If the Chicago Cubs don’t sign a leadoff hitter, they’ll have to pick from what they have. But one of those answers is NOT Javier Baez.
Since Dexter Fowler hung up his Chicago Cubs’ uniform for the St. Louis Cardinals’, the Cubs have struggled to find someone to front their batting order regularly. Since Fowler’s departure, the leadoff role has been a revolving door for the Cubs. Nearly every current Cub has been auditioned in the spot, but none have stuck. One name that has recently surfaced in the conversation is that of Javier Baez’s.
On the surface, it’s thought-provoking. With Kris Bryant batting after Baez, would pitchers be wary of throwing the down-and-away off-speed stuff that fools Baez too easily? It’s possible. Even with the holes in his swing and his imperfect plate discipline, Baez had the second highest batting average on the 2017 Cubs.
Still, for every consideration in his favor as a leadoff man, there are several against the idea.
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Plate discipline issues
Baseball progressives and traditionalists alike would raise a brow to the notion of slotting the guy with arguably the worst plate discipline on the club in the leadoff role. And it isn’t just about how bad his plate discipline can be at times; it’s also how predictable it is.
If Baez is down in the count, the opposing pitcher can pretty reliably get a swing and a miss on a good pitch that breaks away. We’ve all seen it, the league has all seen it, yet Baez still hasn’t corrected what is perhaps his most significant hole at the plate.
Baez has gotten into 3-0 counts in 63 plate appearances in his career. Twenty of those plate appearances ended in an out. An ideal leadoff man would almost never fail to reach base when given that much of an advantage.
Moving Baez to leadoff hurts the rest of the order
Baez’s bat in the back-end of the order has become invaluable to the Cubs. If he’s moved up to leadoff, the rest of the lineup suffers.
The 2016 NLCS MVP averaged .299 in the eight hole with 11 home runs. In the ninth spot, he hit .289. The back of the order is when opponents hope for easy outs, but having Baez back there derails that luxury.
The Cubs do need to address the vacant leadoff role, but Baez is not the answer. There have been rumors and speculation—including one recent rumor that would change the Cubs’ outfield for the next few years—but rumors and speculation appear to be all fans have for now.