How Pitchers are Pitching to Javier Baez

Javier Baez is a player who transcends ordinary prospect-dom. Not just because he possesses extraordinary skills — also because he’s a prospect in whom fans of every team might be interested. Usually, a guy on the farm or a guy just on the roster will captivate locally, but Baez is able to captivate nationally, in a way that few young players are able. He’s not quite on the level of rookie Stephen Strasburg, for whose debut the whole country turned on TV, but people want to know what Baez is going to become. And they want to know how quickly he’s going to become it. His big swings are the hitter equivalent of Strasburg’s big fastballs.

People who are interested in baseball are interested in Javier Baez. They know more about him than they know about the average young prospect. Keeping with the theme, other teams, too, seem to know more about Baez than they know about the average young prospect. Other teams have prepared for Javier Baez, just as we have as fans, and in the early going it turns out Javier Baez has been pitched pretty much exactly as you’d expect that Javier Baez would be pitched.

Let’s watch a sequence, shall we? Baez already played on Monday, and here he is in the first inning, against Carlos Torres. A first-pitch breaking ball:

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Ahead in the count, Torres came with some classic high heat:

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Now Torres could do whatever he wanted, so why not go back to the well?

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It might not have worked, but to this point, Baez saw a low breaking ball and consecutive high fastballs. Torres caught him in between:

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Call it a cutter, call it a slider — Baez swung right through it, as he is wont to do to pitches. At this writing, he has two walks and twelve times as many strikeouts. He’s also slugging .517. About that: here’s a pitch and swing from the ninth.

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That fastball missed over the middle and found a home in the second deck. Baez to this point has been true to form, with plenty of whiffs and already five dingers. He has his vulnerabilities, but he’s also capable of punishing even minor mistakes, like this slider that just wasn’t low enough:

clip1528

It’s telling that the catcher called for a low slider in the dirt. It’s telling that Baez destroyed the pitch that was ultimately thrown. It’s telling, how Baez has been approached through his first two weeks in the bigs.

Baez’s extraordinary skill is his bat speed. That’s where the power comes from, and people who observe these things give Baez just about the highest of grades. Because of how quick his bat is, Baez should be able to turn on even blistering heat, but his swing his long and complicated in other ways so there’s a simultaneous belief that he could be vulnerable to fastballs in the right spots. People also question Baez’s discipline, as he might commit too early to pitches that end up unhittable. You’d think that, with a hitter like this, pitchers would be careful, and relatively unwilling to enter the zone unless forced.

Now we’ll do some math. Including Monday’s game, Baez has faced 52% fastballs or cutters. The league average is well north of 60%, so Baez is separated from the mean by a couple standard deviations. He’s surrounded by names like Wilin Rosario, Evan Gattis, and Juan Francisco.

And, including Monday’s game, Baez has faced just under 40% pitches in the PITCHf/x strike zone. The league average is close to 50%, so Baez is separated from the mean by almost three standard deviations. He actually has the lowest zone rate in either league. That includes Josh Hamilton, Pedro Alvarez, and the utterly unprotected Giancarlo Stanton.

Let’s put these together. I’ve calculated fastball-rate z scores and zone-rate z scores. Add them up, and the highest positive numbers will indicate players pitchers aren’t afraid of facing. The lowest negative numbers will indicate players pitchers want to pitch around and/or players pitchers think are willing to chase. Baez’s sample is still quite small, but still, here are the five lowest combined z scores:

  1. Josh Hamilton, -5.0
  2. Javier Baez, -4.7
  3. Pedro Alvarez, -4.3
  4. Juan Francisco, -4.1
  5. A.J. Pierzynski, -3.6

This quickly, pitchers have adopted an extreme approach against Javier Baez. It’s one of the most extreme approaches in baseball, in terms of avoiding fastballs and avoiding the strike zone. He’s being pitched not unlike Hamilton, Alvarez, and Francisco, which means Baez arrived with a scouting report already written. It isn’t often rookies get treated like this right away.

