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Javier Baez to Tigers - Fantasy Impact

The Tigers got in on the free-agent spending spree by adding infielder Javier Baez. He signed a six-year deal worth $140 million dollars and makes the type of statement that Detroit wants the rest of the baseball world to know.

“It sends a message to the rest of baseball. The Tigers are here to compete.” These are the words of Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch shortly after the deal was announced.

This is a good time to look back at Baez's 2021 season from a fantasy baseball perspective and determine what might be in store as we look ahead to the 2022 fantasy baseball season.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received five total writing awards and 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, tops in the industry! Congrats to all the award winners and nominees including Best MLB Series, NFL Series, NBA Writer, PGA Writer and Player Notes writer of the year. Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

 

Reviewing Javier Baez's 2021

In 2021, Javier Baez hit .265, had an OBP of .319, hit 31 home runs, scored 80 runs, had 87 RBI, and stole 18 bases. To put the raw numbers in perspective compared to qualified batters: his batting average was No. 66, his home runs were tied for N0. 29, his runs scored were tied for No. 63, his RBI was tied for No. 45, his 18 stolen bases were tied for No. 19, and his OBP of .319 was No. 96. In a traditional 5x5 roto league, Baez was a five-category producer, however, in an OBP league, his .319 OBP was close to league average (league average was .317).

Baez's 31 home runs were the most he hit since 2018 when he hit 34 home runs and his 18 steals were the most he stole since 2018 when he stole 21 bases. The difference between 2018 and 2021, however, is that in 2018 he played 160 games and had 645 plate appearances while in 2021 he played 138 games and had 547 plate appearances. In nearly 100 fewer plate appearances, Baez essentially matched his 2018 production which was a career year for him.

Regardless of whether one played in a traditional 5x5 league or an OBP league, Baez's combination of power and speed put him No. 35 in fantasy production according to Razzball's player rater.  In NFBC Main Events, his Average Draft Position (ADP) was 67.12 and in NFBC Online Championships his ADP was 73.00. Needless to say, he outperformed his ADP in even the sharpest leagues out there.

What do we make of 2021 and how might it inform us for 2022?

 

Looking Ahead To 2022 Drafts

Javier Baez had 35 appearances at 2B and 100 at SS this past season and gained eligibility at 2B which will carry over to 2022. Because of his good season, his ADP will be bumped up a round or two compared to last season. Even as analytical as the fantasy baseball community is these days, when a player outperforms their ADP, the market values the player more. There were only 18 players that stole more bases than Baez and of those 18 players, only four hit more home runs than he did. I see Baez getting drafted in the late third/early fourth round in 15-team NFBC leagues and solidly in the fourth round in 12-team NFBC leagues.

 

Will he be able to repeat his performance in 2022?

Batting Average

The thing about Javier Baez that has concerned me in the past is his batting average. The batters I draft in round four need to have a solid batting average and contribute everywhere because in an NFBC Main Event they might be just the second batter I draft for my team and are a foundational building block I am building off of.  In 2016 and 2017, he hit .273 in each of those seasons. In 2018, he hit .290, in 2019 he hit .281, and then in 2020, he hit .203 in the shortened season, before coming back to .265 in 2021.

Baez strikes out frequently and it has increased over the years. In 2016, his strikeout rate was 24%. In 2017 it was 28.3%, in 2018 it was 25.9%, and then in 2019, 2020, and 2021, it was 27.8%, 31.9%, and 33.6% respectively. A high strikeout rate is a red flag for batting average production; generally, players that have batting averages as high or higher than Baez will have strikeout rates in the 20 percent range or lower.

Another area of concern about Baez is he has a high batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Going back to previous years in which Baez had a good batting average, his BABIP was high: 2016 was .336, 2017 was .347, 2019 was .345, and 2021 was .352. In 2020 when he batted .203, his BABIP was just .262. When analysts started to incorporate BABIP into their work, there was a belief that those with outliers would eventually regress back to the league average of .300. Over time, there has been more analysis around the idea that a player sets their own BABIP, and players who are good and hit the ball hard can maintain a higher BABIP than players who do not.

