Cubs by the Numbers: Illustrating Necessary Adjustments for Javier Baez using Hot and Cold Zones

To me, Javier Baez is probably one of the more interesting stories in Major League Baseball going into the 2015 season. Everyone wants to see whether he can rebound after he struggled mightily in 52 games with the Cubs in 2014. Okay, maybe “struggled mightily” isn’t really strong enough: he was awful (.169 AVG, K%: 41.5%, -0.8 WAR).

The thing is, his relatively poor performance was expected, if not even planned for like Tom said. Another glimmer of hope is that Baez has usually had a tough time upon moving up a level. His MiLB background is littered with windows of time during which he is just bad, but he makes adjustments and the results have been terrifyingly (to the opposition) good.

My goal with this post is to examine where those adjustments could be made by the Cubs coaching staff and Baez himself in order to have another such turnaround, this time at the MLB level. I am in no way ready to close the book on a 22-year-old with lightning-quick bat speed and an above average baseball IQ.

With that said, if you have not gone to’s player pages and messed around with the Hot Zone feature, I highly recommend it. You can create all types of scenarios, like the count, versus lefties/righties, pitch type and even switch from BA to SLUG for each zone.

Let’s go with a basic starting point for Baez: what is his “zone” overall?


Looking at this graphic, you can quickly see that he can handle the pitch in the middle of the plate and when a mistake is made there he will punish it with above average results. Especially the middle-in and–surprisingly to me–even a little bit on the lower outside corner.

Sadly though, those middle and middle-in portions of the zone are not a given for every AB; actually those are probably a mistake in location by the pitcher. To be honest, if I were a pitcher I wouldn’t sniff that part of the zone because I know I can get Javy to chase the pitch chest-high and above and also get him to offer on the pitches in the dirt.

If nothing else though, this at least gives an idea of what “his pitch” is before he gets himself out during an at bat.

Next, let us look what Baez does when he is behind in the count:

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I’m now going to tell you something that you already know: it is pretty hard to hit in the big leagues from behind in the count. That is something that happened pretty frequently to Baez.

Those pitches that he did feast on in the lower third of the zone were ones that probably caught a little bit more of the zone than the pitcher wanted to catch and Baez made them pay.

The trick is to stop chasing those pitches that are just below the zone and make the pitcher in spots he can actually hit. For Baez, I think the biggest thing is making sure he, not the pitcher, is the one in charge of the at-bat,. The fact that Javy hit .200 on pitches right down the middle when behind in the count leads me to believe there was a little bit of guessing going on by him.

How did things look when Baez gets ahead in the count (while far too infrequent, it did happen)?

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A little bit better; not a lot of chasing on his part, but again a pretty small sample size. He punished the pitches he got and the slugging percentage on that pitch right down the middle was 1.286, which means he didn’t just bloop a single out there. Baez hit .293 with 13 Ks and 15 BBs in the 73 plate appearances he was ahead in the count.

Now the key for Baez will be to get in a spot where he is ahead more frequently. Again, dictate the at-bat on his terms and not react to what the pitcher gives him. When behind in the count, a pitcher is going to have to come into the zone and that is where Baez can do his damage.

Depending on where he hits in the lineup, if he even is in the lineup, the key thing I would like to see the Cubs do for Javier Baez is to put him in a spot where he has some protection. A little better patience from the young slugger and a bopper or two right after him may cause a pitcher to work in the zone more frequently.

One more situation I want to highlight is Baez’s approach with 2 strikes:

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Javier Baez with two strikes is a gift to Major League pitchers; get to that point and he will take care of the rest. Baez hit .097 with 95 Ks in the 144 plate appearances he had 2 strikes. I didn’t look, but I can confidently say that has to be one of the worst lines in all of baseball.

One final piece of data here is a quick look at how Baez does in certain counts as shown by batting average, OBP, slugging, and OPS.






Zero Balls






Zero Strikes






Three Balls






Two Strikes






Batter Ahead






Even Count






Pitcher Ahead






It seems simple enough, but the real adjustment needs to come from the at-bats when Baez is behind or carrying two strikes. A change must take place in his approach when he gets to those points, whether that’s to shorten everything up a bit to make contact or simply getting himself in a better count to have the pitcher make a mistake.

As I said before, hitting with two strikes and behind in the count are insanely hard in the Majors, but that’s where the adjustments by Baez needs to come if he’s to reach that insanely high potential.

Thankfully, adjusting is exactly what Baez has done during his time in the Cubs system. I for one see no reason why that would need to change now, even if that means he spends a month or two in AAA figuring it all out while Tommy La Stella fills in at 2nd.

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