Posts Tagged ‘Javier Baez’

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

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

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.

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What to Expect from Javier Baez

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Nearly a month ago, the first fruits of the Cubs’ elite farm system reached Wrigley Field when the team recalled Arismendy Alcantara. Tonight, Javier Baez, one of the Cubs’ top three prospects and one of the top ten prospects in baseball, makes his Chicago Cubs debut at second base against the Rockies at Coors Field.

Whereas most Cub fans felt that Alcantara was ready for the call up, Baez is a bit more controversial due to an extremely slow start in Iowa and season numbers (.260/.323/.510, 23 HRs, 8% walk rate, 30% strikeout rate) that are good, but not indicative of destroying the PCL. In particular, the high strikeout rate concerns many Cub fans and prospect analysts.

However, Baez’s season is probably best described in three separate portions. The first is from Opening Day to May 16, when he was terrible. The second is from May 17 to June 30, when he was much better. The third is from July 1 to August 3, when he was flat out awesome.

Opening Day to May 16: 122 PAs, .145/.230/.255, 36.9 K%, 8.2 BB%, 3 HRs

May 17 to June 30: 176 PAs, .310/.358/.563, 29.5 K%, 7.4 BB%, 8 HRs

July 1 to August 3: 136 PAs, .300/.360/.675, 24.3 K%, 8.1 BB%, 12 HRs

This type of progression is not out of the ordinary for Baez. Since moving up from the Low A Peoria Chiefs to the High A Daytona Cubs in 2012, Baez has struggled upon reaching each new level before, eventually, dominating enough that he spent no more than four months at any level of the minors.

The Cubs have been fairly aggressive in promoting Baez, moving him up a level once he showed a month or so of consistent performance demonstrating improvement on his problems upon each promotion, typically dealing with his overaggressive approach leading to struggles with improved breaking pitches he saw as he moved up. This call up is right in line with that approach.

But what should we expect from Baez in his first stint in the Majors?

I’d caution not to set expectations too high. As I stated above, Baez struggled at each of the three highest levels of the Minor Leagues before adjusting, and he will consistently face pitchers with better stuff and control than at any prior point in his career. Nor would Baez be the first elite prospect to struggle in his first stint in the Majors and have a bright career soon thereafter. Antony Rizzo’s struggles in his first call up to San Diego in 2011 were widely reported, hitting just .141/.281/.242 in 153 plate appearances. Rizzo has emerged as one of the best hitters in baseball this season. Mike Trout, who has a meaningful chance of being the best baseball player many of us have ever seen when his career is finished, hit just .220/.281/.390 in his first 135 plate appearances in the Show.

If Baez hits .250/.300/.400 and keeps his strikeout rate below 30%, I’ll be fairly pleased. If the slugging percentage is .450, meaning he’s making solid enough contact to get to his power, I’ll be quite happy. Anything beyond that from a 21 year old middle infielder with historical troubles upon moving up to a new level making him MLB debut? Well, my wife may need to tell me stop doing my ridiculous happy dance a few times over the rest of the season.

But if Baez does struggle, people should hold off on the Felix Pie/Gary Scott/etc. comparisons. When your worst case scenario is sending a 22 year old player back to Triple A for a half season to work on a pitch recognition and plate approach refinement, you’re in pretty good shape.

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