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It's Time to Stop Comparing Javier Baez to Gary Sheffield

Written by , Posted in General

Javier Baez has truly amazing, turn the wind around with the power of his wrists, bat speed. I saw him live for the first time last Wednesday, when he sent a screaming line drive on to Waveland for his first Wrigley Field home run. His bat speed led to comparisons with the king of elite bat speed from the prior generation of players: Gary Sheffield. You heard the comparisons when Baez was drafted. You heard them as he sped through the minors. You heard them when he was promoted to the Majors, and over the past two weeks numerous outlets have shown side by side swings of Baez and Sheffield.

But is Sheffield actually a good comparison Baez?

In short, no, he is not. Sheffield had elite bat speed that went along with an advanced approach at the plate not only from the day he hit the Majors Leagues that led to him walking more than he struck out over his career (13% walk rate, 11% strikeout rate), but also in his short time as a prospect in the Minor Leagues, where Sheffield struck out in just 8.5 % of his plate appearances and walked more than he struck out. On the other hand, Sheffield was a very poor defender both as a shortstop very early in his career, and as an outfielder after that. Despite his defensive issues, the primary reason Sheffield is a fringe Hall of Famer as opposed to a sure fire one is time missed due to injuries, particularly in his prime.

Aside from the bat speed, Baez has nothing in common with Sheffield aside from being drafted and moving through the Minors as a shortstop. Baez has an approach at the plate that needs a lot of work, with a 38.7% strikeout rate and a 3.1% walk rate in his brief Major League career. His similar issues in his minor league career, particularly a high strikeout rate (26% for his minor league career), were also widely reported. On the plus side, Baez should be at least an average defensive second baseman, with good odds of ending up as above average to plus at the position.

In other words, aside from the bat speed and some bat waggle, Baez and Sheffield have nothing in common as Major League baseball players. If you want a better comparison for Baez, look to recent Cub Alfonso Soriano, who had elite power but also tallied a lot of strikeouts. Baez won’t steal nearly as many bases as Soriano did through his prime (Soriano stole at least 30 bases in 4 of 5 seasons before joining the Cubs), but should play far superior defense to Soriano at second base, where Soriano was terrible. And if Javier Baez ends up being Alfonso Soriano with better defense, that would be a great result for the Cubs. Well, as long as they don’t decide to lock him up to an 8 year, $138 million contract starting his age 31 season.

  • Dork

    I think he might end up with better power than Soriano, but your right he will never have the plate disipline that Sheffeild had.

  • Dork

    I think he might end up with better power than Soriano, but your right he will never have the plate disipline that Sheffeild had. I would expect the strike out rate to come down to the 25% range over time and maybe just maybe as he gets more comfortable he can get that below his minor league level. Oh and since he is only 21 so if this takes a couple of years it should be ok. I don’t think the FO would trade him, but I am surprised that some fans have suggested that.

  • cap’n realist

    so it was only a matter of time before someone put this together…https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=eqpuDvL_FfU.

    the swings are similar, more than just at speed and waggle. Leg lift, toe touch, hand position, coil, all very similar. Sheffield keeps his front side closed longer and his hands in at contact, where Baez extends early…I think too early. I agree wholeheartedly that the approach that Sheffield eventually got to, with the keys being pitch recognition and depth of count, were key to him having a 21 year big league career. Baez will either get smarter, and make $200 million as a big leaguer, or he won’t, and make $50 mil. Neither is a bad option for him. When you leg lift, coil, and a have a swing this violent, you have to have early pitch recognition, and be a very good guesser early in counts. Sheffield was great at both…the good news is that it’s hard to imagine Baez striking out more than he does now.

    • Doc Raker

      A 600 foot home run is equal to a 378 foot home run, they each count for 1 run. Baez needs to make more contact or he is going to be just another KKKorey Pattterson.

      • Dork

        Lets not go overboard either way, Corey Patterson did not have the bat speed to compensate for the K’s. You are right that he needs to make more contact, and he will over time, it has only been 2 weeks and he has hit at a 240 rate even with a 38% K rate.

      • Noah_I

        While Patterson did not have Baez’s upside, Patterson’s K issues and how much of a bust he was are overstated. As a Cub, Patterson struck out in about 23% of his plate appearances, which was high for the era but more just below average today. Patterson’s bigger issue was his inability to draw a walk and his poor plate approach limiting his ability to get to his power. I think one of the reasons he’s viewed so poorly by Cubs fans is that he was traded at his lowest possible value. Following 2004, when he was essentially a league average hitter with elite center field defense, Patterson was viewed as a guy on the verge of stardom. The biggest difference between 2004 and 2005? Patterson’s BABIP dropped from .327 to .262. Then Hendry traded him at his lowest possible value, and he jumped pretty much right back up to his 2004 numbers upon joining the Orioles in 2006 as his BABIP returned to what was (at that point) his career norm. Injuries caught up with Patterson starting in 2007, resulting in the defense and speed eroding, ending his days as an everyday player.

        With that said, Baez has a lot more power than Patterson. But if Baez put up Patterson’s 2004 (.266/.320/.452) with a slight bump in power to get that slugging up to .500, he’d be right up there with Jose Altuve and Neil Walker competing for the 2nd highest OPS of any second baseman in baseball this season.

        The big thing with Baez is to remember that he’s 21, and has lots of time to improve. The Cubs aren’t even really coaching him right now. They’re essentially just saying take the first month to just play, then we’ll tell you what you need to do to improve.

      • Doc Raker

        Which signifies to me a pretty high BABIP, i.e. he hits the ball hard, as in not a measure of luck.

