Maybe Javy’s Recklessness at the Plate Is a Good Thing
Javier Baez is one of the game’s most extraordinary players because of his *oxymoron alert* graceful recklessness. He’ll go down swinging at pitches 20 feet outside the strike zone, then he’ll follow that up by smacking a pitch 450 feet deep into the left-field bleachers. While frustrating at times, this hyper-aggressiveness might actually be a good thing for the middle infielder.
Sure, you basically have the same chances of calling tails correct as you do seeing Baez swing at a slider in the dirt. Yet there are instances when he extends his zone, makes contact, gets on base, and leads his team through the playoffs. Like when he knocked in the go-ahead run in Game 4 of the 2016 NLDS by reaching for an outside pitch. Or when he basically did the same thing against the Brewers last year in a crucial divisional game in September.
It’s not like these clutch hits are fluky, either. Javy has a knack for turning those would-be unhittable low-and-outside pitches beyond the strike zone into value, as illustrated below by the FanGraphs run-value heat map below.
That’s exactly how the Cubs’ King of Swag has been able to outperform his expected base hit results. When considering the launch angle and exit velocity of his overall batted-ball profile, Baez should’ve had 17 fewer knocks last season. That’s because many of the grounders he hit snuck through, just like the clutch hits we saw above.
I admit that I feel hopeless when a catcher sets up well off the plate in a two-strike count because you know strike three is mere seconds away. He really needs to learn to control the strike zone, Addison Russell would never swing at that, I say aloud to myself while texting the Cubs Insider crew before being hastily muted. .
After taking a step back, I realize that maybe this is just who Javy is and always will be: A hitter who will basically press X no matter where the pitch, but who will also keep his zone reticle in that exact O-zone area and barrel up even when it seems like he can’t or shouldn’t.
So Javy’s style is a double-edged sword. If he dials back his aggressiveness, maybe he won’t be able to record as many base hits. And if he doesn’t dial back, he might swing himself out of hittable pitches. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.
But when he does…damn.