Of all the rookie seasons we have recorded since 2008, right now Baez is looking at the most extreme careful approach. Juan Francisco shows up again, as he was pitched a little like this, but let’s compare Baez’s first two weeks to the first two weeks of a handful of other elite-level prospects from the last few years:

Player Fast% Zone%
Bryce Harper 52% 42%
Giancarlo Stanton 57% 47%
Gregory Polanco 60% 48%
Javier Baez 52% 40%
Mike Trout 69% 51%
Oscar Taveras 69% 45%
Wil Myers 54% 52%
Yasiel Puig 67% 48%

The point of comparison here would be to Bryce Harper. Immediately, Harper was pitched carefully, and he didn’t see a lot in the zone. Harper, obviously, was easy to see coming for years, so he had a reputation before he ever arrived. The same goes for Baez, although he and Harper have been pitched differently as rookies in ways more detailed than this overall glimpse. You might’ve expected Puig to get pitched like this when he first debuted, but instead against him pitchers were particularly fastball-happy. Pitchers have continued to try to find ways to consistently get him out, as Puig’s been able to make rapid adjustments.

Baez hasn’t seen many first-pitch fastballs, relative to the league average. He hasn’t seen many fastballs when ahead in the count, relative to the league average. He’s actually seen more fastballs with the pitcher ahead in the count. While Baez has an overall low rate of fastballs seen, he’s among the league leaders in rate of high fastballs seen, as that’s one of the vulnerabilities pitchers have targeted. You might be able to see that in the following chart of Baez’s pitches against:

baezpitches

Plenty of fastballs up and beyond. Plenty of non-fastballs down and beyond. Non-fastballs are generally supposed to be down, but Baez sees a lot of them, and he has been exposed by high heat. Half his strikeouts have come against fastballs and half his strikeouts have come against breaking balls. He’s willing to chase up, and he’s willing to chase down, and that’s something he’s going to need to work on.

But while he’s exhibited those weaknesses, he’s also exhibited an ability to crush well-intentioned pitches that don’t go where they wanted to. If you throw your high fastball, you can blow it by Baez. If you throw your low breaking ball, you can sneak it by Baez. If you don’t throw your high fastball high enough, though, or if you don’t throw your low breaking ball low enough, Baez is going to swing and he’s more likely to connect, and often when Baez connects, he connects in the way that meteorites connect with the surface of Earth. Pitchers are careful because they have to be careful. They have to be careful because Baez’s skills demand respect.

Javier Baez has been in the major leagues for two weeks. Prior to the beginning of those two weeks, there already existed a Javier Baez opposing scouting report, and we’ve seen pitchers follow along, with varying degrees of success. The second half of that statement could apply to just about anyone, but what’s remarkable isn’t just that Baez arrived with a report — it’s that he arrived with a report so extreme in its recommendations. I suppose Javier Baez can be extreme in a number of ways. I suppose that might be the most appropriate thing.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


57 Responses to “How Pitchers are Pitching to Javier Baez”

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  1. GreenMountainBoy says:

    I hate to be Captain Obvious, but the reason those 5 guys aren’t getting fastballs in the zone is that pitchers don’t NEED to throw fastballs in the zone to get them out. They’ll swing at anything close and get themselves out. Yeah, if you miss there’s a price to pay, but still… The presence of AJ on this list backs up my claim. While not a power hitter like the others, he’s possibly the worst hacker in MLB. Pitchers aren’t stupid. If they can get a hitter out with pitches out of the zone, why do anything else? If Baez were smart (and I have my doubts), he’s spend a week or two just taking any pitches not right down Broadway. Then when word gets around and guys start throwing him fastball strikes again, look out! He could become a very dangerous man!

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    • That Guy says:

      (and I have mt doubts)…..you dont even know him. he is probably a fairly intelligent guy. could be dumb, could be very smart. who knows? you dont know him, so you basically calling him stupid is uncalled for

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      • skmd says:

        1) have you ever heard him interviewed? does not come across as the sharpest knife. Seems disinterested and completely unprepared even after having mics in his face daily for the past 3 years 2) kid has had plate discipline drummed into his head for the past 3 years, has seen the success it brings him, and as soon as he hits the majors he immediately forgets all of it. Seems his only approach to every at-bat is to hit a 6-run homer. No, not too bright, someone should teach him how to play a game called “baseball.”

