Cub fans have been conditioned to hope for the best and expect the worst. We cling to the smallest ounce of hope and panic at the hint of things going south.
We were on top of the world at the news that Javier Baez was making his way to the major leagues. He didn’t disappoint with a 12th inning game winning home run against Colorado in his debut. Since then Baez has struck out 43% of the time and on cue, the panic has begun…
“He’s a bust.”
“He swings too hard.”
“He’s a bust.”
Take a deep breath. Gather around, let me tell you a little story about Javy Baez.
- He dominates a level.
- He gets promoted.
- He struggles a bit.
- He adjusts.
- He dominates again.
- Rinse and repeat.
We all know 23 games is not enough of a sample size to judge his career and yet here we are. Theo brought Baez up now so that he can use what’s left of the season to get an idea of what major league pitching, specifically offspeed pitches, is all about. There will be growing pains, but if history has taught us anything about Javy, it’s that he will adjust.
Yes, he swings hard. BUT, his swing is not the problem. It’s what will separate him from other players. His swing is what got him to this level at 21 years old. His swing is what will make him an important player in the middle of the Cubs lineup. His swing is anything but out of control. To prove that, let’s break down his swing.
All this movement is what generates his power. Baez listed at 6 feet, 190 lbs, is relatively small given his tremendous power so he needs to generate it using explosive hip rotation. The leg kick gets his weight loaded on the back foot, gathering energy as he falls forward. Notice how his head remains in place. The hand movement generates momentum for the barrel of the bat and separates the hip and shoulder rotation in the swing. Gary Sheffield will always be a comparison because they have similar swing and more importantly bat speed.
Now if you ever see a photo of a major league hitter, no matter how they start, all of them end up looking like this.
His straight front leg combining with the collapsed back leg allows for his hips and shoulders to rotate through the swing. Again, notice how his head stays in place. If he was out of control, his head would be all over the place. Instead it remains in place, looking down, watching the ball hit the bat. If I have one criticism of Javy at this point, it’s that his front foot isn’t pointed more towards the pitcher. It’s not an ideal landing position but still can be effective. Mike Trout of the LA Angels has a very similar closed front foot.
Baez has a “loud” finish which is where I think most people get the idea that he is out of control. He opens his hips with such ferocity that it is difficult to understand how he gets the bat through the strike zone. However, look at his head. It’s in the same spot as when he started his swing. I want to emphasize that his swing looks like a lot of players in the league at just a higher velocity so the illusion is that he is out of control when he’s really not.
If his swing’s not the problem then what? Pitch recognition and selection. Baez is swinging at 50% of pitches he sees (league average is 46.5%). Furthermore, Fangraphs will tell you that pitchers are throwing fewer fastballs to Baez (52%) than the league average (60%) and less strikes (40%) than the league average (50%). This becomes a math problem. Add Baez’s tendency to swing more often than normal at fewer hittable pitches equals well, a lot of whiffs. Chalk this up as youthful aggressiveness as he trys to prove his place at this level. Unfortunately, experience is the only solution to this problem. Once he settles down, he will learn how to wait for his pitch especially early in the count which will result in more contact.
In his first 90 PAs, Javier Baez has K'd 44.4%, league avg is 20.3%. In his first 135 PAs, Reggie Jackson K'd 34.1%, league avg was 15.9%
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) August 27, 2014
We all have these expectations that a rookie of Baez’s caliber to come up and set the league on fire. There have been countless players to start great only to flame out. I understand it goes against all our natural instincts as Cubs fans to see Baez hitting under .200 and not want to sound the alarm. Do not get me wrong Baez will likely always be a high strike out guy but not to the level we are seeing now. Expect the strike outs to come back to a more reasonable rate as he gains experience.
The game of baseball is a lot like life, you play with the swing that got you here.