Javier Báez takes a big hack at the ball.

The Making of a Magical Superstar

Chicago Cubs fans have gotten used to extolling the virtues of Ednel Javier Báez. He’s an exciting player who succeeds both in traditional ways and in ways in which he shouldn’t. I’m not even talking about his magical slides or extra effort on the basepaths. The fact of the matter is that Javy should not have the profile he does with the bat and still be an elite hitter. Yet in the year 2019 Báez has yet again improved himself as a hitter. There’s a reason Cubs fans talk about Javy all the time, he’s worthy of every second of everyone’s attention.

Báez made himself a nationally known player in 2018. He was known before that, it’s hard for a consistently top rated prospect not to be known in some manner. So, yes, people knew of Javy, they knew all about his potential, his defensive wizardry, and the unique moves he pulled off on the basepaths. It wasn’t until 2018 when Javy put everything together and became a player that the national audience paid attention to game after game. Still, there are those who thought Báez’s 2018 would be an outlier, but 2019 is proving them wrong.

When not holding a bat Báez is his usual self. His BRR currently sits at 1.9 and is good for fifth in all of MLB. Sports Info Solutions introduced a stat called Good Baserunning Plays, or GBP, that measures a runner taking an extra base, beating out a tag, etc. and in that category Javy’s 6 lead the league. In the field, Javy is now a permanent fixture at shortstop and leads all shortstops with 7 DRS. He still possesses the ability to play literally anywhere on the diamond, but 2019 is him proving that he is one of the best shortstops in baseball.

As I type this before the Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals on a Sunday night Báez is again among the top players in the league. He’s slashing .318/.353/.659 with a DRC+ of 137 in 136 plate appearances. He still isn’t walking much, only 7 times this year, and he’s still striking out a fair amount, 38 times already this year. But, that is just the player Javy is, he’s not going to take many walks and he’s going to swing at a lot of pitches because he can make contact with just about anything. That means he’ll stretch himself too thin sometimes, but striking out a bit more is made up for by his ability to put balls that bounce in front of the plate in play.

The man they call El Mago has 11 Home Runs this year and a career high ISO of .341. He’s hitting the ball harder, which is kind of difficult to fathom. His Hard Hit% of 53.8 is a career high, same is true of his Exit Velocity of 93.1. When he makes contact he’s adding more loft to his profile in the form of a Launch Angle of 12.6, which is, you guessed it, a career high. His xBA of .311, xSLG of .613, and xwOBA of .398 would all be career highs. The numbers keep trending up for Báez, his total bWAR before Sunday’s game is 1.7, and, in case the trend isn’t clear, he’s on pace for a career number in that statistic as well.

2018 wasn’t an outlier for Javy Báez, it was but a sign of things to come. He is one of the best players in the game and an absolute joy to watch. He’s been appointment viewing for me since the first time I saw him play for the Tennessee Smokies. The rest of the nation may have realized Javy was legit in 2018, but in 2019 he’s showing why he is going to be a superstar for many years to come.

Lead photo courtesy of Mark J. Reblias – USA Today

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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