Javy Baez: Home Run Hitter, Sign-Stealing Blocker

Javier Baez collected seven hits over his 16 plate appearances in Colorado this weekend – yes, this is partly going to be a Javy-love-fest-post – four of which went for extra bases (2 doubles, 2 homers).

Here’s another look at his long ball from yesterday afternoon:

According to Statcast, Baez sent that curveball 418 feet at a pace of 105 MPH yesterday. And that’s a particularly notable pitch to homer on, because, as Sheryl Ring recently pointed out at FanGraphs, before this season, Baez had not once posted a positive value against curveballs in any season. In the early-going this year, including yesterday, things are looking much different:

Weighted Runs Above Average (Curveballs)

2014: -3.0
2015: -0.5
2016: -4.1
2017: -3.1
2018: +4.3

There are improvements against other pitches, as well, (in addition to general improvements across the board and in his approach at the plate), but I found this to be particularly compelling.

Before 2018, Baez was effectively useless against curveballs. Now? He’s crushing them. In fact, he’s the league leader against curveballs this season, just ahead of Robinson Cano. And as every pitcher in the NL fumbles around, collectively attempting to adjust against this new-look-Javy, he’ll probably continue to rake.

Speaking of which …. As I mentioned, Baez recorded seven hits this weekend, which extended his hitting streak to six games, during which he has a 276 wRC+. He hasn’t been walking much, and I hope that changes, but when you’re hitting as well as he is, it’s tough to blame him. And, hey, it’s not like he’s been striking out (16.7% K rate during this hit-streak, 21.3% for the season).

If you’re looking for more on Baez’s recent changes, check out Ring’s post at FanGraphs. There’s an interesting discussion on how Baez has actually gotten more aggressive, in a sense, and how it’s working for him. But we’ll put a pin in that stuff for now, because the homer and double weren’t the only notable Javy-moments from Sunday’s contest.

You might also recall this hubbub in the bottom of the third inning, when Baez was purposefully standing in front of DJ LeMahieu near second base, so that he couldn’t steal and relay signs to the batter:

If you didn’t see it yesterday/can’t watch right now, basically, Baez stands in front of a visibly frustrated/annoyed LeMahieu over the course of several pitches, before the second base umpire tells Baez to back off. At that point, Baez begins getting a little upset and Joe Maddon walks onto the field to clear things up.

Don’t bother listening to the spin from the broadcasters in that video, because, like their coverage of the call that ended the game, it is far from impartial. Specifically, they seem to sway back and forth on whether or not sign-steal is okay and if it was what LeMahieu was even doing:

Quote 1: “DJ’s tellin’ him, ‘What are you doing? I can see around ya, I’m 6’4″.'”

Quote 2: “You can’t block his view, he’ll just move so he can see the signs.”

Quote 3: “[Stealing signs] is as old as the game itself. It’s part of the gamesmanship. It’s part of the art of baseball.

Quote 4: “Here’s DJ … He goes, ‘I wasn’t stealing signs, bro.’ is what he said. And anyhow, even if he was attempting to that’s part of the game!”

I can’t go as far as to call stealing signs “part of the game,” and I think everyone actually knows that. Don’t get me wrong – I know 100% of teams do it, and, frankly, as long as you’re not doing it via technology, no one really has a problem with it. But let’s be clear … it’s not “part of the game.” It’s not in the rules. It’s not like you have to do it and allow it. It’s one step safer than “All the pitchers have a little something on their arms they use to grip the ball.”

In fact, it’s a lot like that: We agree it’s okay, because everyone does it, but if you’re being too obvious about it, well, then that’s on you. And make no mistake, LeMahieu did not try to hide what he was doing, and Baez recognized that: “A lot of teams do it,” Baez told the Sun-Times, “but don’t do it to our face. Because we’re going to do something about it. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care what the result is .… If they don’t like it, oh, well. It’s our team, and we’re going to do anything for our team.”

First of all, we all heart you so much Javy. And second of all, he’s right. According to Baez, one of the “complaints” he heard from LeMahieu was, “Then change the signs.” And that’s what really made Baez really upset. “You’re telling me to my face that you’re giving the signs?” Baez said. “Come on, man.”

Like I said, go ahead and try to steal signs, but you can’t just be open about it, or it becomes a bigger problem. But even if we ignore that part, and say stealing signs is 100% okay and you can be as loud and obvious about it as you want … Brett, care to finish the thought?

Bingo.

This is criminals complaining to the police that their stolen loot money was stolen. You either play the game or you don’t. You can’t have it both ways. [Brett: I’m just trying to imagine what LeMahieu’s complaint was to the umpire. “But sirrrrr, he’s standing in front of me for a little whiilllllllle … I don’t LIKE it! SIRRRRRR!!!!!!”]

For his part, Joe Maddon had the back of his shortstop for the day, implying that he was proud of Baez’s choices and believes we might even start seeing more of that. “That was old-school. They’re trying to give location or signs, and Javy was blocking. I loved it. I’ve never seen that before. That’s some grassroots stuff. You might see that more often.” (Cubs.com)

In any case, the spat is over, the Cubs won the game and the series, Joe Maddon had his player’s back, and Javy is fine.

In fact, he’s freakin’ awesome. Among other things:

written by

Michael Cerami began covering the Chicago Cubs for Bleacher Nation as a part-time contributor in 2015. One year later, he joined Bleacher Nation full-time, covering the Chicago Cubs and Major League Baseball. Today, Michael runs Bleacher Nation, contributing as a writer (Cubs, MLB) and an editor for all sections of the site, including the Chicago Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks, as well as MLB, NBA, NHL, and NFL. In 2019, Michael was the co-host of NBC Sports Chicago's Cubs Post-Game Show Outside the Ivy. You can find him on Twitter/X @Michael_Cerami

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