A new defensive metric concluded what pretty much any Chicago Cubs fan already knew: Javier Baez is the best defensive player in the game today.
Baseball fans are often split into two schools of thought: those who rely on statistics and numbers, especially the new-age sabermetrics to form their opinions and the old-school fans who are perfectly content relying on the time-proven eye test. When it comes to Javier Baez, though, there’s little debate amongst Chicago Cubs fans that he’s an elite defensive presence.
Those who wanted further validation when it comes to their opinion of Baez got it this week when Statcast unveiled a new defensive metric: Outs Above Average.
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According to Statcast, four items form the basis of the new metric. They are as follows:
• How far the fielder has to go to reach the ball (“the intercept point”)
• How much time he has to get there
• How far he then is from the base the runner is heading to
• On force plays, how fast the batter is, on average
Baez has seen time all over the diamond in his Cubs career before settling in at shortstop last season. Despite never winning a Gold Glove Award, generally considered to be given to the best defenders in the game, the Puerto Rican native makes the highlight reel on a near-daily basis all season long flashing the leather up the middle.
But the one constant, no matter where he’s playing or how he’s positioned is how well Baez relies on his instincts to make near-impossible plays look routine. Never mind his pure athleticism and reflexes – those are among the best in the game, as well. But the two-time All-Star has a baseball IQ that’s off the charts.
Routine plays are just that for Baez – routine. But it’s those challenging plays that, statistically speaking, aren’t as likely to be converted that separate him from the pack. According to MLB.com, the Chicago infielder didn’t have many weaknesses, if any, defensively in 2019.
At shortstop, Báez’s skill shone. He was +8 Outs Above Average on the middle 50% of plays — the ones with an estimated success rate between 25-75%, not so extremely difficult that they’re a dice roll, not so easy that everyone will make them. Báez had 34 chances in that range. His expected success rate on those plays was 55%. He actually made 78% of them.
In an offseason filled with endless trade speculation, the one name that’s never really come up has been Baez. Chicago knows what it has in their standout shortstop – and have hopes of signing him to a long-term contract extension before he hits free agency in a couple years.
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He’s not just a plus defender, either. This guy does it all – even finishing runner-up in the National League MVP race two years ago. As we get ready to open a new era in Chicago Cubs baseball, this is the type of player you build around – and we can only hope the team is able to do that for years to come.