A Brief Appreciation of El Mago’s Unquantifiable Awesomeness
The stats will tell you Ednel Javier Baez is an average baseball player. The stats lie.
If you don’t actually watch the man they call El Mago, you’ll see the .269/.313/.480 slash and 96 wRC+ and 1.7 WAR and conclude that there’s nothing really special there. You’ll hear people shout his praises as an elite defensive player and you’ll look over and see that he’s got a negative UZR and only four defensive runs saved at three positions. Psssht, replacement player.
But there is perhaps no athlete in the sport who better personifies the danger of putting complete faith in numbers. The things he does on the field, man, they’re just…I mean…he’s on another level. Do you see how I’m struggling to even put it into words?
Javy makes it happen! pic.twitter.com/KKNEDRu1Ws
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 2, 2017
It’s as though El Mago operates on an entirely different plane of existence that’s overlaid nearly perfectly on our own, but with just enough of an offset to let you see that something’s not quite right. As such, he knows what’s going to happen just a split-second before it does. He can score from second on infield singles and steal home on aborted bunt attempts.
I’d say it’s not as much about what he does as how he does it, but that’s not really true because he does things no one else would even think of. He’s a guy you have to see to understand and believe, except you’re frequently left shaking your head in disbelief at what you just saw.
The numbers are improving and I believe they’ll continue to do so as Javy further acclimates himself to the game. At the risk of being too hyperbolic — though I believe that’s a prerequisite for discussing this young man — it’s almost as though he’s got to slow himself down in order to match the speed at which everyone else is operating.
There are times when that true-up causes a lack of fidelity, a little hiccup in performance that is evident in cold streaks and swinging strikes (like gravity, sliders travel interdimensionally and are thus beyond the inherent advantages Javy is granted). Then there are the times things sync up and you see a guy posting All-Star numbers and taking pitches the other way and whatnot.
But that’s not where all the love and hype comes from. No, it’s those moments in which that off-the-charts baseball IQ manifests itself in plays that just aren’t supposed to happen that jaws drop and tweets start flying. All the while, the casual observer just shrugs. Some people might even see the oversized shades, spreading network of tattoos, and the braids in his hair and call him too flashy.
You can say he’s just an average baseball player and the metrics agree with you. Spend some time watching him, though, and you’ll walk away shaking your head in the incredulous knowledge that Javy Baez is nothing shy of phenomenal.