The Fielding Bible Award is presented to defensive players at each position every year, as voted by a writer’s panel. The Chicago Cubs Javier Baez earned his fourth award overall and first at the shortstop position.
In describing my feelings in as much of an unbiased nature as objectively possible, the fact that Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed beat out the Chicago Cubs’ Javier Baez for the National League gold glove for shortstops in 2019 is wild, and, frankly, should not have happened.
Over the past couple of seasons, Báez has been one of the best defensive shortstops across baseball. He ranks top amongst all qualified at the position with 33 defensive runs saved. Báez also ranks in a tie for fourth in overall defense. To put it simply, Báez’s work in the field has been magical. They don’t call him ‘The Magician’ for nothing.
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Since breaking into the league in 2014, Báez has been a mostly above-average defender. In his scouting report way back when it was noted, he possessed “solid arm strength” and “solid defensive actions.” Most scouts expected him to handle the hot corner once he reached the major league level. However, the majority of his career has been spent moving between the two middle infield positions.
Not to say he can’t play the hot corner, however. In his career at third base defensively, Báez has 629 1/3 career innings, with six runs saved and a 4.1 UZR/150. UZR is an analytics-based measure known as ‘Ultimate Zone Rating,’ which attempts to understand the number of runs saved on defense. UZR/150 is the standard as it measures those numbers over a 150 game average giving the numbers a more effective baseline.
Diving into the numbers a little deeper, Báez finished in a tie for fourth amongst qualified players in 2020 with four Outs Above Average. Statcast surfaced as a system tool for the game in 2015 and has become another measure of athletic ability for players and numbers. OOA takes into account the difficulty of plays players make and add or subtract based on probability and success rate.
For Cubs fans and most fans of the game in general, Báez is a treat. The 28-year-old is one of the most electric players in the game and countless times has made plays that make people stop in their tracks in sheer amazement. His no-look swipe tags alone make watching him play so much fun.
‘El Mago’ is projected to make $11 million in his final year of arbitration, per Spotrac. He is officially an unrestricted free agent in 2022, and it remains to be seen if the Cubs will be able to keep him around beyond this next year. Báez is a staple in Wrigleyville, and everyone hopes a deal surfaces. For now, let us just enjoy his majesty and electricity and congratulate him on a well-deserved award.