A magician’s most difficult task is to entertain his audience in spite of its expectations. Any mediocre illusionist can pull a rabbit out of a hat or “cut” a woman in half. Hell, even the most uncredentialed Joker can make a pencil disappear. But when a performer transforms predictability into gasps, apparent illusion quickly becomes real magic. That’s exactly what Javier Baez is — a magician.
When El Mago, as he is so affectionately known in Chicago, takes the field, the crowd expects greatness. But in the face of their lofty expectations, Baez never ceases to amaze. The 25-year-old shortstop always finds a way to transform something as simple as applying a tag into a highlight reel play.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about Baez, though, is his potential. He’s as powerful as any hitter in the MLB, and he has the speed to steal 30+ bases a year. His most important tool, though, is a masterful control of his body. He derives his power from a max-effort swing that has more moving parts than any other. Let’s take a look at the 481 foot bomb he hit yesterday.
— MLB (@MLB) August 24, 2018
One more time, in slo-mo.
Javy Baez HR (27) – 481ft. pic.twitter.com/6wxCkN63z6
— Brandon Curry (@bdotcurry) August 24, 2018
El Mago starts his swing with a huge leg kick that initiates as the pitcher is lowering his front leg. At the pitcher’s point of release, he’s coiled up tight like a spring, ready to fire as soon as he recognizes the pitch. As he lowers his front leg, he starts a Gary-Sheffield-type bat tilt that ends abruptly at foot strike. As soon as his foot is down, he releases everything, letting his hips fly open and his bat get on plane. After that, Javy’s lightning-fast hands take over and fly through the K-zone, sending the ball on its way. Add in a quick pimp job, an eruption from the crowd, and the rest is history.
It’s a hell of a lot easier than it sounds, by the way. Very few players have swings as elaborate as Baez’s, and yet he makes it look natural.
While his big swing yields jaw-dropping results, it’s clear that his goal isn’t to hit home runs. The rest of the MLB might be joining the “launch angle revolution”, but not Baez. According to Baseball Savant, Baez’s average launch angle is currently the lowest of his 4-year career (8.8°), while his barrel% (13.2) and hard hit% (45.4) are way up.
Javy might be baseball’s most exciting player right now, but he’s still got a long way to go. His .295 average, .575 slugging, and .280 ISO aren’t numbers to be scoffed at, but his .325 OBP and .16 BB/K ratio leave plenty of room for improvement.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 24, 2018
It’s natural for a complex swing like Baez’s to yield high strikeout numbers, but it seems to be more of an issue of plate discipline than anything else. According to Fangraphs, Baez swings at 60.6% of the pitches he sees. What’s more worrisome, though, is that he swings at 48.9% of pitches out of the strike zone. This clearly explains his low walk totals and relatively high strikeout totals.
If Javy Baez can improve his plate discipline, he has the potential to become the most dangerous hitter in the MLB. I’m just thankful I have the opportunity to watch him play. The next few years is going to be a blast, unless you’re a non-Cubs pitcher.
Opponents better be careful, because if they’re not, The Magician, El Mago, will make the ball disappear in front of their very eyes.
P.S. Shoutout to the original athlete with a magic-based nickname: Cal Naughton Jr. as “The Magic Man”. Now you see me… now you don’t.
Photo: @MLB on Twitter