The playoffs can be a tricky beast.
On the one hand, they have a tendency to exaggerate our perception of players based on an extremely limited dataset (see, for example, Kyle Schwarber’s defense in left field in the 2015 NLDS/CS).
While on the other hand, they provide an avenue for the truly talented, but lesser known players to demonstrate their abilities on the world’s biggest stage (see, for example, Kyle Schwarber’s offense in the 2015 NLDS/CS).
Through the Cubs’ first four games of the 2016 postseason, Javy Baez experienced a full dosage of the latter. In fact, in just four quick (more like the longest four games of my life) starts, he essentially became an immovable force at second base for the remainder of the postseason, and was undoubtedly the Cubs’ (unofficial) MVP:
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) October 12, 2016
I'm glad the rest of the world is seeing Javy Baez for what he is right now: baseball magic personified.
— Brett Taylor (@BleacherNation) October 12, 2016
Indeed, Baez’s ability to excel (to the highest degree) in such a large number of categories (overall defense, base running, sliding, tagging, instincts, etc.) is what makes him so special. But when you sprinkle in some timely hitting on the biggest stage, well, that’s when everyone falls in love.
Re-live his incredible NLDS run:
When the dust settled on the NLDS Wednesday night, Baez’s slash line was a thing of beauty: .375/.412/.563 (.974 OPS); 1HR, 2 (game winning) RBI, and he was pretty much unanimously considered to be the Cubs most valuable player. As you can then imagine, he received a fair amount of love from the press thereafter.
For example, at the Chicago Sun Times, Steve Greenberg asks who’s better than Javy Baez right now, and rhetorically, but affirmatively answers, “no one.” In addition to his clear and obvious talent, Greenberg attempts to peak behind what the curtain of an extremely confident young man. Specifically, he asked Baez what his post-game-winning-hit gesture meant and who it was directed towards. In short: The Giants.
After being relentlessly booed (for his good play and bravado (“If you’re tripping because I took a little time coming out of the (batter’s) box, if you’re talking trash to me, if you want to boo me, I don’t care. I have a clear mind. It’s only because I’m doing damage.”)) and even thrown at, Baez had some understandable – let’s call them – feelings towards the Giants. Feelings made worse by the fact that reliever Hunter Strickland (who was on the mound when Baez knocked in the game winning hit) was apparently staring Baez down a bit too long before and during his at-bat (for the record, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with a little bit of serious gamesmanship like this from either side). In the end Baez got the best of him, and he let him know why in the most confident way possible. “The last pitch was a fastball — you can’t throw that pitch to me.”
I bet he wouldn’t again.
But that wasn’t the only bit of love for Baez over the past few days. Let’s move on to FanGraphs (which we love here at Bleacher Nation), where there was not one, not two, but three separate articles on the Cubs’ equally lovable second baseman in the span of just a couple days. Of the three articles mentioned above, the first regards swing trends and contact rates, the second tries to discern the value of versatility, and the third simply, but justifiably states that this week was the week of Javy Baez. That’s the one were going to get into right here.
And it has everything to do with Baez’s amazing reflexes on this play:
Bobble gum. pic.twitter.com/BqRQXT0kye
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) October 12, 2016
I couldn’t resist.
In actuality, the article explores the unbelievable plays he made up the middle (on back-to-back nights), both of which looked something like this (check the article for more gifs):
Baez. An athlete with baseball skills. Make a play… pic.twitter.com/4zJ9jGOsZE
— Craig Hyatt (@HyattCraig) October 12, 2016
Although both plays were challenged, one was over turned, and the other was highly questionable, none of that can take away from what Baez did. And I know that many of you might not agree with that – in other words, you might believe that if you don’t get the out, you really didn’t make the play – but I’m not so sure that’s entirely fair. [Brett: The one that was overturned was one of two Baez plays this year that were overturned, but were still among the best handful of plays I saw all year.]
For one thing, Baez had no business getting to either ball. Both were hit pretty far up the middle, and Baez displayed elite range getting there. Then, of course, there was the (flawlessly handled) pop and glove-to-hand transfer that he handled as well as Addison Russell (which is one of his biggest strengths). All of which came before the throw. If you check out the second play (the Denard Span hit up the middle/the one they overturned), you’ll be amazed by the way Baez sells out his whole body to make the throw to first base – an accurate one at that. And although it was just a fraction of a second late, he managed to get 72 MPH on it from an impossible body position. If that doesn’t sound fast, you’re not remembering the play correctly.
We already know Baez can throw better than 90 MPH on his feet, but his ability to put 72 MPH behind a throw he made almost entirely in the air with just the torque of his upper body is downright mind-boggling. At FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan does an excellent job of breaking down this throw, along with the other throw, his impressive tag, and the game-winning at-bat against Hunter Strickland in the ninth (this part was especially fascinating).
If you’re looking for the all-encompassing recap of Baez’s week, that’s the place to look.
Lastly, at Yahoo Sports, Chris Cwik calls Javy Baez both the breakout star of the NLDS and the most gif-able athlete of his era, before reminding us that he was something of a forgotten man at the beginning of the year.
Yes, we all knew about Baez’s potential, but it’s hard to argue with Cwik’s conclusion. Not only was Baez a man without a position (he wasn’t starting over Kris Bryant (3B), Ben Zobrist (2B), or Addison Russell (SS) any time soon), he also began the season on the disabled list. That, of course, came after a mostly lost season in 2015 and a forgettable debut in 2014.
“This season,” Cwik writes, “Baez proved he was capable of adjustments.” This part, we know. In 2016, Baez managed to cut his strikeout rate dramatically, and improve upon his already impressive defense at multiple positions around the diamond. For me, Baez’s biggest change came in his approach at the plate. While he still takes a big cut every now and again (there’s nothing wrong with that), he’s shown the ability to shorten up, remove the leg kick, and put the bat on the ball when necessary (indeed, he did as much in the top of the 9th inning in game 4 of the 2016 NLDS). He’s even impressed with the ability to lay off the type of pitches that led to an historically high strikeout rate back in 2014.
You don’t need me (or any of these other writers) to tell you how awesome Javy Baez has been, because he’s already found his place in our collective heart. But in a weird way, I think we all feel this shared sense of pride and happiness for one of the hardest working, most likable, and most talented Cubs players we’ve ever had the privilege of cheering on.
Go get your national love, Javy, you’ve earned every bit of it.