Javier Baez didn’t just single in the first run of yesterday’s game.
He didn’t just rip a 400+ foot two-run homer to give the Cubs all the offense they’d need to win the game (complete with another Sammy Sosa hop).
He played an all-around fantastic game. Kyle Hendricks was brilliant yesterday, but it was actually Baez whose Win Probability Added was the highest for the Cubs on the day. The hit and the homer definitely helped in that regard, but so did two tremendous defensive plays that are a treat for the eyes.
If you missed them, or if you just want to see them again, let’s give ’em a look. First, there was this diving, huge-ranging, back-handed catch in shallow center:
Then there was this charging, hurried, but still somehow so casual and calm flip to first with his glove:
I can’t decide which play is more impressive. He makes the glove flip play look so easy, but I am certain that it was not.
And all that from a guy who has moved all over the diamond this year, who had played only one other full game at second base since May 21. He’s just so naturally gifted, and clearly works so hard to stay sharp at the various infield positions. Also, an obligatory reminder: Javy Baez is 23.
Sure, you’d love to see improvement in his .253/.295/.384 line this year, but positive change is clearly occurring. This is a guy whose entire offensive game was defined by his inhuman power and even more inhuman strikeout rates. He now has the third lowest strikeout rate on the Chicago Cubs (18.1%). Clearly, he’s done that at a great cost to his production (i.e., he’s making more contact, but also weaker contact overall right now), but this is what the first step in a serious change looks like. This is progress. Almost unthinkably dramatic and impressive progress.
Even if that offensive production didn’t move an inch, he’s still on pace to be a better than 2.0-WAR player in a part-time role thanks to his fantastic baserunning and defense.
Baez was the Cubs’ positional MVP yesterday, and, when this season is over, we’re going to have seen a lot more days like yesterday.