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        • TK says:

          Are you seriously posting this comment on Fangraphs? These types of responses are for Bleacher Report. Try and remember what website you are on. That being said lets look at this statistically. Odds are Baez is of average intelligence and has and average understanding of the game of baseball when compared to other MLB players.

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        • TheThinBlueLine says:

          Have you ever heard him interviewed in Spanish? It’s like night and day. Same with his supposed “attitude.” When he speaks English, his whole demeanor appears subdued and wary. When he speaks in his own language, he’s animated and appears cheerful.

          And as for his approach?

          Stanton after first 10 MLB games: .231, 1 HR, 17 Ks.
          Baez after first 10 MLB games: .244, 4 HR, 17 Ks.

          He has struggled for a month or two after being promoted at every level since he was drafted in 2011. That’s why the Cubs brought him up early–so he could get his first two months out of the way before the 2015 starts.

          It’s you who doesn’t come across as the sharpest knife in the drawer.

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        • Bob says:

          For a young kid he sounds fine during interviews. I cant imagine what I would have sounded like at age 21 in front of a bunch of reporters or on live tv being interviewed.

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        • james says:

          I am not sure if plate discipline has been drummed into him. We are talking about a Vlad type of player, big swing, insane bat speed, and the ability to punish any pitch.

          What makes this kid special is not walking, or getting singles, it is the plus speed to leg out medicore contact, the plus plus power to turn anything into a homer. You may argue Vlad would have been better had he limited his strike zone, but he would have had to totally change his swing to do so, and likely would have lost the super elite bat speed that made him so special.

          I remember seeing Vlad hit home runs on pitches 2 feet outside the zone. There is a history of success for players with power being extreemely good with this appraoch. He looks like Jim Edmonds or Vlad or Alvarez at the plate. AJ is a poor comparison, he lacks power, so even if he catches a mistake, it is not going yard very often. Baez is more interesting since unlike some of the other comparisons for free swinging power hitters, he has plus speed enough to turn some of the poor contact into singles to keep his overall numbers up (like Vlad and Edmonds who both had seasons hitting in the 330 range)

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    • Matt Stewart says:

      You have your doubts that he is smart… Tell me, how many times have you scouted him in person before he came to the majors? You’re talking about the guy who has struggled at every step in the minors, then adjusts and destroys every level he has played in. That’s called being smart.

      A.J. Pierzynski, while annoying, commands a career batting avg. of .282, along with exceptionally low strikeout rates throughout his career.

      I hate to be Captain Obvious, but those players don’t get fastballs in the zone because they will crush them. Pitchers have no choice but to throw out of the zone. Both Hamilton and Alvarez have solid to excellent walk rates, as does Stanton. Pitchers won’t throw Baez crap over the middle if he draws four walks a game. That’s the life of a guy who can hit 50 home runs in a season, and that will never change.

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    • GreenMountainBoy says:

      Because my comments were so blatantly misunderstood (my bad for expecting better), I’ll attempt to clarify. If you read my statement which you deem so offensive carefully, you will see that I was commenting in reference to his “baseball smarts”. And speaking to those, yes, I do have my doubts. Why? Because as many commenters below have pointed out, a 40% K rate combined with a 4% BB rate and a 65% contact rate don’t add up to a superstar – they add up to a sideshow attraction, LIKE Adam Dunn (although Dunn will take his walks to be sure), LIKE Dan Uggla, and LIKE Pedro Alvarez.

      Argue my original point though, which was that he gets himself out, so pitchers don’t need to throw him strikes. You can’t. It’s a fact. Contrast with Mike Trout. Yeah, he Ks a lot too, but he has the sense to K mostly on strikes. He makes the pitchers come to him, and he takes his share of BBs. And to those who say that Baez can hit a ball 2 feet outside out of the yard like Vlad, so what? As a pitcher I’ll take my chances on that all night long. So he hits one out of 200 out, big deal. It beats throwing him a strike and having him hit one out of 20 out.

      My point is that IF he’d be a little disciplined, he has the raw ability to BE another Mike Trout. And who would you rather be, Mike Trout or Dan Uggla?

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      • Edgardo says:

        Not all players have the same set of abilities… He can strike out a lot like most sluggers do. He’s young enough to learn and adapt. If he comes out as a middle infielder with 30HRs .260Avg, I think he’ll make a lot of money and no one will be talking about his “baseball smarts” whatever that means.

