It’s never enjoyable to be the one who rains on a parade. To spoil someone’s hype, to kill someone’s vibe. Hype is an extension of excitement, of enjoyment, and enjoyment is a shared interest among us all. At the same time, it can be important not to let the hype get out of control. When the hype gets out of control, it begins to exceed reality, and disappointment is born out of unmet expectations. Just as the desire for enjoyment is a shared interest among us all, so, too, is the avoidance of disappointment.
Luckily, I’m not about to break any news here when I tell you that Javier Baez has looked a mess at the plate during the World Series, so I can’t take all the credit for raining on the parade and spoiling the hype. The hype is being spoiled right there, on the field, for all to see. I’ve had nothing to do with that. I’m just here to take note, because the 180 from Baez’s fantastic NLDS and NLCS is nearly as remarkable as what happened in those series themselves, and it serves as a necessary reminder not to let the hype get out of control and exceed reality.
Baez, coming off a well-deserved Most Valuable Player award in the NLCS, is 3-21 through five games in the World Series, for a slash line of .143/.143/.143. That’s five games. We should never let five games alter much, if any, of our perception of a player, just as we shouldn’t have let the 10 games before these do the same. That being said, what’s more striking, relatively speaking, than the slash line, is this: the nine strikeouts in 21 plate appearances, and the two walks.
And what’s even more striking is this:
That’s all 21 plate appearances Baez has recorded this World Series. You should be able to click the image to view a larger version. You’ll notice the pitch types are included, and I’ve circled the pitches in red at which Baez swung.
That’s a lot to take in, so what I’d like to do now is go through those 21 at-bats and pick out a few highlights, because there’s a Jack Nicholson in The Shining descent into madness going on here, and it’s fascinating and worth exploring. Follow along with the numbers in the image.
(1) We might as well start at the beginning. Baez’s first at-bat of the series isn’t a great at-bat, but it’s certainly not egregious. Baez gets himself behind by taking a located, back-door two-seamer by Corey Kluber, and then falls down 0-2 after swinging at that located curve. He lays off two buried curves — credit to him! — and then takes another good sinker for strike three. A bad result, but not a terrible at-bat.
(5) Whoa! See that, under the “v” in Baez? That’s a crazy swing.
That pitch was almost four-and-a-half feet off the ground, and it came in a 3-1 count to lead off an inning, when Baez should be hunting a particular location. That pitch was the fourth-highest pitch at which Baez has swung all year, and Baez has swung 1,012 times. As a matter of fact, now that I notice it, six of Baez’s 10 highest swings of the year have come in the month of October. That’s 60% of his 10 highest swings, in a period during which he’s played about 10% of the season’s games. I also want to point this at-bat out because it came against Trevor Bauer, who throws plenty of different breaking and offspeed pitches, and Baez saw five fastballs in six offerings. Worth remembering for later.
(6) Whoa! See that, almost entirely underneath the plate? That’s a crazy swing, in Baez’z very next at-bat.
That pitch was measured as bouncing more than six full inches in front of the plate, and, at the time, was the single lowest pitch at which Baez had swung all year, and Baez has swung 1,012 times. As a matter of fact, now that I notice it, four of Baez’s five lowest swings of the year have come just in this World Series. That’s 80% of his five lowest swings, in a period during which he’s played less than 3% of the season’s games. Also, this at-bat featured three pitches, all out of the strike zone, all swings. Not what you want.
(13) I think this might be the most telling sequence in the whole series, even moreso than the ones with the truly crazy swings, because it reveals perhaps the ultimate truth regarding Baez’ recent approach at the plate: there isn’t one. He whiffs on the first-pitch fastball right down the middle to start the at-bat; even when he gets his pitch to hit, there’s enough swing-and-miss in his game where he doesn’t always capitalize. Then he swings at the 2-1 curve buried two feet beneath the middle of the zone, and then he swings at the 2-2 heater almost four-and-a-half feet high.
(15) No fastballs, no strikes, three swings. So, three strikes.
(18) The axe has now been thrust through the bathroom door. The typewriter reads “All curves and no swings makes Javy a dull boy.” This was his first at-bat of Game Five against Bauer, who last threw him five fastballs in six pitches. He leads off with a fastball, high, that catches the zone, but goes for ball one. Then, a curve, over the plate, taken for strike one. Then, a curve, barely half a feet off the ground, swung on for strike two. Then, this:
That’s not only the lowest pitch on which Baez swung all year, but the furthest pitch from the center of the strike zone all year, again, out of 1,012 swings. You can see the fight between Baez’s brain and his body — he looks physically pained by the decision after the swing. Bauer didn’t really execute this pitch. Baez executed it for him.
(20) Make sure to look at the plate in the image above. You might miss this swing otherwise:
Ninth-furthest swing from the center of the zone all year. Don’t need to cite that number that’s over 1,000 anymore, I don’t think.
(21) No more .gifs necessary. The point has been made. The image can do the talking. The three lowest pitches, all below the zone, all got swings, in the same game where Baez took two of his 10 worst swings of the entire season.
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Baez is lost right now. There’s no saying what the cause of it is, but there’s certainly no denying it. And while, obviously, he doesn’t always look this off — we just saw how great he can look during the NLCS — it goes to show how much of an unfinished product he still is, how far he still might be from reaching the star potential hinted at in the preceding two series. For all the good he does on the field — and he’s still been doing that good — and for the occasional maturity he’s flashed at the plate, this is still a guy who’s walked just 17 times for 125 strikeouts to date this year, and who, largely because of that, was below league average at the plate.
Baez is still one of the most exciting young players in baseball to watch play the game right now. His defense and baserunning keep his floor high, his versatility and athletic intangibles likely make him even more valuable to the Cubs than a public WAR-type model might suggest, and at just 23 years old, his ceiling remains sky high. But for him to truly become the star I’m sure we’d all love to see, his most noteworthy moments can’t keep being his reckless swings, and that part of his game is as prevalent now as it’s ever been.