Could Javy Báez’s Heel Be Same as Kris Bryant’s Should…Have Never Even Worried

When Javy Báez pulled up lame after planting his right foot to field a chopper back on May 19, everyone feared the worst. Okay, maybe not the worst, which would have been a torn ligament or something similarly catastrophic. But for a player like Javy, even a less acute lingering malady could dampen his dynamism and reduce him to something almost mortal.

He missed two starts with the heel contusion, something he blamed on still not being entirely comfortable with metal cleats, but hit a walk-off single after being taped up enough to pinch hit. A return to shortstop the next day alleviated the worst symptoms of anxiety, though there were residual pangs when he served as DH for the first two games in Houston and then slid over to third base while Addison Russell played short in the finale.

Javy then begged out of the lineup for one of the Cubs’ games in St. Louis, citing a need to rest the bum wheel. He appeared to be favoring the foot and jogging gingerly at times, raising questions about just how wise it was to keep running him out there.

The numbers backed it up, as his slash plummeted to .200/.273/.375 with a .279 wOBA and 70 wRC+ that was dragged down by an alarming 21 strikeouts (45.5%) in 44 plate appearances following the injury. The typical graceful violence of his swing had been replaced by something more pedestrian, as though a reasonable facsimile had taken his place and was making an attempt to emulate him.

As anyone who’s battled through chronic pain of some sort can tell you, that’s more or less exactly what was going on. When one link in the kinetic chain is weakened, the whole thing gets wonky. And when you’re talking about the back foot of that big swing, you can imagine how the rest of Javy’s mechanics would be thrown off.

That disruption in timing, a dulling of the edge that makes him so good, was reminiscent of what we saw from Kris Bryant last season. In KB’s case, an injured wing hampered his bat speed and prevented him from following through on that long swing. Two separate DL stints and a months-long power outage followed, with (not very well-founded) questions lingering well into the 2019 season.

So you can probably find it in your heart to forgive anyone who worried that something similar could be in the offing for Javy, who really did look like a different hitter over those two weeks. But as he told Gordon Wittenmyer Tuesday, the heel was never an issue when it came to his suppressed offensive production.

“That was the reason I came back so fast,” Javy said, “because it didn’t bother me. Running in a straight line or swinging, rotating my feet, doesn’t bother me.

“I think it did bother me going out of the box a little bit at first, but once I kept working on it, it felt better. But it doesn’t bother me at all right now.”

Eeyore probably noted the frequent use of “bother,” might even call it Freudian, but Javy was almost certainly parroting the question he was asked. Verbal cues be damned, his recent production — your SSS caveats are duly noted — should ease concerns that he’s covering for something. After all, going 5-for-8 with two booming homers and just one strikeout is a reasonably clear sign that things are back on track.

Which is to say that Javy is still very much a babyface after what had looked for a moment like an unexpected heel turn.

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