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  2. Paul says:

    With George Springer and Javier Baez called up, and Kris Bryant and especially Joey Gallo not that far away, it will be really interesting to see how extremely high K% guys fare in the bigs.

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    • Max G says:

      There are certainly many well-regarded minor league prospects that also own very high K-rates. Some of of these fellows will inevitably become major league regulars over the next few years. If this represents a real shift in what the accepted amount of Ks is, at least from a managerial standpoint, within a few years we could see most lineups featuring a half dozen regulars striking out 180 times or more.

      What I think is compelling is how pitchers’ K numbers will be affected by this. If it is just a couple of prospects representing an extreme (Baez, Gallo, Bryant, etc.), then it won’t matter. However, if these young players have even a moderate level of success despite striking out 180-200 times, many more players in the minors with massive K-totals will be given a shot at the bigs, that otherwise wouldn’t. If that happens, we could see a huge inflation in starting pitcher K totals, to such an extent that it may cloud scouting judgement as to who the dominating pitchers really are; there would be multiple 300 K pitchers that might normally top out at 200-220 Ks, and dozens of 200 K pitchers that might normally top out at 150-170 Ks. Then again, if Mookie Betts ignites a player development trend in the complete opposite direction, we may not see many of these 180+ K kids after all.

      Whatever happens, I’m enjoying every Baez at-bat immensely, and it will be truly exciting to see how Bryant and Gallo fare next season.

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    • Adam Dunn says:

      Get PAID then become albatrosses for their team! At least that is what Dan Uggla tells me.

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    • gaius marius says:

      different guys are different, though.

      Baez and Springer have been epic bad in making contact, even for rookies, and it’s clearly been a persistent problem for both. Gallo seems to fall near to Baez on that spectrum, though both he and Springer at least draw some walks. Bryant, though, is a line drive machine with a career BABIP around .400 and enough plate discipline to take a lot of walks. Bryant’s bust potential is a lot lower, i would think, than Baez or Gallo.

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    • james says:

      After watching the Os the past few seasons, more teams are accepting that an out is an out. A few of these guys fall on the extreem, but that is nothing new. Mark Reynolds has 40 hr power and strikes out a ton (gyorko, dunn, alvares, ect). If a guy can figure out how to walk too, he is doing well (Dunn). The rest, as soon as the babpip takes a dip, their batting average/obp falls well below any acceptable level, and there are issues.

      Springer and Baez likely have enough speed to keep a high enough bapip for a while to look good in batting average (good is relative, if they hit 30-40 bombs, .250 is accpetable).

      Bryant just feels like a player with a better appraoch, but is swinging during a hot streak. (during hot streaks strike outs tend to slightly uptick, and walks nosedive)

      Gallo is the only guy i see as potentially being another Pedrro Alvarez (monster power, but nothing else)

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  3. Brendan says:

    Javier Baez will majestically lead the Cubs to the highest of highs.

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  4. jpmorgan5150 says:

    Springer has disappointed with the steals, but he has the potential to have 40 HR, 30 steals, a 15% walk rate and a 40% k rate.

    Its amazing. Some of these guys are proving it is better to miss when swinging at stuff out of the zone and strike out than hit it softly and get out with a ball in play. Very interesting.

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  5. casualsaber says:

    His sheer bat speed (and hand movement) reminds of gary sheffield.

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  6. Buford says:

    “He’s willing to chase up, and he’s willing to chase down, and that’s something he’s going to need to work on.”

    In the history of baseball, I wonder how many times this statement has been said about a hitter especially a free-swinging power hitter. And how often these types of hitters actually cover these holes in their swings to become impact, or even successful, players. For me, only Sammy Sosa comes to mind, but this topic would make an interesting article.

    Having terrific bat swing is great (assuming you don’t slip a disc in the process) and hitting mistakes for a tape-measure dingers is wonderful though MLB pitchers make fewer of these mistakes than MiLB pitchers. But doesn’t it eventually come down to plate discipline for a prolonged and successful career? And if so, there is the belief that plate discipline is not an acquired trait – you either have it or you don’t which, if true, means that Baez could acquire the nickname “Swiss cheese.”

