Javy Báez and the subtle art of not trying too hard
ST. LOUIS — We’ve all seen those monster swings from Javy Báez where it looks like he’s trying to hit the ball a country mile.
Sometimes, it works and pays off for him and the Cubs. But it also comes with some swing-and-miss.
The same goes on the other side of the ball. Báez makes some plays other defenders wouldn’t even attempt and with that comes errors in moments.
As the Cubs get into a rhythm in the second half of the season, Báez is seeking to find the middle ground more often. That was his goal coming out of the All-Star Break.
“We gotta change the way we’re trying too much,” Báez said Sunday after the Cubs’ first series of the second half. “A homer is [not always] gonna change the game. Especially me. I’m trying to see the ball better and just take my singles and try to help the team better. I think we’re gonna adjust better this second half.”
Báez admitted he gets too excited at times in the batter’s box and speeds up his mechanics and timing. He’s working to slow everything down and see the ball better.
That played out in the midst of the Cubs’ historic 9th-inning rally Tuesday night. He worked a 3-1 count with the bases loaded before smacking a single up the middle. It was a classic example of not trying to do too much and letting the game come to him in the batter’s box.
“When he touches the baseball, good things happen,” David Ross said. “When he barrels up the baseball, he’s got such a way about him as he gets down the line, a way about him on the bases. You feel like he wants the big at-bat and the big moment. He’s that guy that just is hungry for it.”
Part of Báez’s offensive evolution is also using the whole field and not trying to yank everything to left field.
He struck out a couple times in the first two games of the Cardinals series this week, including with a runner on third base and less than 2 outs Monday. But he has stayed within his approach, flying out to right-center Monday night and hitting a hard liner to the opposite field in his first at-bat Tuesday night. He also blooped a hit to center field in the 6th inning Tuesday night before the big at-bat in the 9th.
In the series finale in Arizona Sunday, Báez took his singles twice instead of going for the longball every time, driving home a pair of runs.
“I think he’s seeing the ball better and is on time a little more,” Ross said. “I’ve loved the singles up the middle you saw in Arizona, the double to right center, the kind of [butt]-out single when you get fooled, staying through the baseball. Those are all good signs when you’re seeing the ball well and staying on it.
“I think it’s easy to say as a hitter, ‘I’m trying to stay to the big part of the field.’ When he’s right — and the numbers show it — he’s driving the ball to right-center, hitting opposite field for power. That’s when he’s at his best. But doing that mentally, sometimes you’re guiding the baseball, you’re feeling for it. The key on all that is being on time, having your rhythm, being behind the baseball and seeing the baseball and being in a good position to attack the baseball.”
Defensively, Báez had been playing well until a tough 4th inning Monday night in St. Louis when he made errors on back-to-back plays and contributed to the Cubs surrendering 4 unearned runs in an 8-3 loss.
He made another errant throw in the 5th inning Tuesday night on a play from shallow left field. It was his 18th error of the season — a new career high.
Báez won his first career Gold Glove at shortstop last season.
“Javy didn’t get off to a great start, I thought, defensively for his caliber and where he was at last year,” Ross said. “But I thought he’s played great defense. We don’t talk about some of the plays he’s made lately. Some of that kinda goes by the wayside because you expect it, right?
“And then he has a rough inning. I rewatched the play. I know there’s some times as a player where you try to make up for your first mistake by doing a little bit more. … Just an off night for him in a moment where I feel like he’s played a really good stretch of baseball for us defensively.”
Of course, this is all against the backdrop of what might occur next week. Báez is a free agent at the end of the season and so far, negotiations with the Cubs have not turned up with an extension.
Now, Báez faces the possibility of being traded from the only organization he’s ever known.
He came back from the All-Star Break trying to forget about all the uncertainty and instead focus on the task at hand.
“If anything happens [with extension talks], I’m ready. We’re here,” Báez said. “I think it’s time to focus to get back in the first place and get back on track to make the playoffs. I’m not really paying attention to that.”