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Sara’s Snapshots: A tale of two bat flips

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They are the best of times, they are the worst of times

Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks
Javier Baez after hitting his 32nd home run at Chase Field
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

It’s September baseball and Cubs fans are lucky to be watching meaningful baseball for the fourth year in a row as we approach the playoffs. There are a lot of things to talk about as we head into the final twelve games, but recently one specific thing caught my eye.

Well, two different iterations of one specific thing, if I’m being precise.

That thing is the controversial bat flip, and it’s been front and center for the Cubs twice this week already.

Ah, the bat flip. When it is good it is very, very good, and when it is bad it is horrid. Depending on who you’re reading at a given moment it’s either the secret to unlocking excitement for new fans or it’s the most disrespectful thing in the game.

So this snapshot is devoted to bat flips, and my two favorite players who love them.

Willson Contreras

Willson plays the game with his heart on his sleeve. Admittedly, he seemed to have a bit more power when those sleeves were the Venezuelan flag (I’d implore MLB to reconsider and give him his sleeves back, but I already wrote that post). The point is, Willson has a lot of energy and fire. It’s one of his greatest attributes. The Cubs clearly know that, as you can see from their campaign ad for the All Star Game:

He’s also been in a slump since the All Star break. In the first half Willson slashed a respectable .279/.369/.449 with a wRC+ of 122. In the second half that’s cooled off considerably to .219/.321/.308 with a wRC+ of 76. That’s a pretty big difference and while his hard contact percentage is closer to his career norm of 32 percent in September, he still hasn’t quite broken out yet.

For the briefest of moments on Sunday it looked like Willson had broken out and he admired the moment.

He was wrong, as you can see here [VIDEO].

Now, I want to be really clear about something. Hustling is good. Respecting 90 is good. Willson made a mistake. A mistake he’s more than paid for in countless articles and radio shows, not to mention Twitter. Since penance time is over, can we all admit that ball was very close to being out to dead center? I am pretty good at making those calls from the grandstand, and I thought this was gone. Let’s break it down a bit below:

Hanging breaking ball
MLB

That is a hanging breaking ball that might as well be on a tee for Willson. This is Willson’s slugging sweet spot according to Brooks Baseball:

Willson Contreras Slugging
Brooks Baseball

Willson did not miss this ball, and he definitely knew it.

Bat drop!
MLB

If we want to get technical, Willson is really more of a bat dropper than a bat flipper, it’s like a mic drop.

The slow admiring walk begins
MLB

Willson admires his work.

Hamilton admires Willson’s work
MLB

Frankly, Hamilton is kind of admiring Willson’s work too. This is why I thought it was gone, usually if you watch an outfielder you can tell what’s going to happen. Hamilton is looking out and up, not trying to get under the ball or setting up to play off the wall.

Uh-Oh
MLB

Here the ball starts to drop and it becomes clear there might be a play. Willson starts to run:

The take off halfway down the first base line
MLB

Willson wasn’t going to make it much past second because Addison Russell was running as if the ball might be caught ahead of him:

Russell trotting into third as the ball is thrown in
MLB

But this play at second is way too close given the extended admiration out of the box:

It’s close at second
MLB

Willson clearly knows he’s made a mistake. This is a player who celebrates everything and he is not celebrating being safe at second:

Willson knows
MLB

Oh, and while everyone under the sun was quick to cover Joe Maddon’s initial criticism of his young catcher, the follow up story went a little bit under the radar:

“Willson always plays hard,” Maddon said Monday afternoon. “For anyone to say otherwise, please, come talk to me. It’s inappropriate. It’s incorrect. That’s wrong. He had a bad moment, but he said he was sorry and did the right thing.”

He continued:

“Anyone that wants to hammer on that should come talk to me about it because I’ll defend this young man -- always,” Maddon said. “He plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played every day.”

Major League Baseball didn’t help matters when its official Twitter account retweeted a video of the play with the caption “Disrespect 90,” a play on words of one of Maddon’s slogans, “Respect 90,”which means to run hard for 90 feet, the distance between the bases.

