After the struggles of the Cubs bats in 2020, I wanted to look into each player's individual performance. Can they bounce back? What caused the poor performance? Today, it's Javy Baez, who posted numbers on par with his very raw rookie season. It was a massive disappointment. While a shortened incomplete season, there were some alarming trends.
Javy's 2020 featured the second lowest OPS of his career. This was fueled by the lowest walk rate of his career (nearly half his career rate), the second worst K% of his career, and the second worst BABIP he's ever put up. He was slightly better than his initial cup of coffee 2014, which is just shocking for a guy in his 7th big league season.
What caused this change?
Javy's exit velocity was down slightly. He had been driving the ball the last two years, but not quite as hard this year. He also posted his highest launch angle in the last 3 years. Couple that with a slightly lower hard hit percentage and a drastically lower barrel percentage, and the answer is clear. Javy Baez was just not driving the ball. Across the board, there was less sharp contact.
Diving deeper, notice that Javy was hitting line drives, fly balls, and ground balls all at similar percentages as previous years. The big difference was an infield fly percent that was nearly 5 times worse than 2019. Those extra pop ups could explain Javy's massive increase in launch angle from the previous chart. The lower HR/FB rate is another symptom.
Jumping over to the pull/cent/oppo section of the chart, notice how Javy was pulling a nearly career high number. His percent of pitches hit up the middle was a career low. He went opposite field a bit lower than his career numbers were at as well. Somewhat ironically, Javy put up the second highest hard hit percentage of his career. In overall numbers, he only hit the ball hard more often in 2019. I wouldn't have guessed that.
Javy's quality of contact was worse. Was his approach different?
Look at Javy's Z-stats (swings in the strike zone). His z-swing and z-contact rates were both the lowest in 3 years. Particularly his z-contact was down 5% from his career rate. His overall swing % was the lowest since 2016. Overall, he was swinging less at both balls and strikes. His contact rate was also down by a few notches.
Here's the "Too Long, Didn't Read" of the above:
Javy was hitting the ball softer than before
Javy was pulling the ball more often
Javy was popping up more often
Javy was swinging less
Overall, his numbers were fairly in line with career trends. As always with baseball metrics, some slight changes can lead to drastically different results. I am tempted to think that he was out in front of more pitches, leading to weaker contact. Since he wasn't hitting drastically more grounders, perhaps it was more fly balls to left field, and obviously the infield.
I think it's fixable. With some slight adjustments, we should see the Javy Baez of old. Perhaps with a full season in 2020, he would have had time to make those adjustments. We'll never know for sure, but I am optimistic Javy rebounds in 2021.