Javier Baez is Going to be…Oh, K
Through his first 102 plate appearances with the Chicago Cubs, Javier Baez has hit 7 home runs. Even his near-misses are becoming legendary, as when he just missed launching a missile off of fireballing Cuban Red (ah, Nikita Khrushchev would’ve been so proud) Aroldis Chapman.
But over that same span, Baez has struck out a whopping 44 times. That’s a K-rate of 43.56%, which, in case you were not aware, is pretty astronomical. Consider for a moment what would happen were Baez to carry that same rate for an entire season, with the obvious caveat that it’s highly unlikely he would ever do so. The results would be staggering.
Current Brewers slugger Mark Reynolds, formerly of the D-backs, set the single season strikeout record in 2009, when he whiffed 223 times in 662 plate appearances, a K-rate of 33.7%. He actually struck out more often per PA the following year, but 66 fewer trips to the plate limited him to only 211 K’s. In fact, of the top 12 single-season strikeout totals, Mark Reynolds is listed 4 times; the aforementioned seasons are 1st and 4th, respectively, along with 204 in ’08 (6th) and 196 in ’11 (12th).
Reynolds appeared at the plate an average of 623 times over the course of those 4 seasons of futility, so I wanted to run the numbers to see what Javier Baez would do over that span with the same sample size. Given 623 PA’s at his current pace, Javier Baez would strike out 271 times, absolutely obliterating Reynolds’ mark. Or Reynolds, Mark.
And because hypothetical, unsustainable numbers are fun to play around with, let’s assume that Javy maintained that same K-pace and that he played for 10 seasons beyond this one. Conservatively figuring 100 K’s for this season, we come up with just over 2,800 for a career that would end at age 31 after just over a decade of service time.
That total would put him more than 200 K’s beyond the 2,597 put up by Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, a man who played for 21 years and retired at age 41. In fact, of the top 10 leaders in career strikeouts, only one played for fewer than 17 seasons (Adam Dunn, 14) . But at least Baez wouldn’t be alone in terms of a Chicago connection, as Jim Thome (2,548, 2nd), Dunn (2,350, 3rd), and Sammy Sosa (2,306, 4th) are giving mad love to the top 5.
Perhaps when searching for an appropriate comp for Baez, people should stop paying attention to the bat waggle and the ferocious swing of Gary Sheffield and start looking at the knee-to-the-ground, all-or-nothing max effort of Reggie Jackson. I’m not the first one to say it, but it bears repeating, since the results for both players seem much more comparable.
Now, all that said, Baez has shown a remarkable ability throughout his career to adjust to pitching and improve over time. That’s a big part of the reason the Cubs brought him up when they did, in order to give him the ability to see and adjust to MLB pitching at a time when the games don’t really matter and expectations on the young phenom are lower.
That same violent swing that so often misses is also capable of turning mistakes, both by Baez and opposing pitchers, into hits. If a pitcher goofs up and chucks a cement mixer up to the plate, Javy is liable to put it out on the concrete of the Waveland sidewalks. But even when Baez himself is fooled, as it appears he may have been on more than one of his homers, his superior bat speed more than compensates. Then you’ve got the AB against Chapman; few men can get around on that triple-digit heater, but Baez is one of them.
So while the K-rate may be alarming, the HR pace is just as heartening. In fact, at 7%, Baez is on pace for 44 bombs in that same 623-PA season, a total Jackson reached only once (47 in 1969). Interestingly enough, Reynolds belted 44 in the same year he set the all-time strikeout record.
And I don’t know about you, but there’s certainly worse company to be in than the players who populate the all-time strikeout total list. But let’s be realistic: Baez can’t and won’t continue to whiff at this historic clip. As he grows accustomed to the Majors and the pitchers at this level, the swing-and-miss rate is naturally going to drop.
But make no mistake, Javier Baez is going to continue to strike out…a lot. And he really may end up challenging the respective totals put up by Mark Reynolds and Reggie Jackson. But if he can also approach some of the other career numbers of the latter of those two, I have a feeling Cubs fans will be more okay than “Oh, K.”