Chicago Cubs: Javier Baez swinging more than ever in 2018

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Off to the best start of his career, the Chicago Cubs’ Javier Baez is walking more, striking out less and causing a lot of damage against offspeed pitches.

With his three-RBI effort in Sunday’s finale against Colorado, Javier Baez is currently on-pace for 196 runs batted in this season. He’s tied for the league lead and ranks near the top of baseball in almost every major offensive statistic – adding a big boost to the Chicago Cubs lineup.

A former top prospect with a proclivity to chase pitches out of the zone, many have wondered whether Baez would ever put it all together at the plate. No one has ever questioned his power – even from his Minor League playing days, he’s been able to brutally punish mistakes left out over the heart of the plate. But his swing-and-miss tendencies made keeping him in the lineup on a daily basis a bit of a risk.

But, at least through three weeks of the 2018 season, something appears to have changed. There’s no telling how long his new approach will last. But the results have been dramatic, to say the least.

Grip it and rip it

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So what’s changed? Simple. He’s swinging more than ever before.

Now that may not come as a big shock to anyone who’s watched his career progress. Swinging has never been the problem. Like I said, he’s never met a pitch he doesn’t like. Fastballs at eye level, breaking balls that bounce – he’ll take a hack at pretty much anything.

But, according to Fangraphs, he’s swinging at pitches in the zone at a greater rate. Basically, he’s taking a cut at eight of every 10 pitches he sees in the strike zone – a nearly 10 percent increase year-over-year. And he’s not just swinging – he’s squaring up balls at a much higher rate than he has historically.

His average exit velocity entering Sunday sat a tick below 93 MPH. In essence, Javy’s being Javy. For years, the Cubs tried to get Baez to be more selective and work counts in his favor. That ran opposite to his natural inclination to grip and rip at anything close. Perhaps new hitting coach Chili Davis has finally let the Puerto Rican native go with what works?

With seven home runs, 23 RBI and a 1.099 OPS – you won’t hear any complaints from anyone in or around the organization. But, again, it all comes down to the sustainability of Baez’s recent surge. It seems pretty unlikely he’ll be able to hit like this over the course of a 162-game season. But that may be in his hands.

Will Baez ever be content drawing walks?

As is pointed out in that same Fangraphs article, pitchers are going to figure this out pretty quickly. It stands to reason they’ll look to extend the zone more and more, testing Baez’s patience. Can he lay off pitches? That’s the million-dollar question.

At the end of the day, Baez has to learn to be content drawing walks. And, to this point, he’s been either unable or unwilling to do so. Pitchers will undoubtedly use this to their advantage and work his dwindling patience to induce a higher swing rate outside the zone.

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Personally, I’m all for giving Javy the green light. I don’t care what the count is – he needs to have the go-ahead when a pitch is to his liking (and in the zone). With Anthony Rizzo struggling and now, Kris Bryant sidelined, a lethal Javier Baez may be the perfect leader for this team’s offense.

Will it last? There’s no telling. But for the time being, letting El Mago do his thing has been a game-changing decision for a team with World Series aspirations. If he somehow carries this through an entire season, we’re not talking about leading the team – but becoming a face of Major League Baseball.