Chicago Cubs: Javier Baéz enjoying a career year and isn’t slowing down

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 11: Javier Baez
CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 11: Javier Baez /

The Chicago Cubs have always known of the breakout potential of Javier Baez. Now, in his third full major league season, Javy is just being Javy and is finding himself putting it all together.

Over the past two seasons, Javier Báez has been nothing if not exceptionally consistent. Báez has posted back-to-back seasons where he finished at a .273 batting average. He has also put together back-to-back respectable seasons in which he ended with a 2.2 WAR and a 2.3 WAR. Conversely, Báez finished with nearly the same on-base percentage as well as wRC+ in those seasons.

This year is a different story, so far. Báez has been playing like a man possessed, something the team and fans alike have been waiting for since he made his debut in the Show.

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Its about time

Since the Chicago Cubs selected Báez in the first round, ninth overall, of the 2011 MLB Amateur Player draft, everyone knew there was something special. The Cubs brass carried high expectations for the dynamic shortstop from Puerto Rico.

Báez unsurprisingly struggled in his first two times at the major league level. During that span, Báez played in 79 games, slashing a disappointing .201/.252/.346 with 10 home runs and just 24 runs batted in. He also struck out 119 times in 309 total plate appearances, averaging roughly 1.5 strikeouts per game.

He did begin to find himself during the 2015 season, however. Playing in just 28 games, Báez slashed a much-improved .289/.325/.408. He also put it together in his limited postseason experience where, in the NLDS, he went 4-for-5 with 1  home run, three runs batted in and a stolen base. It was the beginning of something great.

Showing up when it mattered most

The following season, Javier Báez indeed began to find his swing. He played in 142 games during the championship season, finishing with a much more impressive line of .273/.314/.423 with 14 home runs and 59 runs batted in. Báez also finished with a more than respectable 2.2 WAR.

In the first game of the National League Division Series, Báez came up clutch hammering the game-winning home run into the basket off of Johnny Cueto, setting the tone for the rest of the postseason.

In the National League Championship Series, Báez finished with a .318/.333/.500 line en route to being named the series co-Most Valuable Player, helping as a driving catalyst for the Cubs first pennant since 1945.

Will the real Javier Báez please stand up?

The 2018 season is still just a few months old; however Báez is finally finding his groove at the plate. Likewise, he is taking full advantage as well as embracing the new quality level of production. Simply put, Javy is raking.

Beginning with his power, Báez has already swatted 16 home runs through the first 75 games of the season. In 145 games in 2017, he totaled 24 home runs. Javy is also driving in runs at an excellent pace, as he is currently ranked fifth in the National League, ahead of Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado and Freddie Freeman .

Báez is also finding much greater success on the base paths. His 13 stolen bases are a career-high from his previous two seasons, and it would not be a surprise to anyone if he finishes as, at a minimum, a 20/20 producer. By season’s end, Báez could push the limits of a 30/30 season at the rate he is going.

While Báez is still striking out at a relatively frustrating pace, another positive aspect of Báez’ game is his decrease from last season. His strikeout rate is 3.3 percent lower than last year. If he can build on his patience, Báez could find himself at a career-low strikeout percentage by seasons end.

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Currently, Báez is slashing .276/.315/.555 with 16  long balls and 56 RBI. His .359 wRC+ and 126 wOBA are already both career highs, and he has already achieved a 2.1 WAR. The previous career high is 2.3. When it is all said and done, it would surprise nobody if Javier Báez is a four-win player.

Accordingly, ZiPS projects Báez for an additional 12 homers and 44 RBI. Add in another eight stolen bases, and the Cubs have themselves an impressive producer. It would place him at 28 HR and 100 RBI for the season, both utterly attainable at this point.

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Bottom line, Javier Báez is fun for baseball. He is what baseball needs. A Javier Báez who is also producing at a ridiculous pace relative to his previous accomplishments makes it even more fun. Don’t be surprised by seasons end if, during “Javy being Javy,” Báez crushes his career numbers. He is setting himself up for his best year yet.