Javier Báez is magic. He makes plays that are unbelievable and he slides with an evasive swim move so that even if he looks out, he’s not out. Don’t bother trying to Javy slide against him, though, because he’s also the best tagger in the league. Honestly, he’s so good at tagging that the baseball community now talks about tagging as a skill. Oh, and he also hits ridiculous home runs, so of course his 100th career home run had a bit of magic to it.
Let’s take another look at Javy’s 100th home run [VIDEO].
This is an 0-2 pitch in the lower left part of the zone and El Mago does not miss. He goes oppo for his 19th home run in 2019, the 100th in his career and best of all, it put the Cubs in the lead late to steal a victory from the Mets. I want to break a few of those things down with some help from Statcast data because maybe the most impressive thing Javy is doing is continuing to improve.
No hitter wants to be down 0-2. Jordan Bastian had this gem in his write up of yesterday’s game for those of you who are statistically inclined:
“He’s the type of player that you can never count him out,” Hamels said.
That has been especially evident in 0-2 situations this season for Baez.
Entering Sunday, all Major League batters combined were hitting .152 with a .397 OPS on at-bats ending in an 0-2 count. The league as a whole was batting .165 with a .464 OPS in plate appearances that concluded after beginning with an 0-2 count. The free-swinging Baez is an outlier. He is now batting .314 with four homers and a 1.057 OPS on 0-2 and .296 with nine homers and a 1.076 OPS after an 0-2 count.
Javy does more damage with an 0-2 count than whole teams:
Home runs after falling behind 0-2 in the count this year:— Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats) June 23, 2019
9 Javy Baez
9 Red Sox
9 White Sox
A note of caution on the 0-2 count stats, I’m not entirely sure this is sustainable. This looks a lot more like a small sample size anomaly than a skill he’s developed over time. I will certainly be keeping an eye on it, though:
Báez after an 0-2 count
One thing that does look sustainable is Javy’s tendency to hit the ball to all parts of the park. Daren Willman posted this spray chart of all of Javy’s home runs over the course of his career:
It pretty definitively demonstrates foul pole to foul pole power from the Cubs shortstop. It also got me wondering when that trend developed so I took a look at all of Javy’s home runs at Baseball Savant by year.
You can see a definitive move to the oppo part of the park in 2018, and really, Javy never looks back. You can also see that his home runs are being hit further the last two seasons.
One very cool way to look at a player’s development over time is to look at their 50-game rolling average on any number of stats. Baseball players have streaks of success and struggle, so these give you an idea of the peaks and valleys. A player who is improving will demonstrate higher peaks and lower valleys over time.
I was particularly interested in two stats for Javy’s career: weighted on-base average (wOBA) and slugging (SLG). I was also interested in the expected values for those stats. The expected values can be found at Baseball Savant and give you a guideline for whether a player is over performing or under performing what we’d expect given their contact type and rates.
First up, wOBA and xwOBA:
From this you can see the spikes in 2018 and 2019 for Javy and that they are generally in the same range. You can also see that those spikes significantly over perform his 2015-2016 seasons. Think of wOBA as a more refined version of SLG, you can see those comparison rolling averages below:
Both of these comparisons tell us the same thing, which is that Javy has been hitting the ball for a lot more power over the last two seasons. Additionally, they tell us that in his recent downturn in 2019 he’s actually under performing his expected statistics.
Javy has really kicked it up a notch since 2017 and everything indicates that power surge is real and sustainable. I, for one, am looking forward to his next 100 home runs.