Javy Báez Currently Ranked MLB’s Worst Hitter in 2020

Javy Báez went 0-for-4 Wednesday night in Pittsburgh for the second night in a row and the third time in four games. It was his 14th ofer with at least four at-bats in a game this season, which steered his batting average onto I-98. Just going hitless would be one thing, but Javy’s anemic performance at the plate has dragged him to MLB’s statistical nadir.

This isn’t just a matter of cherry-picking a few esoteric metrics, either. His .581 OPS, .249 wOBA, and 52 wRC+ all rank dead last among 145 qualified hitters this season and all are at least 21% worse than league average. That tends to happen when you’re not hitting and you also strike out 10 times more frequently than you walk. Even if we allow a little leeway for the lack of video review hampering his adjustments, Javy looks like a rowboat out on the open ocean.

By that I mean he appears wholly overwhelmed in the box, to the point that no amount of in-game tutelage would be able to settle him down. That reminds me of one of several public sentiments that eventually contributed to Steve Stone‘s departure from the Cubs broadcast booth, when dismissed the team’s frequent excuses by saying, “Don’t tell me how rough the waters are, just sail the ship in.”

I doubt Javy is going to pull a Kent Mercker and start trolling me on Facebook and I’m not allowed within 500 feet of the team hotel, so we don’t have to worry about that history repeating itself. We are, however, forced to watch on a loop as Javy’s performance plays out like Groundhog Day or 50 First Dates or Edge of Tomorrow. Trouble is, the protagonists in those films were actually able to learn from their experiences in order to change their behavior with each new iteration.

The obvious difference here is that Javy doesn’t get to face the same pitchers throwing the same pitches each time he goes up. I wanted to be able to write that he actually has been facing the same pitches, all fastballs up and out of the zone or sliders way off the plate, but pitchers really haven’t decreased the overall percentage of strikes they throw him. What’s changing is when they throw strikes.

Through August (134 PAs), Javy saw strikes at a 37.8% clip, got a first-pitch strike 63.5% of the time, and swung through pitches at a 19.5% rate. Those respective numbers ranked 130th, 34th, and 150th among 153 qualified hitters as of that point. In 85 September plate appearances, Javy has seen strikes at a 37.1% clip and has whiffed on 19.7% of his swings, 141st and 160th out of 163 hitters.

Awful though they may be, those results are only slightly worse than what he was putting up earlier. The big difference is that pitchers are attacking him with first-pitch strikes 70.6% of the time — more than all but six hitters — because they’re not scared of him in the least. What’s more, they know they can get ahead in the count early and then simply run away and hide behind bad pitches because he’s not going to take them.

His only walk on the month came in his first plate appearance on September 6, meaning he hasn’t drawn a free pass in 59 plate appearances. He’s struck out 18 times with just three extra base hits (2B, 3B, HR) in that same stretch, a very obvious sign that he’s swinging aimlessly in the hope that he’ll get lucky and catch a mistake. Therein lies the problem, since the joy of watching Javy in the past came from knowing he had a plan in spite of the apparent recklessness.

What was once a beautifully violent swing that embarrassed those who dared test it has devolved into a chaotic flail that embarrasses only the batter himself. I don’t know what the answer is and I’m not sure even Javy himself could explain what’s going on. My fear is that only prolonged time off to distance himself from this season and its results will facilitate lasting adjustments, though we’ve seen before that El Mago can turning nothing into something in the blink of an eye.

Alright, karma, do your thing.

Update: After going 0-for-2 with an HBP Thursday, Javy has a .579 OPS with the same wOBA and wRC+ numbers as above. However, his fWAR has now dipped into the negative at -0.1 for the season. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Nicky Lopez of the Royals went 0-for-3 to drop his OPS to .578, meaning Javy isn’t worst in the league in that category.

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