Yesterday, Jon Lester took the mound for the Chicago Cubs (and utterly dominated the Giants), but Javy Baez did not take his usual spot at second base.
For the majority of Lester’s starts, you may recall, Baez has been something of a personal second baseman for Lester. Baez’s ability to gobble up grounders, turn difficult double plays, and tag everyone in sight was considered a needed advantage for all of Lester’s starts.
However, the coinciding emergence of Ian Happ and breakout for Ben Zobrist conspired to push Javy Baez to the bench more times than not over the past week. But even with that knowledge, I tweeted this yesterday morning:
Javy Baez is 7 for his last 11 with two homers and an IBB. That's a nice little streak. Expect him to keep playing.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) May 23, 2017
Tonight, Javy Baez will be in the starting lineup, and he’ll actually be the first Cubs batter who steps to the plate. If he keeps riding his current blistering hot streak, then I’m not sure you’d want anyone else up there.
And, as a matter of fact, Baez’s hot streak that extends beyond just his last eleven plate appearances (and we’ll get to that in a second), but I’d first like to point you to Sahadev Sharma’s recent article on Baez at the Athletic. One quote in particular seems to quite accurately sum up how I feel about Baez right now:
“The team will leave the trade speculation to the fans and pundits who’ve already fallen in love with Happ in just a week’s worth of games. They know how Baez impacts the team with his versatile, plus glove and believe there’s still time for him to strike a balance and be nearly as special with the bat as well.”
First and foremost, you’re really going to want to check out Sharma’s piece on Baez, because it’s full of revelatory quotes from Joe Maddon, his coaches, the front office, and Baez, himself. Really great stuff.
But on that particular quote, there are two things to point out. First, Ian Happ is absolutely killing the ball, yes, and there’s even reason to believe he can sustain high level offensive production (even if not THIS high). With that said, we mustn’t have a short memory. Almost every single top prospect the Cubs have debuted over the past few years have had killer starts, before trailing off thereafter as adjustments and the grind set in.
It’s not an indictment, mind you – look at Kyle Schwarber’s struggles this season – it’s just the truth about baseball. Before the league makes adjustments, it’s easier to succeed (Junior Lake slashed .484/.500/.774 in his first seven games with the Cubs). So before you go throwing out your old toy for the shiny new one, recognize that most toys lose their sparkle after a few weeks.
Second, Baez isn’t finished developing. Not by a long shot. But you don’t have to keep dreaming on his upside, because he’s already hitting pretty well.
On the season, Baez is slashing .264/.301/.496 which is good for a 96 wRC+. In other words, Baez has almost been a league-average hitter already this season, which, I’ll remind you, is somewhat gravy, considering his defensive prowess. But with that said, thing have been a whole lot better lately:
Last 25 Games: .280/.302/.549 (112 wRC+)
Last 20 Games: .318/.338/.636 (148 wRC+)
And over his last 25 games, Baez’s strikeout rate has been just 20.7%. Over his last 20 games, that shrinks down to just 15.9%. In other words, you don’t have to dream about his upside eventually making its way into the results, because that’s where he’s been lately.
Check out his rolling 5-game wRC+ chart via FanGraphs:
Baez started the season off slowly, yes, but after an early spike he’s once again surging back up on the offensive side of the ball. Now, as Sharma shrewdly points out, those inconsistencies are an on-going issue …
“And while his offensive play is currently erratic, they’ve seen bursts of what he can do when it all comes together. Baez is working to make those flashes a more consistent occurrence, while remaining aggressive, but intelligently so, on both offense and defense.”
… but the flashes of brilliance are really there.
I don’t think I have to remind you of his upside, but Baez is the sort of player who, if successful, can be one of the most valuable infielders in all of baseball – really, he can. The ceiling – on both sides of the ball – is sky-high (heck, we’ve already seen what he can do on defense). He’s sorting through it all now and working to be more consistent, but the improvements are tangible. And at just 24 years old, Baez may be just getting started.