There’s too much at stake for the Cubs to stick with Javier Baez in the cleanup spot.
Whatever the reason, Javier Baez just doesn’t have it right now. He looks completely and utterly lost at the plate – with no signs of breaking that cold stretch anytime soon. Still, Cubs manager David Ross continues to keep Baez in the fourth spot in the batting order, despite all the evidence pointing to the need for change.
Of course, one of the biggest criticisms of Joe Maddon was his constant changing of the lineup. It led to him having to set lineups at the onset of series last year because of player feedback – but even that wasn’t enough as the Cubs missed the postseason altogether for the first time since 2014.
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Jordan Bastian of MLB.com delved into some of the numbers accompanying Baez’s struggles of late in his Saturday night recap of the Cubs’ doubleheader losses.
"Javier Báez (.595 OPS in 159 PAs), meanwhile, saw his struggles continue in a 1-for-6 showing on the day out of the cleanup spot. The shortstop struck out to end the fifth inning, stranding a pair of runners and dropping his slash line to .136/.152/.227 in the 11 games following his two-homer outburst on Aug. 24 in Detroit."
He’s not the only guy in the lineup who’s struggled this season. Kris Bryant has somehow been even worse than his teammate – battling injuries and illness while looking overmatched at the plate.
Ross needs to follow suit with him, as well. You can’t have two of your worst hitters making outs at the top of the order. You just can’t. Especially with your lead in the division down to a mere 2 1/2 games heading into Sunday.
Baez’s walk rate is down to 3.8 percent, while his strikeout percentage is higher than its been at any point since he made his big league debut back in 2014 (34 percent). Opposing pitchers know how to attack him – pound the outside half of the plate with breaking balls, especially when he’s down in the count.
This season, he’s seen fewer fastballs and more breaking pitches. On pitches in the zone, he’s making nearly eight percent less contact than he did even a year ago and he’s fallen back into his old habits of trying to pull everything he can rather than utilize the entire field.
With just weeks left in the regular season, now is the time to make some difficult choices. The team comes first – and keeping the likes of Baez in the cleanup spot runs opposite of what’s best for the Cubs at this point.