In baseball, there is no stage bigger than the postseason for a player to showcase his talents, especially a young player like infielder Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs, who is making the most of his opportunity and absolutely shining in it.
Entering the 2016 season, the 23-year-old Baez did not have a position of his own, as the free-agent acquisition of Ben Zobrist filled the Cubs’ hole at second base, and Addison Russell and Kris Bryant held on to their roles as the primary shortstop and third baseman, respectively. Nevertheless, Cubs manager Joe Maddon tooled with the versatility of Russell, Bryant, and Zobrist to grant Baez just enough playing time to dazzle us all.
In total, Baez garnered 968.2 frames of fieldwork at the four infield positions during the 2016 regular season, including 383 at second base, 370.2 at the hot corner, 194 at short, and 21 at first. Picked ninth overall in the 2011 draft as a nimble middle infielder, Baez honed in on the skills developed at his native positions to turn in a sparkling year in the field and prove that — despite not playing every day — he is one of the best defenders on the extensively versatile and athletic Cubs roster.
Baez appeared in 59 games at second base for the Cubs this season, and the swift gloveman managed a .973 fielding percentage and committed a meager six errors in his 383 innings of fieldwork at the position, during which had a defensive runs saved metric of eleven. As you may infer from the name, the defensive runs saved metric (DRS) measures how many runs the player saved at his position based on the number of plays made, and many of the plays Baez made ended up in highlight reels everywhere.
In addition to his superb defensive play, Baez displayed much more maturity at the plate this season. In a total of 70 major-league games in the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Baez struck out 119 times across 309 plate appearances for a strikeout rate of a much-too-high 38.5 percent.
This year, Baez struck out 108 times in 450 plate appearances to slash his whiff rate down to 25.7 percent. In correlation to the lowered strikeout rate, Baez relished in bettered all-around offensive performance, including more extra-base hits — nineteen doubles, one triple, and fourteen homers — and a solid slash-line of .273/.314/.423.
Through the first round of the postseason, Baez has been one of the most productive Cubs position players, as he contributed several key hits, such as the game-winning home run off San Francisco Giants hurler Johnny Cueto in the first game of the National League Division Series and the go-ahead run for the Cubs in their series-clinching victory in the fourth game of the best-of-five series.
On Saturday, the Cubs will host the Los Angeles Dodgers to kick off the National League Championship Series. The Cubs will send Jon Lester to the mound opposite of the Dodgers’ Kenta Maeda; the best-of-seven series will begin with two games at Wrigley Field, followed by three at Dodger Stadium and, if necessary, two more back on the north side of Chicago to determine who will represent the National League in the World Series.