The lack of Cubs baseball has given me a lot of time to reflect on the season and I’ve come to the conclusion that Javier Báez wasn’t very good in 2020. Okay, you knew that already. Sometimes, though, statements you already know to be true are worth re-emphasizing, so let’s try again.
Javy was really, really bad in 2020, at least offensively. His 57 wRC+ over 59 games is easily his ugliest mark since his rookie year and puts him far closer to the league’s worst hitters than its best. There are, however, built-in reasons to doubt the significance of his struggles this year.
Javy was far from alone in his struggles during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. Christian Yelich, JD Martinez, and many of the league’s other top hitters floundered significantly over the course of this unique season. That’s why can be tempting to simply throw the numbers in the trash and assume Javy will return to the MVP-level production to which we had grown accustomed.
And to be sure, I’d never bet on 2020’s production being anything close to the new normal going forward for Báez. Before this campaign, he had been anywhere from a solid to elite performer every season since 2016. However, just as 2020 seems to be an outlier, I think it’s also worth considering that his 2018 performance might be the same.
Consider that over his last 162 total games, Javy is hitting .245/.280/.444 with an 85 wRC+ and a .302 wOBA. To be sure, those totals are a significant improvement over what we saw in 2020 alone, but taken in total they help underscore the fact that we haven’t seen the absolute best version of him for some time now.
In the context of his career as a whole, the 2018 season stands out as perhaps something closer to a peak than what we should expect going forward. To be clear, that’s perfectly fine. Javy can be extremely valuable without being that good. His ’17 and ’19 seasons represent extremely valuable contributions to any team when coupled with his elite defense at a premium position.
When in doubt, I think it’s a good bet to predict that a player will perform closer to his median production than either his peak or his valley. For Javy and the Cubs, that equates to solid, power-heavy offensive numbers at a high-demand defensive production.
So while that might not net him an opportunity to claim the MVP award he so narrowly missed out on in 2018, it still makes him an extremely valuable asset for a Cubs team that will be looking to retool its way to meaningful competitiveness in 2021.