Javy Baez Well Worth Price of Admission, So Don’t Expect Change

He’s your favorite player’s favorite player and he’s Clint Hurdle’s least favorite. He’s 250 pounds of swag in a 190-pound bag and his story is better told by the ink on his arms than by that in newspaper columns. Ednel Javier Baez doesn’t so much play baseball as he allows it to be played through him, like a prism refracting a spectrum of color from white light.

Imperfect though his methods and their results may sometimes be, there’s a purity to Javy’s game that is almost blinding in its perfection. To watch him when he gets it right is to witness the Platonic ideal of the sport, even if the glimpses are often fleeting.

It’s almost like he’s playing on a slightly different plane of existence, one overlaid almost imperceptibly atop our own. And in a game defined by fractions of inches, that infinitesimal caesura between realities allows Javy to perform feats that leave you awestruck and needing both hands to pick your jaw up off the floor.

Next time he does something like that, try this: Pause your DVR and see if you can make out the ghosted image caused by that slight overlap. It requires a really clear picture and a big screen, but I swear it’s there.

As incredible as Javy can be at his best, though, he can leave you equally gobsmacked when he goes fishing for a red herring of a slider that walks on land in the left-handed batter’s box. Or when he biffs a routine grounder two minutes after making a play God Himself would cede to St. Peter.

That’s why critics lament the bat flips and the big swings, theorizing that Javy could be so much better if he toned down that epic swag. But is that really true? After all, it’s not like we’re talking about a hoopty with 15-inch Rockford Fosgate subs thumping so hard that all you hear is loose trunk panels instead of bass. Besides, you can’t wrap a ballplayer in Dynamat.

“I bust my ass every day to play hard,” Javy said after the win against Pittsburgh last week. “No one plays this game harder than me. I respect 90. But you don’t go out there and talk trash about someone.

“I’m going to play hard every day. Whoever likes it, fine. Whoever doesn’t like it, that’s you.”

Javy isn’t going to make allowances just because someone doesn’t like the way he plays the game, but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to improve. Small sample be damned, he’s making more contact this year despite swinging at more pitches. And while that’s not necessarily a great indicator for success in and of itself — since, you know, the contact could all be bad — it looks as though his pitch selection is getting better.

He’s swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone than last year and at more pitches in the zone than ever before. Like, over 10 percentage points higher than last year’s career-high 72.6 percent Z-swing. What’s more, he’s doing all this despite having a lower percentage of pitches thrown in the zone against him.

Just take his huge at-bat from Saturday’s wild comeback against the Braves, the one that resulted in a bases-clearing, game-tying double. Old Javy would have been coming out of his shoes from the first pitch, trying to take the lead with one cut. But the wiser ringleader of El Mago’s Traveling Road Show took four pitches, three for balls, and fouled off two more before knotting the game with a hard grounder.

And the best part of it was that it wasn’t just dumb luck. He knew exactly what he was doing and he executed his plan to perfection.

“I didn’t try to do too much to it,” Baez told reporters after the game. “Obviously, a ball in the air wasn’t going anywhere with the wind today, so I was just being smart and hitting the ball good.”

Listen, he’s never going to go from taking those mammoth rips on the first pitch to a guy who’s looking to choke and poke all the time. He’s not going to stop running the bases at Mach 2 with his hair on fire. And that flaming hair will continue to evolve as well, from close-cropped to blond or accented by braided extensions.

The tattoos and the emotion and the go-for-broke style aren’t going to sit well with everyone, but whatever. As Javy said, that’s you. Dude’s going to keep doing what he does, how he does, and he’s going to be worth the price of admission all by himself. Just make sure you’ve got plenty of cash if you’re going to see him, ’cause he’s not going to change.

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