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Javier Baez - Don’t Overpay for Last Season's Stats

A common mistake by fantasy managers on draft day is taking a player based on his previous year's statistics and thinking it will be repeated the following season. A player’s draft day price can become heavily inflated after one breakout year. It's easy to fall victim to the belief that a one-year sample size is now the new standard that we should expect moving forward. You can't win championships in the first few rounds of a draft, but you can lose them by getting a bad return on an early investment.

Javier Baez is a superstar Major League talent. He was a deserving MVP candidate and All-Star last season, and the future is still bright for the 26-year old. He also might have the best glove of his generation, as his defensive metrics look just as sharp as his fielding. After being selected outside the top 100 in fantasy drafts last season, Baez has soared way up to a 12.88 ADP. A massive jump, but is it fully deserved?

Baez finished his breakout year batting .290 with 34 home runs, 101 R, 111 RBI, and 21 stolen bases. All of these numbers were not only career-highs, but they also blew his previous bests out of the water (.273/23/75/75/12). His 2018 numbers are first-round worthy, but the question you need to ask yourself on draft day is whether that's what we’ll see again in 2019. Let's look at some advanced metrics to decide whether he is worth his current draft stock.

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Plate Discipline

A lot of factors play into what dictates a player's batting average and on-base percentage. Plate discipline is the most important because if you are unable to put the ball in play, you are unable to get on base, it’s that simple. Baez was among the league-worst in doing that. Let’s compare his 2018 numbers to the Major League averages.

O-Swing% O-Contact% Contact% SwStr%
League Average 30.90% 62.80% 76.90% 10.70%
Javier Baez 45.50% 54.90% 68.50% 17.90%

Not only does he chase close to 15% more pitches out of the strike zone, in which he ranks second-worst across baseball, but he also makes contact on those would-be balls well below the average. His SwStr% is also second-worst in baseball, and he’s fourth-worst in Contact%. To put these numbers in a bit more perspective, there have been 57 players since 2009 with a Contact% of 70.0% or below. ZERO of these players hit .290. Baez’ poor plate discipline numbers aren’t a one-season wonder either as all of these metrics are right on par with his career averages.

After being so weak in these categories, it begs the question of how did he hit .290 last season? His BABIP (.347) and Hard% (35.8%) were career-bests. He also had a .358 AVG on fly balls, which is bound to see negative regression as the big league average was .230 and Baez’ career-average is .274. History suggests that Baez won’t duplicate the hitting success he had in 2018 and according to Statcast, his expected AVG last season was .257. Unless he starts taking a different approach at the plate, expect him to hit closer to his career .267 AVG.

 

Counting Stats

If you selected Baez last year, the 34 HR, 101 R and 111 RBI he provided were drool-worthy. A career-best .260 ISO, 24.3% HR/FB, and .326 OBP attribute to providing him these roto measures. All these metrics have been trending upwards every year, so it’s not much of a surprise that he set a new personal record in these counting stats.

He did, however, set a new low in GB/FB (1.41), a number that has been declining every season. The fact that this digression is inverse to the other power metrics raises a question to if his 2018 HR number is truly repeatable. It seems unlikely, as 32.4% of his big flys last season were rated as Just Enough, compared to his 0.15% mark in his previous seasons. This number is a gigantic leap and quite unexplainable because his average distance on batted balls in 2018 was 174’, right on his career-average 174.75’.

Due to Kris Bryant suffering an injury last season, Baez also spent over 42% of his at-bats batting second or third. This position put him right ahead of Anthony Rizzo, a perennial run producer and a bat who offers the most protection in the lineup. Hitting in this spot of the order is a gold mine for Run and RBI counting stats. Barring another injury to Rizzo or Bryant, Baez will likely bat fourth, limiting his number of ABs, therefore limiting the number of opportunities to hit the long ball and to score or drive in runs.

 

Speed

Baez’s 21 stolen bases in 2018 was an impressive mark, but his track record on the basepaths isn’t as inspiring. He's eclipsed 21 SB just once, back in 2012 when he swiped 24 in a split season between Single-A and High-A. In his only other full years in the bigs, his combined total is 22.

After stealing 18 bags in 20 attempts in the first half of last season, he was disastrous in the second half, getting caught seven times with only three successful attempts. At a gaudy 73.1% career success rate, it will be risky for manager Joe Maddon to give him the green light as often as he did last season.

 

Conclusion

Despite some inherent flaws, Baez has proven he can be an elite producer over the course of a full MLB season. He undoubtedly carries a lot of value heading into 2019. His multi-position eligibility is a unique asset to find at his market value, but taking him as early as his current ADP dictates is a mistake. To think that everything will come together again for him this year and replicate his 2018 numbers is unsound logic.

It’s a high-risk move, and the reward isn’t any higher than selecting Jose Altuve or Manny Machado, players who come with a much safer floor. Baez is just one example of a player being drafted much higher based on his previous year's stats. The message here, as should always be the case, is to draft based off what is projected to come this year, not what happened the season before.

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