Despite – at one point – being just days away from returning to the Major Leagues, Cubs shortstop Addison Russell hasn’t played a game at the big league level since August 2.
Fortunately, for the Cubs, Javier Baez has proven to be a more-than-capable fill-in starter, and he’s been grabbing our attention – both at the plate and in the field – on a nightly basis. Indeed, both ESPN and The Chicago Tribune have been singing his praises lately, so let’s take a look at what they had to say and get a closer peak at Baez’s performance along the way.
To start, since August 3 (Baez’s first day filling for Russell at short), he’s hit .292/.350/.522 (119 wRC+) at the plate, with a phenomenal seven home runs (including an inside the parker) and six stolen bases (not to mention the triple and three doubles). Perhaps even crazier than that, Baez has struck out just 28.2% of the time, while walking … are you ready for this … at an 8.1% clip (that’s just barely below league average and by far the best mark of his career).
He’s still swinging at pitches out of the zone more often than the rest of the league (that’ll probably never fully go away), but it appears he’s maintained enough overall plate discipline to be successful.
And that’s only half of the story.
After a somewhat suspect start to his defensive career at shortstop, Baez has really looked locked in lately. Aside from the flashy, almost-nightly defensive gems, he’s started to make the routine plays look easy too. And to be even more cavalier, I think I can go as far as saying I’m now confident that Baez could be an everyday starting shortstop for most teams around baseball (I wouldn’t and don’t necessarily expect the Cubs to put him there over Russell, but on a different team? Yeah, absolutely).
In just about every way you could hope, Baez has been phenomenal stepping into an everyday role. But don’t take this for granted, because it wasn’t a foregone conclusion – at least, according to Baez’s manager, Joe Maddon.
“If he had [played 30 games in a row] two years ago, he would have buried himself,” Maddon told ESPN. “Absolutely. I don’t think he would have made the same adjustments at the plate. You would have seen a lot more mistakes on defense. You would have seen a lot more routine plays not handled routinely. You would not have seen the same baserunning.”
I’m inclined to agree with Maddon, and I also think that this is an extremely positive sign. Not only has Baez, 24, shown the ability to make adjustments and succeed without being platoon-protected, he’s done it over a lengthy stretch of games during a divisional race while playing a position he hasn’t played much of over the past few years. There’s a lot of pressure to succeed and a lot of ways he could fail, but he hasn’t.
In fact, Baez has actually gotten better, and that’s especially great news for the Cubs, as they could now deploy him at second base even more often than they were before (especially considering the struggles and increasing age of Ben Zobrist). And hey, it doesn’t hurt to have the full support of your manager, behind you (Tribune): “Moving down the road, (Baez) has shown right now he can be an every-day player. He’s absolutely shown that.”