      • Dork

        I think it would be reasonable to assume he could maintain a high BABIP like he did in the minors. Right now his BABIP is sitting at 290. The 5 HR in 64 PA do not hurt the BA.

      • Doc Raker

        Correct me if I am wrong- the BABIP does not include his home runs. Is their a stat for batting average that is simply (PA-K-BB-HBP) / hits? i.e. what’s his batting average when he makes contact?

    • Noah_I

      I see a lot of differences. Agree, similar hand position, but Baez has a much higher leg kick, the end position is more out of balance for Baez, Baez has less waggle at this point (he’s reduced that through his minor league career), and Baez has a less compact swing. Independent of the swing similarities or not, though, the big question, as you note, is whether Baez makes the necessary adjustments. If he’s even able to become a 8% walk/25% K guy long term, he’ll be a perennial All Star at second base because of the elite power. If he’s able to get the K/BB rate less than 2 to 1? The sky is the limit.

  • cap’n realist

    so it was only a matter of time before someone put this together…https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=eqpuDvL_FfU.

    the swings are similar, more than just at speed and waggle. Leg lift, toe touch, hand position, coil, all very similar. Sheffield keeps his front side closed longer and his hands in at contact, where Baez extends early…I think too early. I agree wholeheartedly that the approach that Sheffield eventually got to, with the keys being pitch recognition and depth of count, were key to him having a 21 year big league career. Baez will either get smarter, and make $200 million as a big leaguer, or he won’t, and make $50 mil. Neither is a bad option for him. When you leg lift, coil, and a have a swing this violent, you have to have early pitch recognition, and be a very good guesser early in counts. Sheffield was great at both…the good news is that it’s hard to imagine Baez striking out more than he does now.

    • Doc Raker

      A 600 foot home run is equal to a 378 foot home run, they each count for 1 run. Baez needs to make more contact or he is going to be just another KKKorey Pattterson.

      • Dork

        Lets not go overboard either way, Corey Patterson did not have the bat speed to compensate for the K’s. You are right that he needs to make more contact, and he will over time, it has only been 2 weeks and he has hit at a 240 rate even with a 38% K rate.

      • Noah_I

        While Patterson did not have Baez’s upside, Patterson’s K issues and how much of a bust he was are overstated. As a Cub, Patterson struck out in about 23% of his plate appearances, which was high for the era but more just below average today. Patterson’s bigger issue was his inability to draw a walk and his poor plate approach limiting his ability to get to his power. I think one of the reasons he’s viewed so poorly by Cubs fans is that he was traded at his lowest possible value. Following 2004, when he was essentially a league average hitter with elite center field defense, Patterson was viewed as a guy on the verge of stardom. The biggest difference between 2004 and 2005? Patterson’s BABIP dropped from .327 to .262. Then Hendry traded him at his lowest possible value, and he jumped pretty much right back up to his 2004 numbers upon joining the Orioles in 2006 as his BABIP returned to what was (at that point) his career norm. Injuries caught up with Patterson starting in 2007, resulting in the defense and speed eroding, ending his days as an everyday player.

        With that said, Baez has a lot more power than Patterson. But if Baez put up Patterson’s 2004 (.266/.320/.452) with a slight bump in power to get that slugging up to .500, he’d be right up there with Jose Altuve and Neil Walker competing for the 2nd highest OPS of any second baseman in baseball this season.

        The big thing with Baez is to remember that he’s 21, and has lots of time to improve. The Cubs aren’t even really coaching him right now. They’re essentially just saying take the first month to just play, then we’ll tell you what you need to do to improve.

      • Doc Raker

        Which signifies to me a pretty high BABIP, i.e. he hits the ball hard, as in not a measure of luck.

      • Dork

        I think it would be reasonable to assume he could maintain a high BABIP like he did in the minors. Right now his BABIP is sitting at 290. The 5 HR in 64 PA do not hurt the BA.

      • Doc Raker

        Correct me if I am wrong- the BABIP does not include his home runs. Is their a stat for batting average that is simply (PA-K-BB-HBP) / hits? i.e. what’s his batting average when he makes contact?

    • Noah_I

      I see a lot of differences. Agree, similar hand position, but Baez has a much higher leg kick, the end position is more out of balance for Baez, Baez has less waggle at this point (he’s reduced that through his minor league career), and Baez has a less compact swing. Independent of the swing similarities or not, though, the big question, as you note, is whether Baez makes the necessary adjustments. If he’s even able to become a 8% walk/25% K guy long term, he’ll be a perennial All Star at second base because of the elite power. If he’s able to get the K/BB rate less than 2 to 1? The sky is the limit.

  • Doc Raker

    Len Kasper compared Baez to Bob Marley minus the dreadlocks.

  • Doc Raker

    Len Kasper compared Baez to Bob Marley minus the dreadlocks.

  • Do you guys think Baez’s swing sort of looks like Gary Sheffield’s?

    • Eddie Von White

      Do you think Mike Krukow is a better announcer than Len Kasper?

      • Doc Raker

        Do you think Wins and Losses is a better indicator than WHIP for a pitcher?

      • Eddie Von White

        Do you think this is a true statement: “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

  • Do you guys think Baez’s swing sort of looks like Gary Sheffield’s?

    • Eddie Von White

      Do you think Mike Krukow is a better announcer than Len Kasper?

      • Doc Raker

        Do you think Wins and Losses is a better indicator than WHIP for a pitcher?

      • Eddie Von White

        Do you think this is a true statement: “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

  • edlosejackson

    It’s an insult to Baez to compare him to Gary Sheffield. Baez is already the best hitter in MLB. THEOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

  • edlosejackson

    It’s an insult to Baez to compare him to Gary Sheffield. Baez is already the best hitter in MLB. THEOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO