It’s gotten to the point where we’re not surprised by anything Javy Baez does, yet he still manages to find new and more awesome ways to allow his talent to manifest itself on the diamond. On Monday night, that meant going 4-for-6 with his first career triple (that’s actually hard to believe) and double while “almost” sneaking safely under a tag at home to end the game in the 10th.
He was also swipe-tagging the heck out of pretty much everyone who tried to steal second. Well, except for Jordy Mercer, who wasn’t actually stealing because a third strike to Francisco Cervelli was called a ball. But Javy still tagged him, so that was cool. Nothing from that recent performance is included in this montage of Baez tags, but it’s worth watching nonetheless. While Javy’s put together a highlight reel of defensive plays, the tags really display his cat-like reflexes.
Sahadev Sharma recently asked the freakishly talented utility infielder about his ability to apply tags with a quickness approaching that of greased lightning.
“Just natural,” came the response. “I’m a lefty, I do everything left-handed so catching the ball is really easy for me.”
Sharma tweeted something about this Tuesday morning and here’s a little more from his piece in The Athletic (it’s a subscription site and you only get 3 articles per month for free, so you should probably just subscribe like I did):
I did a double take. As reporters walked away, I went up to Baez and double-checked: “Wait, you’re a lefty?” He confirmed, saying he eats and writes left-handed. Apparently in high school he was a switch-hitter with a swing from the left side even more violent than the right-handed one that made him prospect-famous in the minors.
When I first saw this, I was like “Well, yeah,” because Len Kasper had actually brought it up on a broadcast back in 2014 when Javy had first come up to Chicago. I subsequently included a little blurb on it while writing about Baez’s first Wrigley home run. If I remember correctly, Kasper relayed how he saw Baez signing autographs with his left hand and got into a conversation about his swing.
Can you imagine taking the ferocity with which he swings now and then turning up the volume and flipping him over to the left side? It’d be Jimi Hendrix, only with a baseball bat instead of a Fender Stratocaster. *thinks of making a joke about how even Colin Kaepernick would stand for that anthem, but it’s too clunky and forced*
Really awful appropriations of popular topics aside, this was a virtuoso performance from a guy who’s fashioned himself into an indispensable piece of this Cubs machine. It’s been fascinating to watch him mature, almost like a young superhero learning to harness and direct his nascent powers. And that’s what has led me time and again to look at Javy as the Cubs’ best baseball player.
I know that’s a clanging gong to most of you because, well, Kris Bryant. It comes down to a matter of semantics, really, and I’m not going to argue that Bryant isn’t more valuable or that he’s not better than Baez. It’s just…I mean…I don’t know. There’s just a certain je ne sais quoi with Baez, a visceral appeal about how he plays, that draws me to him. Bryant is the polished gem, Baez is the uncut stone.
He’s always churning, sliding, tagging, swinging, each movement fueled by a manic force at risk of surging free at any moment. Maybe that’s why the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stands up when he’s at the plate. Javy’s far from perfect, but he’s so incredibly exciting that it really doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that all that energy and excitement is finally coalescing in a more consistent and contained manner. It’s almost like Baez had to slow himself down a little in order to get comfortable and let the game come to him. When that happens, when he’s really in it and thinks are clicking, it sure is something special to watch. I can’t wait to see what he can do when he really figures things out.