Whenever *any* player is up for a major award or distinction – MVP, Cy Young, batting title, home runs, etc. – you’ll often see his manager putting him in the best possible position to succeed, both on and off the field. For some managers, where the competitive context permits, that means avoiding certain matchups, pulling guys early, putting them in late, etc. And for others, it could be as simple as promoting him to the country in postgame interviews and discussions with others.
Cubs Manager Joe Maddon is no exception. He’s out there right now, stumping for his best player in 2018, Javy Baez, to win the National League award given to the Most Valuable Player. But Maddon has a unique problem in this fight. Although Baez’s numbers are sufficiently good that his position among the most top candidates is justified, it’s far from a sure-bet.
By wRC+, Javy Baez currently ranks 10th in the NL (though he’s essentially in a four-way tie for 7th). And in OBP, he’s not even among the top 40 players in the NL (that’s really, really, really, not everything – wRC+ is a far better measure of his offensive capabilities – but it is a bit of a hurdle). He’s obviously among the leaders in several important (in the MVP voting) offensive categories – 1st in RBI, 1st in ISO, 2nd in SLG, 8th in stolen bases, etc. – and is among the most elite defenders and three different positions.
But still there exists this unique challenge of explaining how much total value Baez offers. Maddon gives it his best shot: “It’s hard to evaluate baseball intellect or acumen,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Baez, via Cubs.com. “He got a 1600 on his baseball SATs – he definitely did.”
I am quite aware of the pitfalls of excessive homerism – and I think without watching Javy Baez play every single day, like I do, I would immediately poo-poo such an argument – but to any non-Cubs fan out there reading this, trust me when I say, I’ve never seen a player do so much to impact a game outside of the box score than Javy Baez. In fact, I’ve never come across ANY player who’s so capable of doing things that just don’t fit into what I originally considered a neat and tidy box of analyzing baseball.
Actually, let me rephrase that: I simpy didn’t believe other writers/fans/teams when they said that about certain guys. I do now. If you watch Baez for more than just a game or a series or a week, you’ll understand. And on TOP of that, he’s an elite defender, base runner, and, has been – at worst – one of the top 5 offensive contributors this season. “I know we would not be in this position without him,” Maddon said. “He carried us for a while … and from the beginning of the year to the middle, Javy really did carry us. What you’ve seen in the last couple days, it’s been picking up again and he’s kind of catching his second wind. He’s definitely a really strong MVP candidate.”
Maddon continued: “It’s hard for anybody to match up with him, his overall skill set, his baserunning, arm strength, ability to throw off balance – you just keep going down the list of things he can do that on other teams, maybe one guy can do one or two of these things but not anybody can do all of the things he can do,” Maddon said. “He’s just different.”
Perhaps you expect a manager to say those things and perhaps you expect a Cubs fan like me to share them with added weight, but I believe I am being 100% intellectually honest when I say Baez is completely worthy of winning the NL MVP award this season. I think there are other strong candidates – particularly, Christian Yelich, and if he won I wouldn’t complain that it was an unfair selection – worthy of the honor, but I think Baez is right up there with the rest of them. Like Maddon said, he’s just different.