Javier Baez just concluded what was easily the best month of his career. In March/April, he set career highs for OPS (.963), RBI (26), and total bases (63). But with a mini-slump recently, what are his chances to make a last frenetic dash and nab a NL Player of the Month award?
Cubs have been no strangers to winning player and pitcher of the month awards over the last three seasons. Kris Bryant won the player award in August 2016 with 10 homers and a 1.220 OPS. On the pitching side, Cubs hurlers have won an amazing seven of the last 14 monthly awards (Jake Arrieta four times, Jon Lester twice, Kyle Hendricks once.)
Baez’s numbers crested six games ago, at which point he was tops or nearly tops in OPS, slugging, RBI, and total bases. He also had an average over .300. But thanks to a .478 OPS over the last six games, others have eclipsed his March/April numbers in all but RBI.
Overall, though, no runaway favorite exists. Only Atlanta second baseman Ozzie Albies and Arizona outfielder A.J. Pollack lead the league in more than one major category. Here are some contenders based on leading the league in at least one category (all stats are March/April).
Omitted here is Bryce Harper, who did have a .986 OPS, eight homers and an amazing 38 walks, which is 13 more than the next closest hitter in the majors (Aaron Judge). But his .247 batting average would seem to largely disqualify him when these awards are based largely on box score numbers.
The big late surprise was Pollock, who homered three times Monday. This flung him into the top spot in slugging and a tie in homers (9), plus second in OPS and total bases. This surge could be insurmountable, especially as he’s now one of just two National Leaguers with an OPS over 1.000.
Former Cubs prospect Christian Villanueva, now of the Padres, is the underdog favorite. He leads the NL in OPS, though he’s technically one plate appearance short of qualifying. But having fallen to fourth in homers with just 19 RBI, his feels like a single-dominant-stat candidacy.
Javy’s is much the same, what with his 26 RBI. He hasn’t been great with the glove (7 errors), but it’s doubtful that factors in. The same can be said for Clint Hurdle’s tempest-in-a-teapot criticisms to get in Baez’s head. A possible ace in the hole could be Baez’s month of weaponized baserunning. But how well noticed or remembered this is outside of Chicago is an open question.
Bottom line, Player of the Month plaudits are by design a placebo award for player and fans alike. After all, the only hardware that really matters are rings. Either way, the winner should be announced by Wednesday, and a mid-week sugar pill never hurt anyone.