Deep Dive: Breaking down Javy Báez’s game-winning homer in 2016 NLDS
For a hitter like Javier Báez, it is not difficult to hit a fastball directly over the heart of the plate.
Two of Báez’s 14 home runs during the regular season in 2016 came on what some would call meatballs. He slugged .619 on pitches middle-middle, just above the league average mark of .614 that season. So when Johnny Cueto grooved a 3-2 four-seam fastball intended for the outer-third of the plate in the 8th inning of Game 1, Báez hammered it into the basket in left field and cemented the first win of the Cubs’ run for the ring.
Báez’s 8th-inning at-bat against Cueto is an example of how pitchers disrupt the timing of hitters. In recent years, this has been most prevalent with Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman and occasionally with relief pitchers like Hansel Robles, Wade Davis and others. But Cueto is often considered the modern-day founding father of delaying his motion to the plate.
In Báez’s first two at-bats of the night versus Cueto, he saw only three pitches, all of which were fastballs. Cueto deployed similar delivery speeds for each pitch. Báez popped up a 1-0 four-seam fastball inches off the plate inside to center field in the third inning. Three innings later, he took a first-pitch four-seamer to right field for a single. His pivotal at-bat in the 8th inning of Game 1 was his first exposure to Cueto’s timing disruption in such a high-leverage spot (see 0:07 – 0:23 in the video above).
Aside from the home-run pitch deviating from its intended location (0:23-0:30), perhaps Báez was sitting on a fastball from Cueto once he saw the righty speed up his delivery on the 3-2 pitch?
Cueto’s first pitch of that at-bat was a quick-pitch two-seam fastball below the zone. And his quick-pitched 2-1 two-seamer ran into the handle of Báez’s bat up in the zone. The other three pitches Báez saw in this at-bat before his homer had regular or delayed motions and two of those offerings were non-fastballs.
But Báez could have just as easily been sitting on a fastball regardless of Cueto’s quick-pitching. Cueto threw over 100 pitches and struck out 10 batters with 63% fastball usage to right-handed hitters in his eight innings of work (13% above his average fastball usage during the regular season).
Was Báez hunting a fastball? Was he tipped off by Cueto’s third quick pitch in the at-bat? Whatever the answer, Báez converted tremendously on a hittable pitch in the biggest spot of the night.