Javier Baez has a career BABIP of .335 and has a career average hard-hit rate of 39.8% according to Statcast. In 2021, it was 45%, which could explain the .352 BABIP. In 2016, Baez had a BABIP close to his career average, .336, and had a batting average of .273. His strikeout rate was 9% higher in 2021 than it was in that 2016 season. One could likely expect a batting average for Baez in the .250-.260 range for 2022, which is still above the league average of .244 last year.

Home Runs

Home runs are the least of my concerns when it comes to Baez. He has a career barrel percentage of 10.5%, last year was 13.4% which was a career-high. What was most interesting was his 13.4% barrel rate was 85th percentile according to Statcast, while his 12.6% barrel rate was 91st percentile in 2018. On average, barrel rates are up across the entire league. Baez was 91st percentile in 2018, 88th percentile in 2019, and now 85th percentile in 2021. According to Statcast, his expected number of home runs was 28, his difference between actual and expected home runs was just three, indicating that the home runs are not fluky. Looking back at 2019, Baez hit 29 home runs in 561 plate appearances compared to the 31 in 547 this year.

Having an expectation of 25 to 30 home runs in 2022 is not unreasonable.

Steals

Steals are what push a player's value up, especially in NFBC leagues where people are chasing overall prizes and need to be elite in every category. In 2021, Javier Baez had 23 stolen base attempts in 547 plate appearances. In 2019 with a similar amount of plate appearances, he had 18 stolen base attempts. In 2018 with 98 more plate appearances in 2021, he had 30 stolen base attempts. In 2016 and 2017 he had 15 and 13 attempts respectively.

While stolen bases are hard to predict, speed is something that Statcast measures. In 2021, they had Baez's speed in the 86th percentile, up from the 75h percentile in 2020 and more in line with his numbers from the three years previous to 2020 (85th, 89th, 87th percentile).

When looking at his stolen base attempts as a percentage of his plate appearances, career-wise he has been 3.4%. Last year this metric was 4.2% which is not far off from his career averages. It would be fair to say that this past year might have been the most steals we will see from Baez again. If he has 600 plate appearances in 2022 and attempts a steal at a 3.4% clip, that is 20 stolen base attempts for the season. Given his average stolen base success is 73%, one could expect 14-15 steals.

Runs and RBI

It is difficult to predict these. When I am doing analysis for fantasy drafts, I do not look deeply at runs or RBI because they are team-dependent stats. Batting order and team skills around the player.

 

Team Outlook: Detroit Tigers

Baez just signed a six-year, $140 million deal with the Detroit Tigers to be their shortstop for the foreseeable future. The Tigers were No. 23 in Major League Baseball with 697 runs scored. They were No. 24 in home runs, with 179 hit. Baez will add some pop and according to roster resource is projected to bat third in the order behind Akil Baddoo and Robbie Grossman.

At first glance my thought was that Detroit is arguably the best pitching ballpark in the league and that Baez's power numbers will dip. According to Baseball Savant, Comerica Park is No. 20 in Park Factors right between No. 19 Citi Field and No. 21 Wrigley Field. Additionally, he will play games at Kaufman Stadium, Progressive Field, and Guaranteed Rate Field, which are all neutral ballparks.

Detroit's offense last year profiles very similarly to the Cubs' offense last year. Wrigley Field profiles similarly to Comerica Park. In 2022, I could see Baez performing similarly to how he did for the Cubs in the first part of 2021: good power, average batting average, more RBI than runs scored because of the lack of talent around him in the lineup. Detroit was tied for No. 7 in stolen bases, so I am optimistic that the stolen bases will continue for Baez. Whoever hits ahead of Baez in the order, likely Baddoo and Grossman, should be a boost in their runs scored with Baez on the team.

 

Final Takeaways

Javier Baez had a top-35 fantasy baseball season and is someone we can expect to see drafted by the fourth round in our fantasy baseball drafts. While Baez had a career-high strikeout rate, he also had a career-high BABIP giving him a respectable batting average of .265. A BABIP regression to his career mean of .335 will likely result in a batting average closer to .250, given his high strikeout rate and low walk rate.  His power and speed production were on the high end in his typical ranges of production and there is no indication of his power letting up or speed slowing down.

A repeat of his 2021 numbers is plausible for 2022 but is more likely with 600 or more plate appearances as opposed to the 547 this year. While his move to Detroit has gotten some negative attention from fantasy gamers, he is moving into a situation that was not much different than how he started 2021 with the Chicago Cubs.



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