The Kid Stays in the Picture: Javy Baez Needs to Play Through His Struggles
Javy Baez dazzled the world on the biggest stage last year en route to the NLCS co-MVP and 2.7 fWAR. He did so by adopting several batting changes — such as limiting hand movement and eliminating his stride at times — under the watchful eye of Joe Maddon, who gave the budding star 450 PA.
Yet going into the fourth week of the 2017 season, Baez seems to have reverted back to his pre-2016 days by making less than 60% contact and dramatically expanding his already big zone. One school of thought holds that the overzealous omnitalented player needs to be benched to get his game straightened out. The best solution, however, is to not take away time from No. 9, but rather to promote his development by giving him opportunities to adjust once again.
“My biggest concern moving forward is that we don’t get comfortable,” Maddon said during Spring Training. “The moment you get into your comfort zone after having a significant moment in your life you’re not wanting to grow. So I really want us to be uncomfortable and to continue on a pattern of growth.”
Uncomfortable is exactly what Baez was after receiving a bulk of the playing time freed up by Kyle Schwarber’s trashed knee. As he adjusted to a new role, Baez posted a disappointing .219 batting average and .243 wOBA in May. But the following month, the 23-year-old sported a .376 wOBA and began to look like the comfortable, swaggy infielder we’ve grown to know.
Maddon could’ve easily restricted Baez’s playing time after he had one of the worst offensive months in MLB last May. But if the Cubs manager had sat Javy, this post might not have been published, since it’s possible the now famous infielder could’ve been shipped away like Jorge Soler or faded into the abyss of former top prospect busts.
Baez’s struggles are a cautionary tale not to extrapolate too much using April stats. Don’t get me wrong, he truly needs to adjust or he’ll continue to have some miserable days. Nevertheless, when sample sizes still haven’t stabilized and players shiver in the sub-40 degree temperatures of Wrigley, giving Baez every opportunity to adjust should only be good for the most popular second baseman in the league.