There’s this thing about legends wherein we build them up to the point that even the spectacular seems mundane while the mundane is run through the hyperbole generator to make it seem bigger spectacular. Depending on who you ask, we’ve long since reached that point with Javy Baez, whose sliding stop and blind throw nearly prevented Denard Span from reaching when he led off the 3rd inning.
Still a ridiculous play … https://t.co/8tKxQgNip7
— MLB (@MLB) October 12, 2016
Of course, not everyone was impressed. He still didn’t get the out, they said. When you boil it down to results, the argument goes, Javy’s play was no different from any other second baseman making a stop and just putting the ball in his pocket. But saying that is to completely deny the almost supernatural athleticism on display. Most guys would put the throw in their pocket because most guys never could have made it in the first place.
Almost as if to redeem himself, Javy later ended up on the receiving end of David Ross’s throw to nab Span as he tried to steal second. Baez had to reach back to his left, snagging the one-hopper with his glove already on the runner, his timing so perfect that he didn’t even need to make one of his trademarked lightning-strike tags.
Then there was his sliding play to nab Bustey Poser in the 7th, a move that wasn’t as sexy as some of his best defensive gems but that got the job done nonetheless. Then again, Anthony Rizzo passing in front of him and obscuring his view for a bit did add to the degree of difficulty.
Finally, and this might be the best example to date of freakish dexterity of his magic hands, Javy batted and juggled a piece of gum to keep it from falling to the floor of the dugout. And then he went looking for the camera.
The lens through which you view Javy is going to direct your opinion of him, though I’m not really sure how or why anyone would want to see him as anything other than an example of what is right with baseball. Some will decry his (actually pretty minimal) pimping of that huge Game 1 homer or taking a seat after the play to get Posey or [insert stock get-off-my-lawn complaint here] and label him selfish or lazy or perhaps something much worse.
I see a young man whose infectious exuberance and flair for the dramatic has gone from cataclysmic to catalytic. He was initially a pretty face and a prettier swing but he was easily fooled and didn’t seem willing to rein in and focus his abilities. Now that he’s tempered his talent with a measure of humility, there’s almost no limit to what Javy can do. His ability to put a team on his back was on full display against the Giants, against whom he collected a pair of game-winning RBI and flashed all kinds of leather.
It’s gotten to the point where we fully expect the guy to make a spectacular play, yet we’re no less amazed when he does so. Well, except when he gets a little ahead of himself and tries to do too much, realizing only too late that he’s surrounded by mere mortals who are incapable of keeping up with his supernatural understanding and execution. I guess one of the consequences of being so good is that you’re always going to be measured against what you’ve already accomplished or what you’re expected to in the future. Or even the present.
And lest I sign off without putting my metrics where my mouth is, a bit of a follow-up to that whole limitless potential thing and the bombastic titular claim. Statistically speaking, Javy Baez is the best defensive second baseman in the game. Yes, you read that right. No, it’s not an exaggeration for the sake of clicks. Standard-bearers Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler have each tallied only one more defensive run saved, and it took them at least 909 more innings to do so.
To put this in even better perspective, Baez would have notched 37 DRS, more than the next three players combined, had he equaled Pedroia’s innings played at second. Javy’s UZR/150 (ultimate zone rating per 150 games) is also the highest in the league. So, yeah, this isn’t an all-sizzle-no-steak situation we’re dealing with. And as the bat continues to develop, oh my.
We’re talking about a young man who’s only now coming into his own, like Peter Parker in whichever one of the Spider-Man origin stories you prefer. Just don’t think displaying great responsibility with his great power is going to stop him from showing off and enjoying himself on the regular, though. Don’t think he hasn’t and won’t earn his share of detractors too. He’s essentially a human desalination plant, drawing all the salt out of fans from San Francisco to St. Louis.
If having fun and playing the game with a smile is something you can’t abide in your baseball players, well, I don’t think we really need to be talking. But if it’s entertainment you seek, pull up a chair and let’s watch this guy put in work.