By One Measure, Javy Baez Was the Best Defender in Baseball at SS, 2B, and/or 3B

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By One Measure, Javy Baez Was the Best Defender in Baseball at SS, 2B, and/or 3B

Chicago Cubs

Javy Baez is one of the game’s premier defenders. Everybody knows that. In fact, even those fans from other organizations who often find themselves sick of hearing JAVY-JAVY-JAVY every time he smiles would concede, at a minimum, that he’s one of the best defenders in baseball.

He’s probably not the best defensive third baseman or the best defensive shortstop in the game, but I’d argue he’s excellent at both spots while also being the best defensive second baseman out there.

If you had to criticize Baez for something on the defensive side of things, a fair (but somewhat dated, if we’re being honest) take would be that he’s great at making eye-popping plays, but can sometimes lose his chill on the metaphorical 9-to-5 grounders. Like I said, I don’t really think that’s a fair criticism anymore, but it certainly was at one point …. But who cares?!

Javy Baez is a highlight machine, churning out #content after #content with the highlight reel plays at an almost unbelievable clip.

And that’s not just our own collective gut sense. As it turns out, Baez actually did lead the Majors in “Good Fielding Plays” this season, which can best be defined as “web gem”-like plays. AKA, the stuff that makes us call him El Mago:

This season, Javy Baez split his time between second base (699.2 innings, 5 DRS), shortstop (462.2, 2 DRS), and third base (142.2 innings, 2 DRS), and while we all know that defensive versatility is invaluable, his shared time hurts his defensive ranks more than it should in two ways – one direct, the other in theory.

Directly, Baez’s advanced defensive numbers never quite appear up to par at any one position for obvious reasons: he’s got less time at every individual spot. There are some rate stats that can be applied more broadly, of course, but most defensive metrics need *at least* a year to stabilize. So when Baez gives you a third of his year or so at any one spot, the numbers really can’t be fully trusted. We have to use our eyes and scouting reports more, and they certainly tell us how good he is across the diamond.

Theoretically, splitting time between the entire infield hurts Baez’s numbers because HE’S MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY PLAYING THREE DANG POSITIONS. Anyone who thinks playing second base is just like playing shortstop but on the other side of the infield has never played the game at a high level. Ditto third base. These are completely different jobs, with different responsibilities, angles, priorities, shifts, scouting reports, and everything else you can imagine. That he’s even better than average at three spots would be impressive, because the more time he spends at one spot, the more his skills at the other should atrophy. But Baez isn’t just better than average at three bases. He’s near elite at three spots and has essentially introduced the art of tagging to the world while he’s moved around.

I have no doubts that if he were to spend a full season at one position – like he very well may at shortstop next season – Baez’s name will rise to the top of the leaderboards of every defensive metric. For today, this season, we’ll have to settle for most highlight-level plays. Darn. 

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami