By: Chris Larson
At 23-18 and in 4th place in the NL Central, the Chicago Cubs haven't necessarily lit the world on fire or truly shown us who they are so far this season. However, not all is doom and gloom for the Cubs and you have to remember this is a team that won a World Series Championship just two years ago and are here to stay for the foreseeable future.
After all, the Cubs currently have the third best team batting average in the National League (.256 over 1,451 at bats), the best on-base percentage in the NL (.336), and rank third in runs scored with 217 over that span. Furthermore, while the pitching staff has had it's moments, Chicago has a cumulative 3.40 ERA, so far, good enough for third place in the NL. The starting rotation has an ERA of 3.87 over 221.0 IP, while the bullpen has been elite with a 2.73 ERA over the course of 154.2 innings of work.
All of that is great and all, but what's even better is that there is one guy that the Cubs currently have on their 25-man roster, that probably doesn't get nearly as much credit as he should. Typically, when you think of the Cubs, you think of guys like Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber. However, go ahead and add, Javier Baez, to that list of names as well because he is here to stay and a true budding star on the north side of Chicago.
Baez, 25-years old, is the Cubs best offensive weapon, outside of third baseman, Kris Bryant. Through 40 games or 159 at bats, Baez leads the Cubs in home runs (10), RBI (37), and has a .298 on-base percentage along with a .560 slugging percentage on the season. In addition, Baez has a 1.3 Offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR) so far and an Isolated Power (IsoP) value of .296, the highest of his 4-year career. Very good for a guy that many didn't expect to do much from an offensive standpoint and someone who isn't a public staple of the Cubs organization.
Javier Baez does a tremendous job in all sorts of hitting situations and has been used in various spots of the Cubs lineup so far, but has really found his groove in the two hole. Over the span of 50 at bats when Baez is batting second, he's recorded 16 hits, 6 doubles, 2 home runs, 10 RBI, 2 stolen bases along with a .320 on-base and .600 slugging percentage. Furthermore, Baez often does better when there are no runners on base as illustrated by his, .284 batting average during those situations, as opposed to his .250 batting average, with runners on, and .213 batting average, during times with runners in scoring position.
Here is a chart that helps to illustrate Baez's hot zones so far this season:
As you can see in the chart, Baez works every part of the strike zone, but his swing especially excels in the middle part of the zone. As the pitch gets closer to Baez or further away from the middle of the plate, Baez starts to see his batting average go down. What's even more impressive are the red squares at the top and bottom of the zone as well as the one in the upper quadrant closest to his body.
Compare that chart to his Hot Zone chart from last season:
Overall, Javier Baez has expanded his hitting zone this season compared to last and done a better job of working all areas of the plate. Pitchers can no longer guarantee that they'll be able to get Baez out by working around the corners of the zone because he has improved in those areas most notably in the two bottom zones and at the top of the strike zone itself.
Another good indication of how Baez continues to mature as a hitter and is a budding star is by looking at his strikeout percentage this season compared to last. Granted, the sample size is much different as last season includes all 162 games, while this season's includes 40 games, but it is still trending in the right direction. Baez ended last season with a 28.3 strikeout percentage, while he's got a 22.6 strikeout percentage this year. So over one year, Baez has become more of a disciplined hitter and is able to get those hits when they count the most.
Furthermore, so far this season, Javier Baez has a Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) of .352 compared to .326 last season and a Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) value of 121 compared to 98 from last season. With an increasing wOBA, that means that Baez is doing more during the at bats that he does get and giving the Cubs a very good chance to make a significant offensive contribution when he steps up to the plate. In addition, wRC+ helps to indicate that Baez has very good offensive value and that is also trending in the right direction. You want a batter's wRC+ to keep climbing into, the triple digits rather than decline into the double digits, which is exactly the case with Javier Baez.
Expanding the sample size back to 2016, Baez ranks 10th among qualified second baseman in BABIP (.332), is tied for 5th, with Jonathan Schoop of the Baltimore Orioles in Isolated Power (ISO), with a value of .197, and is 7th in slugging percentage (.469) over that span. On top of that, Javier Baez also does a very good job in the base running department, as indicated by his BsR value of 8.5, dating back to the 2016 regular season, which puts him fourth among qualified second baseman over that span. Teams view BsR as something very important because it is basically the base running side of the WAR metric.
As with any hitter, Javier Baez still has some holes in his game, as illustrated by his cumulative 25.8 strikeout percentage dating back to the 2016 regular season, which is the second highest among second baseman over that span, but as mentioned earlier, that number is trending downward and in the right direction this season compared to last. Hopefully that continues for the remainder of this year as Baez continues to become more disciplined of a hitter and shows his true offensive worth.
Regardless, Javier Baez is a budding star within the Cubs lineup and still has tons of potential at the ripe young age of 25 years.