    Plus Baez doesn’t just chase pitches up and down out of the strike zone, he chases breaking balls a foot off the outside corner. So with all these holes in his swing, is it practical to assume these holes can be reasonably covered and, if so, why.

    Respondents wearing rose-colored glasses and/or spewing platitudes (“He’s young … he will learn”) need not apply.

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    • ibaig223 says:

      He has significant holes in his swing as of right now but has still produced a .775 OPS at second base. Baez’s bat-speed is incomparable as previously mentioned. Baez has historically struggled every time he is moved up a level. Baez’s ability to crush mistakes by pitchers makes me believe that with no further development he could put up a career line of .225/.260/.535.

      Now only time will tell if the 21 y/o rookie will actually adjust once again but given his track-record there is reason to believe that he will producing a state line close to .260/.330/.540 making him a .870 OPS second basemen with gold glove quality defense.

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      • Dovif says:

        When you are striking out 40% of the time and walking only 4% you are going to need a .400 Babip to hit .225. He is more a .200/.215/.375 player at the moment

        If he end up with a 30% k raTe. He is a .250/.255/.420 player

        I do wonder if anyone in ml history had ever had a season of 1/10 walk/k % and went on to have any ml success

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        • FatGuy says:

          So you are predicting an ISO of .170 for Baez……hummmmmmm.

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        • Balthazar says:

          Yes, I’d agree with Dovif’s hypothetical line also. Guys who K that much seldom turn in ISOs over .200. There’s just too much to exploit. Right now, Baez is bopping out mistakes. Pitchers will make _fewer_ of those going forward. Particularly once they get Javier’s patters down so that he’s constantly way behind in the count, they’ll be missing out of the zone. It’s his walk rate that will tick up, not his ISO. I’d see him turning into a .225.275/.400 guy with no adjustments.

          Now, Baez HAS shown a history of adjusting to a level after some brutal results. What stands out for me in Baez’s appearance, though, is how much motion, waggle, and stomp there is in his load. He very much looks to me like a guy who can be exploited by constantly changing speeds, and I think he’ll see much, much more of that once there’s a month of video on him to go around the league’s pitching prep rooms. The simple fact to me is that until Baez quits trying to hit a HR every AB and focuses on simply getting a _hit_ every AB he’s going to be very, very easy to get out.

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        • Balthazar says:

          A commentor below mentions Dave Nicholson, and the career numbers are instructive: 13.2 % BB, 34.5 % K, .168 ISO, .301 BABIP. His career best BA was .229, finished around .201. That’s what you get with an all homer all the time approach. And pitcher’s in the early 60s were not nearly as much about getting strikeouts, either, as opposed to inducing weak contact. Nicholson now wouldn’t have lasted three years. Another Chris Davis in early career.

          Dave Nicholson’s still alive according to his Fangraphs line. It would be fascinating to have HIS observations on Javier Baez, Joey Gallo, and Chris Davis.

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        • H.villanueva says:

          I’m sorry you’re on drugs if you’re serious about that slugging percentage.

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        • Dan says:

          I believe your math was 100 PAs, less 40 Ks, less 4 walks, gives you 56 PAs. 40% of 56 is 22.5, which is where you got the 225 batting average?

          Forgetting one key thing…home runs. If we’re going to assign Baez the 40% K rate that he’s carrying so far (but has never reached in the minors), you also have to assign him the home run per 10.2 PAs. Give him 5 home runs in that stretch, and that line looks a lot better.

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        • Kevin says:

          At the moment, how is he anything other than what his slash line is right now, at this moment. He could get better or he could get worse. Probably will have less k’s and more walks since, you know, he’s 21 and has been up for two weeks.

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      • a eskpert says:

        His bat speed is great, but let’s not go calling it incomparable. Bautista in the recent past had bat speed like that.

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    • Jim says:

      Well, Yasiel Puig just this last year for one.

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  7. Owen Watson says:

    Many fair points made here. I’ll add that there are many players who survive in the majors will low contact rates because of the quality of contact they make – Baez could be one of them. The opposite field HR on a down-and-away slider in illustrates that. Players with the raw tools that Baez has don’t come along very often, which is why mapping the successes and failures of previous players onto them can be difficult.

