A Reasonable Explanation for Javier Baez’s Homer Drought

In the seventh inning of the Cubs’ August 23rd game home against Baltimore, very potent infield prospect Javier Baez hit the seventh home run of his career in just his 82nd plate appearance. This impressive and immediate exhibition of power wasn’t particularly surprising. Both Baez’s minor-league numbers and the scouting reports suggested that, upon his promotion to the majors, that the 21-year-old Puerto Rico native would likely homer and strike out at rates considerably higher than league average.

Since that August 23rd plate appearance, Baez has continued to strike out at a nearly identical pace (41.5% before, 42.4% after). Instead of homering once every 12 plate appearances, however, what he’s done is homer zero times in 66 plate appearances — a rate which the reader will immediately recognize both as (a) worse and also (b) less good.

For a hitter well into his career, this probably wouldn’t merit much attention. Fly balls don’t become home runs at a regular rate, so, even for those players for whom power is an above-average skill, there will be extended periods of homerless-ness. For a player such as Baez, however — that is, one who features a singular offensive skill set and to whom the league is just becoming accustomed — there’s probably something to be learned even from these small samples.

Indeed, opposing pitchers appear to have changed their approach to Baez considerably. Regard the following table, where Before denotes the time period up to and including Baez’s seventh home run and After denotes the time period after it:

Range PA FA% GB% HR
Before 82 36.5% 29.5% 7
After 66 22.4% 63.6% 0

Included here are both the rate of four-seam fastballs seen by Baez and also his overall ground-ball rate during the relevant range of time. The league-average figures are 34.8% and 44.9%, respectively, for those metrics — which is to say, through his initial set of productive plate appearances, Baez actually saw slightly more four-seam fastballs than a typical major leaguer and also hit many fewer ground balls. Since then, however, Baez has seen a shockingly low number of four-seam fastballs and has had difficulty converting the pitches he has seen into fly balls and line drives — necessary conditions, those sorts of batted balls, to producing home runs.

How few four-seamers has Baez seen? Consider this one fact: the lowest rate among qualified batters is Pedro Alvarez’s figure of 27.1%. And consider this other one, too: over the last two weeks, only one out of 171 qualified batters (Jose Abreu) has faced fewer four-seam fastballs than Javier Baez. And this third fact, in conclusion: over the same two weeks in question, Baez has recorded the second-highest ground-ball rate among the aforementioned 171 qualified batters.

Ultimately, it’s incumbent upon Baez — for his main asset (i.e. power) to manifest itself — it’s incumbent upon him to hit the ball skyward. If he’s able to begin doing that again is what we’re about to find out.

Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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Spit Ball
9 years ago

Same old story. Players who have really lousy K/BB ratios in the minors struggle mightily when promoted to the big leagues regardless of prodigious power. Matt Williams and Mike Schmidt would be examples of those who figured it out but the list is thin. Those with excellent BB/K skills in the minors usually succeed given they have at least a bit of gap power. (Pedroia, Betts)

Eliassen Sports Bureau
9 years ago
Reply to  Spit Ball

Re Spit Ball: Xactly! Baez was a bust on paper before he took one swing in MLB. No one with that many K and that little BB in milb has come close to succeeding consistently in MLB. And Matt Williams didn’t have anywhere near the K issues in milb or MLB that Baez did/does, and Schmidt’s walks in MLB are a thing of beauty (routinely more than 100 BB in a season). Javier may only end up walking 100 times in his entire MLB career…

Mookie Betts on the other hand is going to be one of the best of his generation. Troof.

Matthew Tobin
9 years ago
Reply to  Spit Ball

Bo Knows. Bo Knows.

But people forget that he is still adjusting to the majors. Mike Trout was pretty awful over his first 40 games too. Baez has always gotten by on pure talent and probably could until this point. But he’ll learn soon.

I mean his plate discipline is never going to be great. But say he is Chris Davis that can play on the left side of the infield. That is still a crazy good player

9 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Tobin

What people have “forgotten” that Baez is adjusting to better competition? And why on earth would you compare Baez to Mike Trout? No one should be compared to Mike Trout. It’s patently unfair. It’s like comparing a gifted child prodigy on the piano to Mozart. “People forget that Mozart didn’t compose a symphony until he was eight.” Even Bryce Harper looks like a bum when compared to Mike Trout. And yet Harper is only one month older than Baez. As between Harper and Baez, is there any debate as to who is the better hitter, and who projects to be the better hitter in the future?

Eliassen Sports Bureau
9 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Tobin

The whole “even Trout struggled at first” argument is irrelevant.

Trout only struck out 30 times in 40 games in his first cup of coffee in the bigs. Baez 63 times in 35 games! Even Crush Davis only struck out 88 times in 80 games in his first MLB stint AND hit .285.

Trout had a BABIP of .247 in his 1st MLB stint, he hit .220.
Baez has a BABIP of .247 today, hitting .175.

9 years ago

So we’ve established that Baez isn’t as good as Mike Trout or Bryce Harper. Thanks guys, great work. Someone should call the Cubs and let them know they won’t need him around anymore.

Matthew Tobin
9 years ago

Thanks Dan, I thought that was self-explanatory. I am by no means comparing to Baez to Trout. I am saying that we have a limited sample size of a highly regarded prospect who has appeared to struggle. We shouldn’t we writing him off yet.

Baez probably isn’t major league ready. But the Cubs are giving him a sample of “this is what you are going up against, prepare to crap your pants”. Perhaps Josh Hamilton would have been a pretty “comp” for elite level tools with discipline issues.

9 years ago


Very typical Theophile tactic.

Cubs fans:”Look at Trout! He struggled! Baez will come back.”
Rest of baseball: “Ok, let’s look at Trout. Trout didn’t have a glaring hole is his swing causing a 40% K-rate. His BABIP was the same as Baez’s, bu this AVG about .050 higher. Baez is K’ing way more than the people who recovered.”
Cubs fans”Shut up! Who’s saying he’s Trout?? Great, you proved he isn’t Trout! Why can’t people just let me make my faulty argument in peace! Baez will hit 80 HR’s!”