Javier Baez has 12 total hits this year through 15 games this season. So if you had to guess (no peeking!), how many of those hits would you say went for extra bases?
The answer is 10.
So far this season, Baez has hit just two singles, but has added three doubles, two triples, and *five* home runs. Speaking of which, he hit a double and a homer last night:
.@javy23baez this homestand (6 G):
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 18, 2018
According to Statcast, Baez’s homer was 111 MPH off the bat and traveled 422 feet into that freezing cold Wrigley Field night. That’s awesome … and is part of some really quirky early-season statistical achievements.
First the obvious bit: five homers is a lot for this time of the year, which is why Baez is tied for 5th most in baseball, behind only Bryce Harper, Charlie Blackmon, Mike Trout, and Joey Gallo. Similarly, because he’s almost all extra-base hits right now, Baez’s .431 ISO (isolated power) is fourth highest in baseball, behind Didi Gregorious, Harper, and Blackmon.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with ISO, it’s one measure of a hitter’s power, calculated by subtracting a player’s batting average from his slugging percentage. Thus, having an ISO in the .400+ range over the course of a season is basically unheard of – indeed, it’s happened only 11 times in baseball history, and by only four different players (Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa). I don’t think I need to explain why that’s notable.
Now, in NO WAY am I expecting Baez’s ISO to remain that high over the course of a season, but I thought it was worth pointing out just how crazy it’s been.
All that said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the ISO remain elevated relative to the rest of the league. Why? Well, for his career, Baez’s hard-hit rate has been almost exactly league-average (basically around 31.5%), but this season, that number has rocketed up to 44.7%. And although that’s obviously extremely high, Baez is the type of player (with the type of bat speed and overall talent) who could be nearly the top of the league in that category if it all clicked. In other words, it’s not crazy that he is making such solid contact. We’ve all seen him swing. We know what he’s about.
As for the power, it’s not just about making hard contact, it’s about making the right type of contact, too. Looking back at his career, you’ll see that Baez has maintained an 18.1% line-drive rate, a 44% ground ball rate, and a 37.5% fly ball rate since breaking into the league back in 2014. Give or take a percentage point here or there, and those numbers are basically league average.
But this season, well, I think you know where this is going:
Line-drive rate: 25.0%
Ground ball rate: 30.6%
Fly-ball rate: 44.4%
Not only is Baez avoiding putting the ball on the ground more than ever, he’s hitting a LOT more fly balls, and is adding a TON of line drives. His batting average may be frustratingly low (.235 AVG) right now, but given all the power, it’s hard not to love what we see.
And while we’re on the subject, Baez’s .212 BABIP is extremely low for him. Not only has he been a career .327 guy for a while now, he’s hitting the ball harder than ever, which means it should probably be even higher than that. In all likelihood, more of his base hits will begin to find grass soon, and Baez’s average should rise naturally.
The big blemish on Baez’s quality .235/.339/.667 (158 wRC+) slash line is that his career-best .339 OBP is supported by a 10.2% walk rate that is, itself, inflated by four intentional walks (out of six walks total). But to be fair, as his walk rate regresses and drags his OBP down with it, his BABIP should positively regress and bring his batting average (and OBP) back up a bit.
Ultimately, I don’t think something in the .330-.340 OBP range is at all out of the question for Baez this year, especially if the power is real and pitchers attack him in the zone less often.
So I don’t yet know what lies in store for Javy Baez this season, but he’s off to an extremely good start. As of today, his 158 wRC+ is 28th best in baseball, 16th best in the National League, 6th best among all second baseman, and 2nd best (to Kris Bryant) on the Cubs.
Will he stay at that level all year? Eh, maybe not. But it’s going to be fun as heck to watch him try.