CHICAGO — One of the reasons Javier Báez blossomed into an MVP candidate a few seasons ago was the Cubs letting him be himself in the batter’s box. That meant a lot of whiffs but also plenty of power.
Cubs manager David Ross also believes in the “let Javy be Javy” philosophy, even as the shortstop’s strikeout rate has soared out of the gates this season. Ross feels strongly that Báez can still thrive, especially with ample time this year to make adjustments.
“I think he’s the best version of himself when he’s turned loose and able to play freely,” Ross said prior to Tuesday’s game against the Mets. “Asking Javy to cut down his swing, spread out and play pepper, put the ball in play, I don’t know that that’s going to be the best version of him.
“I know he is trying extremely hard to get the ball in. And I think when he is at his best and seeing the ball well, he does that really good.”
Entering Tuesday’s action, Báez led the Majors with 64 swings and misses. He had whiffed on 28.3% of all pitches seen, which was the highest rate among batters with at least 100 pitches faced.
Among qualified hitters, Báez also had an MLB-high 45% strikeout rate this season, entering Tuesday. He had struck out at a 34.6% clip (102 times in 295 plate appearances) over the ’20-21 tours, compared to 26.8% (323 strikeouts in 1,206 PAs) in the 2018-19 seasons combined.
Last season, when Báez had 75 strikeouts compared to seven walks in 59 games, the shortstop hit .203 with a .599 OPS and was vocal about the lack of in-game access to video. Báez has said access to video has helped this season, though he is still trying to get the most out of his free-swinging approach.
“A guy like Javy, when he’s off,” Ross said, “we try to bring to him things that we think will help him and he’s very receptive and works on them and tries to put them in play when he gets out there. I don’t think that’s any different than any other player.”
Entering Tuesday, Báez had four homers, a pair of doubles and a .464 slugging percentage. That slugging was up from last year (.360) but still below his best performance across ’18-19 (.544 SLG). If Báez can cut down the whiffs and connect more consistently, the power production should increase.
“It’s harder if you’re a guy that’s a power guy and strikeouts are part of who you are,” Ross said. “Those are going to come whether there’s a guy on third or bases loaded or nobody on. It’s just going to happen.”