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With one weekend remaining before the All-Star break, it's a nice window to review strong performances from the first half.

Javier Baez (2B, CHC) slugged his 18th home run at San Francisco on July 11. Through 329 at-bats, Baez owns a .329, 18 HR, 66 RBI, 57 R, and 17 SB line. In CBS 5x5 NL-Only leagues, he's the second-ranked player and the most valuable bat.

Known as a free swinger that had 144 strikeouts in 469 at-bats in 2017, Baez has 86 strikeouts in 329 AB in 2018. Can we count on him to surpass his 23 HR from 2017? Has his plate discipline improved? What does his speed skills suggest about reaching 30 SB?

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Plate Discipline

With the 14th-most strikeouts in the NL in 2017, Baez has lowered his K% slightly in 2018, from 28.3% in 2017 to 24.6%. Although he has swung and missed at more pitches outside of the zone (48.3 O-Swing%), he is swinging and making contact with more pitches in the zone. He has improved his overall contact from 66% in 2017 to 70% in 2018, and his inside the zone contact (Z-Contact%) has increased from 78% to 82%.

A number of his outside of the zone swings have come against curveballs, sliders, cutters, and change-ups. After four-seam fastballs, Baez has seen sliders most often. He's swung outside the zone on 51% of the 263 sliders he has seen, and he has a 25.9 SwStr% (24.7% in 2017) against sliders in 2018. He's also chasing curveballs (148) out of the zone 64% of the time with a 23.7 SwStr%. Of the 101 cutters that he's faced, he has a 51.6 O-Swing% and a 27.7 SwStr%, which are both up from 2017 when he saw 77 cutters all season. While Baez has chased fewer change-ups (43.1 O-Swing%), his inside the zone contact against them has dropped from 76% in 2017 to 65% in 2018. His 26.6 SwStr% against the change-up is up from 24.7% in 2017.

Even though his O-Swing% has increased against six pitches, he has made more contact in the zone when he sees a fastball, slider, and curveball. He has increased his Z-Contact% on four-seam fastballs from 74.7% in 2017 to 83.5% in 2018, and his Z-Contact% versus two-seam fastballs is up to 92.2%. He is making a bit more contact versus sliders with a 79.1 Z-Contact%, and his Z-Contact% versus curveballs has moved from 78.3% in 2017 to 84.4% in 2018.

While he is swinging at more pitches (60.8 Swing%) and making more contact in the zone, his BB% has returned to 2016 levels. His 3.7 BB% in 2018 has slipped from his 5.9 BB% in 2017. Four of his six walks in April were IBB, and he only drew one walk 103 AB in May. In June, he took five BB (one IBB), and he's taken one in July.

With such a low walk rate, Baez becomes dependent on his quality of contact, BABIP, and speed to support his .323 OBP. Continue to track his K% and BB%, as they could cut into his batting average and OBP in the second half.

 

The Power Surge

Javier Baez hit 13 of his 18 HR through May 31, and his .963 OPS from March/April was his highest monthly total. How do his exit velocity and power look behind the home run output?

The power metrics support Baez's performance so far. He has increased his average exit velocity from 86.9 MPH in 2017 to 90.2 MPH in 2018, and his Barrel% has increased from 8.4% to 12.2%, which is 31st in the majors. Baez is smashing the ball, as his 98.4 MPH exit velocity on FB/LD is fourth in the majors, and 45.9% of his hits are above 95 MPH. His 8.6 Brls/PA ranks 17th in MLB. While he has kept his average launch angle in the same neighborhood, as his 9.4 ° in 2018 is similar to his 2017 (9.2°) angle, he is generating power with his swing. He has increased his ISO from .207 in 2017 to .271, and his OPS has jumped to .882 in 2018. The extra velocity and barrels have also helped his extra-base hits, as he has hit 23 doubles and six triples in 2018.

Although his fly-ball rate has slipped from 36% to 32.9%, his LD% has surged from 15.4% in 2017 to 22.9% this season. He is pulling 42.7% of the balls he puts in play, and he is taking a few more balls (24.8%) to the opposite field. Baez has tried to use more of the opposite field when an opponent uses a shift, as he owns a 31.3 Oppo% against a traditional shift and a 24.0 Oppo% versus no shift.

While he has a higher percentage of ground balls (50.0 GB%) against southpaws, increasing his contact to 83% vs. LHP has contributed to five HR and an .847 OPS in 82 AB versus lefties.

When facing LHP, he gains most of his slugging power from the inner third of the plate. Getting to balls up and in and down and in have helped his 2018 slugging. (see below) He has used the center of the field more against lefties, as he owns a 36.8 Cent%.

(Courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net)

In the middle-third of the plate, Baez has provided strong power up in the zone with above-average slugging at the belt and down in the zone. Posting a 36.8 Hard% vs. LHP with only a 6.3 IFFB% has helped his efforts, and his .270 BABIP versus southpaws is below his .341 career-BABIP vs. LHP.

Even though a .364 BABIP vs. RHP has helped him improve to an .894 OPS vs. RHP, he's making hard contact 38% of the time against right-handers.

His slugging capabilities expand to different hot zones against RHP. Baez's slugging illustrates his ability to hit for power at the bottom of the zone vs. RHP while he loses some effectiveness on pitches at the belt and on the outer-third of the plate. He can get to pitches inside, but his K% increases to 27.4% against RHP while his Contact% drops to 71%.

When looking at pitches that he can drive, Baez feasts on two-seam fastballs (1.175 OPS), four-seam fastballs (1.078 OPS), and curveballs (.956 OPS). While he swings and misses often at sliders, his .282 ISO and .754 OPS against the pitch in 2018 shows that he can hit for power when he connects. The cutter and the change-up limit his power, as his ISO drops to .111 versus cutters and .033 against change-ups.

With the increase in hard-hit balls, Javier Baez has backed his home run totals and extra-base hits with skills. A bump in exit velocity backs most of his HR/FB bump to 23%, and he has averaged 404 feet on home runs. He can meet Steamer's projection of 11 HR in the second half, and he could even add a few more HR with his current hard-contact rates.

 

Speed

Baez provides five-category production, and he has shown off his speed in 2018. After stealing ten bases in 13 attempts in 2017, he has attempted 18 stolen bases in 2018. Successfully stealing 17 of his attempts bodes well for more second-half SB opportunities. His 28.8 ft/sec ranks eighth amongst second basemen, and 11.3% of his hits have stayed in the infield.

He has enough speed and success to beat Steamer's projected seven SB in the second half. While he may fall shy of 30 SB, don't be surprised to see his final tally reach 26-29 SB.

 

Recap

Javier Baez's power is real, and he has enough power to reach 30 HR in 2018. While his low walk rate and impatience may continue to limit his OBP, his ability to pick the right spots on the basepaths provides value. If looking for five-category value, Javier Baez has been one of the most valuable players in the first half. Even with some BA slide in the second half, Baez's power and speed contributions and spot in a top-five offense cement his 2018 value.

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