Does the fact that Javier Báez’s walk totals are low actually matter? Ultimately, this writer thinks the answer is a resounding ‘no’.
Members of the media gathered around Javier Báez’s locker Thursday following the Chicago Cubs 5-1 win over the New York Mets. Of course, reporters appearing in locker rooms is a common sight, but this occasion was different.
No, Báez did not record a game-winning hit; he did not make a game-saving play defensively. What he did do, though, is snap a streak of 183 plate appearances without an unintentional walk.
Long drought over at last
Yes, you read that correctly—Báez had gone almost two months without a “regular” walk. His last unintentional walk came on April 7, a 5-2 Cubs win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Yu Darvish pitched six innings of one-run ball. Ah, how things have changed.
Regarding Báez, going as long as he did without an unintentional walk is quite remarkable. For the sake of comparison, even Cubs reliever Randy Rosario has walked this season despite appearing in just three games.
Be that as it may, the question that must be asked is does it really matter how often Báez walks, if at all? In reality, the answer might actually different than you’d think.
Just keep swinging
It is widely known how Báez is a free-swinger at the plate. In 2016 and 2017, he struck out 108 times in 142 games and 144 times in 145 games, respectively. Entering Friday, he has struck out 49 times in 51 games. You get the picture.
At the same time, Báez’s strikeout rate stands at 22 percent, which would be a career best. While he has walked just seven times in 2018 (four intentionally), he enters Friday’s game with a stellar .271/.304/.562 slash line.
Báez’s .865 OPS trails only Kris Bryant (.925) and Kyle Schwarber (.885), though his slugging percentage is the main reason. His 43 RBI are tied for third-best in the MLB with Eugenio Suarez of the Cincinnati Reds. His 13 home runs lead all Cubs hitters.
Essentially, Báez is putting up an outstanding offensive season despite his lack of walks. Fans likely want to see him cut down on swinging at pitches out of the zone. However, the fact of the matter is that Báez’s free-swinging nature is key to his success.
Have there been moments where Báez being patient at the plate would have helped the Cubs? Probably.
Ultimately, though, the Cubs surely will accept the lack of walks if Báez continues producing at the level he has been. Báez hinted that a change in approach is not in the cards.
“I mean I don’t go out there looking for a walk,” he said. “As long as the pitcher is there, I’m swinging.”