#ElMago Is Amazing and I Love Him and He's Amazing … But Let's Not Create Mythic Expectations

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#ElMago Is Amazing and I Love Him and He’s Amazing … But Let’s Not Create Mythic Expectations

Chicago Cubs

We love Javy Baez. We love Javy Baez. We love Javy Baez. 

As the last first-round draft pick before Theo Epstein and company took over the Chicago Cubs back in 2012, Javy Baez has always held a special place among the hearts of Cubs fans. He was basically the first top prospect of the rebuild and right up through hitting the game-winning home run in extra innings of his big-league debut, he’s had as much upside as almost any prospect we’ve ever followed.

We love Javy Baez. We love Javy Baez. We love Javy Baez. 

And thanks to his 2018 season, that ceiling isn’t even theoretical anymore. Last year, Baez continued to wow fans with his plays in the field and magical trips around the bases, but finally paired it all with well-above average offensive production at the dish: .290/.326/.554. Fans of advanced analytics were pleased by the 131 wRC+, and the more traditional spectators would be happy to point out his 100+ runs, 100+ RBI, 20+ steals, and 30+ homers.

We love Javy Baez. We love Javy Baez. We love Javy Baez. 

And, of course, given his prominence on a contending team like the Cubs – during a largely Kris-Bryant-less season, no less – Baez was able to parlay that performance into a near-NL MVP win. Indeed, it took a Herculean performance from Christian Yelich down the final stretch to push Baez back to second place (a fair outcome, given how nuts Yelich went on the baseball). But despite ALL of that ceiling, all of that promise, all of those plays in the field, all of this ridiculous slides, unbelievable tags, and All-Star caliber performance at the plate … I just can’t really make heads or tails of this:

https://twitter.com/MLBNetwork/status/1098956726433394688

We love Javy Baez. We love Javy Baez. We love Javy Baez. 

Is Javy Baez one of the top-10 most exciting players in baseball right now? Abso-freakin-lutely. Was he the second best player in the National League last year? Yeah, I think so. Is he the fifth best player in baseball right now? …. Did I mention we love Javy Baez?

In ranking the top-10 players in baseball right now, Jim Duquette made some questionable decisions. I think his top three are all exactly spot on and in the right order, but it all falls a part a bit after that (I’m assuming, by the way, that this excludes all pitchers – just something to keep in mind). Surely, this is a fairly subjective set of rankings – and it’s not like anybody in that top-10 is particularly egregious – but if you’d take only four players over Baez right now, I’d have to disagree.

Before considering the implication of this ranking for Baez, let’s actually see where he landed among his peers in several categories from last season.

WAR: 5.3 (14th)
wRC+: 131 (24th)
HRs: 34 (14th)
R: 101 (18th)
RBI: 111 (3rd)
SB: 21 (19th)
BB%: 4.5% (131st)
K%: 25.9% (127th)
AVG: .290 (29th)
OBP: .326 (85th)
SLG: .554 (7th)

Baez shined because of a relatively high batting average, some elite power, and some amazingly beneficial timeliness (111 RBI). But other than that, offensively, Baez was more of a top 15-25 player in baseball last season.

NOW. As a HUGE caveat to that, I will point out that while Baez may not be the fastest player in the game, he’s almost certainly one of the single best base runners in baseball. I couldn’t care less about speed in isolation if you have Baez’s instincts. That’s a real skill and provides real value all the time. Anybody who has seen him play knows that. Moreover, Baez’s glove become something so much more than just a highlight reel machine last season. Although he still had a penchant for the flash, he was pretty clearly one of the most impressive defenders out there.

In fact, I think his WAR total – at least, at FanGraphs – probably didn’t do him justice in both respects, which could inch him closer to that top ten mark.

The other thing – and I hate to say it – Baez just does not have track record of any other single player on that list. In other words, even if you think he was the fifth best player in baseball last season (debatable), that’s a far drive from he’s the fifth best player in baseball. We’ve previously discussed the possibility that Baez could regress in 2019, so we have to be honest about that possibility when considering his standing in the game.

We love Javy Baez. We love Javy Baez. We love Javy Baez. 

I take absolutely no joy in saying any of this, but I also don’t think it needs to be some sort of insult. Baez is an extraordinarily talented ballplayer and one of the most exciting Chicago Cubs EVER. And if he’s able to repeat his performance at the plate this season – while continuing to do his thing on the basepaths and in the field – then, sure, we can talk about where he ranks among all active players. But right now, that’s just probably not right.

But can you blame Duquette? After all, it’s pretty easy to get blinded by all Javy’s flash.



Author: Michael Cerami

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