Javy Báez is one of the most exciting players in all of Major League Baseball, always has been. But for his first few years in The Show, waiting for his highlight plays meant having to watch him strike out and make simple mistakes on occasion…or a lot. Fortunately for the Cubs and their fans, however, El Mago has now learned to combine his magical flair for the dramatic with much more consistent production since the beginning of 2018.
Finally getting a chance for everyday at-bats, Báez took advantage of his career high 645 plate appearances last season with 34 home runs, 111 RBI, and a 131 wRC+. He also got a chance to play his natural shortstop position for 65 games as a result of Addison Russell‘s injuries and domestic violence suspension. All this culminated in Báez finishing second to the nuclear Christian Yelich in the NL MVP race.
That heightened level of production has continued into this season, with Báez further establishing himself as one of the best players in the game. Nearly a quarter of the way through this season, he has actually improved upon every important statistical category from last season, something that would have seemed next to impossible just a couple years ago.
Playing shortstop exclusively — which the Cubs say he will continue to do — Báez has already put up 11 home runs, 29 RBI, 31 runs and 14 doubles, slashing .325/.362/.620 with a wRC+ of 155. Okay, sounds great…but, there’s bound to be regression at some point, right?
Not according to Jon Lester, who knows a thing or two about how the game of baseball works. In fact, Lester recently shared with MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian that the dynamic middle infielder might still have room to get better.
“I feel like he’s been playing well but I don’t feel like he’s been hot,” Lester said. “I don’t know if that’s the right way to describe it, because obviously numbers speak for themselves. But I feel like he’s just had a lot of big hits for us, but he hasn’t really got like kind of Javy hot.”
Sounds hard to believe, but it does sort of feel like that. While Báez has had a great start and has been a focal point of the offense all season, it doesn’t feel like he has gone on a tear so much as he has just produced more consistently and at a higher level. One explanation is his use of the opposite field, which has been otherworldly so far this season.
Javy has been far and away the best opposite-field hitter in all of baseball this season, with 27 total hits (16 for extra bases, 7 home runs) a .659 average, and a 1.415 slugging percentage. So, if you found yourself thinking that Báez was going the other way with more conviction than ever, you were correct.
Javy Baez has been the best opposite-field hitter in baseball this year. By far. Turns out free-swinging and #NicePiecesOfHitting are a match made in heaven.
— David Adler (@_dadler) May 13, 2019
So much of what Báez does on the field is unquantifiable, but the numbers continue to back up the plays that have you fumbling around on the floor for the jaw you dropped. The Cubs may want to hurry up and give this guy an extension while they still can. Because if Lester is right about Javy not even being hot yet, we have a lot to look forward to this season and beyond.