Chicago Cubs: Despite Cubs struggles, Javier Baez’s growth is bright news

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 04: Javier Baez
CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 04: Javier Baez /

The Chicago Cubs are back to experiencing first half woes, but one bright sign is the play of Javier Baez.

At this point of the 2017 campaign for the Chicago Cubs, it’s been a trend of a few ups and a lot of downs, at least it seems that way.

Winning 103 games on the way to a World Series championship may give fans over the top expectations, but I digress. The Cubs have been pretty mediocre for the majority of the season and the fans have no problem showing their frustration.

It’s hard to believe there could be more downs than ups considering the defending champions are back atop the National League Central Division.

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As we know, the 14-3 start post all-star break was huge in bringing the Cubs back into first place.

Stepping in

We all know the major part of that stretch and the offense overall is the play of Willson Contreras but what about the play of Javier Baez. Entering Friday’s series with Arizona, Baez was slashing .292/.346/.597 in the second half. His .943 OPS is much better than the .745 percentage in the first half.

A big part of his success is his ability to hit the ball hard back up the middle. In the first half, Baez’s pull rate (42.8 percent) was higher than both his center (36.1 percent) and opposite (21.1 percent) field batted ball rates.

Since July 14, the young infielder has been centering the ball more often than not with hard contact towards the middle of the diamond at a rate of 48.9 percent, while his pull rate is down to 26.7 percent.

Making center contact

It’s a small sample size of numbers but it’s led to success for the always animated Cub.

For a young player known for being streaky and sometimes an all or nothing at the plate, Cubs fans shouldn’t have much to complain about right now about those kinds of numbers.

Since Addison Russell hit the DL, Baez moved over to his natural position and has played well. He has at least one hit in seven of the eight games he’s started at shortstop.

Of course, it should come to no surprise that his strikeout rate is up and over 30 percent during this stretch of games but his numbers overall are still trending up. His all or nothing attitude at the plate or in other words, home run or strikeout approach shows how young he is.

Strikeouts are down…a little

However, the rate is still much lower than when he made his major league debut in 2014. In 229 plate appearances in 2014, Baez saw strike three 41.5 percent of the time. This season overall, it sits at 27.9 percent. All in all, it’s going to take Baez time to become more consistent at the plate.

While we all wish his walk rate would rise, I don’t think that will change much, but if he works on making more contact, he’s likely to see more positive results with his speed on the bases.

Many fans and forget this Cubs team is very young and are likely to experience growing pains. It seems 2017 is that kind of year for the time being.

That said, the Cubs are still in first place, barely.

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Entering the weekend, the Milwaukee Brewers sit in third place after leading the division by five games entering the break, but the St. Louis Cardinals have won six straight contests and don’t seem to be slowing down.

Willson Contreras is a big loss for now because he’s somehow catapulted himself into MVP talk but there is more than enough on this Cubs team to pick up the slack.

Baez has the personality that could light a fire under this team. Continue to play great defense will come easily to him. However, trying to not do too much at the plate will be his biggest challenge.