This is a tough one to write as a life long Cubs fan but bias aside, Baez aside? I have to go with what my eyes and the numbers tell me. Javier Baez had a bit of a breakout in 2017 with 23 HRs, 10 steals and managed a .273 average! He chipped in with 75 runs and RBI apiece. He did this with a career high 508 PAs and 145 games (though he only started 127 of them). He’s an absolute wizard defensively that’s an absolute treat to watch and is far and away the best defensive 2B on the team and probably the best SS as well, though Addison Russell is no slouch. Baez started 67 games at SS in 2017 mostly due to an injury to Addison Russell. I don’t see Baez playing that many games at short this year, and if Zobrist is still getting playing time, it will be split between 2B and LF/RF. In other words, Baez will most likely see the bench once or twice a week and will come in as a defensive replacement late in games when they have the lead. In terms of playing time, I don’t see an increase in PA for 2018.
Batted Ball Profile and Plate Discipline
In terms of talent, he’s got great power, some speed, and that’s where the positives end for Baez on the offensive side. Now the negatives: a career high 28.3% K rate in 2017, an unsustainable .345 BABIP, typically bats 7th or 8th in the batting order, and the previously mentioned playing time issue. The reason for the unsustainable BABIP is the fact that he only had a 15.4% line drive rate which matches what he had done in the minors as well. He hits about 10% popups which are essentially automatic outs, and home runs aren’t included when calculating BABIP. So where does he get a .345 BABIP from? Grounders? Flyballs that don’t leave the yard? xStats pegged Baez for a triple slash of .242/.317/.431 with a xBABIP of .304.
Let’s talk about those strikeouts. Last year he had a career high 144 Ks to go along with an 18.6 SwStr%!! Just for reference, that falls somewhere between Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo. Cool Max, but those guys hit 40 and 50 HRs last year Bro! They are also the size of Lebron James and Baez is 6 foot 190 Lbs, soooo….. Based on those numbers, I actually expect his strikeouts to go UP in 2018. You don’t have to throw him a strike to get him out. He swung at 45% of pitches out of the strike zone (2nd worst in MLB) and even his zone contact was under 80% (4th worst), I’m sorry but that’s rough. Unless he makes major adjustments this year he’s not going to get over 450 PA and come close to his numbers from 2017.
Before I get to his projections, I haven’t even mentioned the most amazing Baez stat from 2017: Baez walked a total of 30 times in 508 PA good (bad) for 5.9% BB rate; how many of those do you think were intentional walks? …Maybe 3 or 4? No, try 15 of them! Exactly half of them; that ties him for 2nd in the league with Goldschmidt and some guy named Trout! The reason for that is because he usually hits in front of the pitcher more often than not. If you take away his IBB, his BB rate is 2.95% when he’s actually asked to work an at bat. Somewhere Rougned Odor is shaking his head.
For this season I’ll give Baez: 465 PAs, .251/.299, 20 HRs and 9 steals 61 runs, 66 RBI. Early Mock Drafts have his ADP around 123 per fantrax. Those numbers in this day in age belong the waivers kids. Listen, I love watching Baez and his defensive wizardry and the occasional moon shot but watching at bat after at bat where he chases three sliders a foot off the plate and in the dirt is frustrating. Here’s to me being wrong though.