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  8. wfree0104 says:

    For those questioning his intelligence because of the way he comes off in an interview…have you ever listened to Jamis Winston speak? Sounds really stupid, but the kid was accepted into Stanford and Duke and is an Acacemic All American at FSU. Some people just don’t interview well. English is also Baez’s 2nd language…How good is your Spanish??? There is no telling how good he will become, but if his floor is Dan Uggla(in his best years) with a much better glove, that’s a lot of production from the middle infield. Hopefully he adjust the way he has at every level, and at 21 there really is no reason to assume that he won’t.

    +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bill says:

      Yeah, lot’s of smart people sound stupid, even those who are native speakers. This will hurt them in industry, but they only hurt themselves. Those who sound smart but aren’t are the real problem. They generally become politicians or work in the news media.

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  9. Matt says:

    A high K-rate isn’t all that bad as long as you also take walks. Kris Bryant, George Springer, and Jorge Soler all take oodles of walks. Baez doesn’t. He has a very long way to go with his plate approach, and he’ll struggle to OBP above .300 until he makes large improvements.

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    • gaius marius says:

      Soler has the added benefit of not striking out nearly as much as guys like Gallo, Baez, and Springer. i think he’s a more reliable prospect than any of those three.

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    • libradawg says:

      Baez has shown absolutely ZERO evidence of inability to take walks. I’m going to pull a reverse Fangraphs here and point out only his AVG and OBP. 50, 60, 70 points worth of difference in margin between the two in his last 3 minor league stops, rising each time.Again, I’m intentionally using the most basic of basic stat-gazing as humanly possible.

      The man knows how to take walks, He knows the zone, he can identify pitches midflight. He’s not taking the walks other guys are getting because he doesn’t want them. The brass, the fans, the players want to see the power. Even with all that he takes enough to be zero cause for concern.

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  10. Joel says:

    On the plus side he did allow us to part Darwin Barney who most recently was struck out by Mo’Ne Davis.

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  11. Juan Chapa says:

    The White Sox once traded for a Left Fielder named Dave Nicholson. Nicholson was so strong that once when his team mates ticked him off in the shower (while with the Orioles) he shut off the water faucets so tight no one could open them. They had to call a plumber. With the White Sox he once hit a ball over the left field upper deck roof (estimated at 580 feet away), when Comiskey Park was a pitcher friendly park! He, like Baez, had a nuclear swing. The problem was he was a .220 hitter, and set the 175 strikeout record. He ended up a utility player, and out of baseball in a few years. No matter how talented, if a player insists on that batting strategy, the pitchers will get you sooner or later. Name of the game is “adjustments.”

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    • libradawg says:

      The White Sox also traded a guy who had great speed, a lightning bat and an intentional avoidance of walks. He went on to play for the Cubs. He was also a bust waiting to happen and easily would have been one had it not been for the 600 HR he hit.

      Look at the league leaders in Strikeouts. When you’re finished, don’t let that stop you from the shutting up you were doing while looking this up.

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  12. bcpkid says:

    If adjusting to big league pitching necessitated above average intelligence, the game would be played successfully by scientists. He’s a 21-year-old adjusting to a new country AND the best pitching he’s ever seen. Give him time to mature. Jose Reyes looked like a scared rabbit or a year and a half.

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  13. uDontknow says:

    http://www.milb.com/player/index.jsp?sid=milb&player_id=595879#/splits/R/hitting/2014/MINORS

    look at his monthly splits at AAA.. they improved with every passing month. and pretty much shows what he done at every level.. struggled early, adjusted and MASHED

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    • libradawg says:

      One month of horror when he first got to AAA is the only reason he didn’t post the .340-.350 OBP he has proven he can do rather easily. His only weakness is so teachable he doesn’t even have to study; just stand around the MLB clubhouse for a couple years and you mature as a hitter. He has ravaged A and insulted AA. He saved the most hilarious for AAA, taking the first month off and skipping the final month yet still post a AAA hitter’s wet dream for a stat sheet. Oh BTW between Spring Training and his debut he’s already hit 12 HR.

      But please, tell me more about those bad bad strikeouts!! After you’re finished I have a wonderful story about RBI and W-L record!

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