trend nonetheless.
We already knew the defensive abilities would shine through, but it appears Javy Baez is just beginning to tap into that offensive ceiling, as well.