”There’s way too much made of it,” Maddon continued. “Way too much. It’s over the top. It’s not necessary. Whoever is perpetuating this is wrong. He made a mistake and said he was wrong. I’m totally against this dialogue. It’s inane. It needs to go away.

Anyway, Willson made up for it Monday night at Chase Field, running hard out of the box on a similarly hard hit ball that was caught on the warning track. Frankly, I already wanted to write this post when that happened. It was a redemption story for a struggling player, and I thought it was great.

And then...

Javy things

Alright, I should be clear. What Javier Baez did after his 32nd home run wasn’t really a bat flip. It was also something more than the bat drop I described with Willson above. It was a Javy thing.

Leave it to Javy to transcend the bat flip [VIDEO].

I mean, let’s just go frame by frame.

Javy loads
MLB

This is a classic Javy load as he lifts his leg to increase his power. He doesn’t always do the leg kick, but when he does, you know he’s about to unleash a mighty swing.

The backswing
MLB

That’s a monster swing and back swing. Sometimes when that happens Javy misses the ball and corkscrews himself into the dirt. He did not miss this ball.

Does this walk look familiar?
MLB

He knows he got all of it. This walk is the walk of a man who knows he got all of it.

The scream
MLB

But a bat flip isn’t enough. See him still holding the bat as he screams? This is straight out of Munch as our friends at Bleacher Nation observed last night on Twitter:

This is Javy, though. So he’s not done yet:

Javy continues
MLB

Only after all of this awesomeness is Javy ready to drop the bat. It’s an epic, transcendent bat flip/drop/moment:

Finally, the bat is released.
MLB

Oh, and don’t worry about Javy needing to walk this back. This one was a no doubter:

Javy’s line drive ends up deep in a see of Cubs fans at Chase Field
MLB

Javy actually hadn’t looked great at the plate prior to that moment. In the first he struck out on this selection of pitches:

In the fourth he grounded out, and shortly thereafter this was circulating on Twitter:

Here’s a bit more of the backstory from Patrick Mooney at the Athletic:

“Playing the game with passion,” Báez said. “I was just talking to myself, honestly. I just said, ‘Hit that freakin’ pitch.’ I was just really mad at myself that I wasn’t making adjustments.”

How mad? Báez replayed his earlier at-bats against Corbin, an All-Star lefty Cubs manager Joe Maddon compared to Hall of Famer Steve Carlton. Báez whiffed at Corbin’s 3-2 slider to strike out in the first inning. After he grounded out to shortstop in the fourth inning, he damaged the bathroom in the hallway that leads from the visiting dugout to the clubhouse, knocking off a chunk of the sink and smashing part of the mirror.

“Yeah, but it wasn’t on purpose,” Báez said. “I actually slammed the door and I threw my bat. The bat was broken and I threw it to the wall and it bounced and it hit the mirror. If it was on purpose, that whole sink was going to be gone. It’s all right. It worked. I hit a home run.”

Playing with passion IS playing the right way

Now, I’m not about to defend smashing up a sink particularly since it seems pretty clear it was an accident, but it also seems pretty clear that this is all related. In fact, if you all recall, Javy almost had a similar bat flip incident to Willson in the 2016 NLDS.

You’ll also no doubt recall that both players have taken no end of grief for their passion from the likes of the Best Fans in Baseballand managers like Clint Hurdle.

They aren’t the only players who get called out for having fun, and Cubs folk hero John Baker wrote what I consider the best piece on this topic by far a few years ago:

The longer I played baseball, the more I realized that across America, that cliché – Play the game the right way – actually means something very specific: Play the game MY way.

You really should read the whole thing, it’s a poignant take on the battle for what it means to respect the game.

I’m pretty judicious with my hot takes, but here is one: Bat flips (and drops) are good even when they are wrong. Baseball is better with excitement. Players like Javy Baez and Willson Contreras are nothing but good for the game, bat flips, mistakes and all.