Cubs

Javy Baez is the top defensive infielder in the game

Javy Baez is the top defensive infielder in the game

By one metric, Javy Baez is the top defensive infielder in Major League Baseball.

Yet somehow, he wasn't even a Top 3 finalist for the National League Gold Glove Award at shortstop.

Infield Outs Above Average is a new metric by Statcast released Wednesday to measure the overall impact of an infielder. If the OAA stat seems familiar, it's because it has been around as a way to evaluate MLB outfielders over the last couple seasons.

By this new stat, Baez is the top defensive infielder in the game, coming in with a +19 OAA. That makes him a bit better than Nolan Arenado. The entire Top 10 list is as follows:

Baez: +19
Arenado: +17
Andrelton Simmons: +16
Nick Ahmed: +16
Trevor Story: +15
Matt Chapman: +14
Paul DeJong: +13
Matt Olson: +12
Jose Iglesias: +12
Freddy Galvis: +12

Ahmed won the NL Gold Glove for shortstop, with DeJong and Story coming in behind him. All three players find themselves on this list, so they were all worthy candidates, but Baez was robbed of inclusion as a Gold Glove finalist.

For more on infield OAA, read Mike Petriello's fantastic write-up at MLB.com, but essentially it boils down to how many batted balls Baez turned into outs — including on plays he should not have made. That means either by virtue of his exceptional range, arm strength or break on the ball. The metric also takes into account the baserunner's speed on a given play or where the defender was located in the field, so it factors in all the outs Baez has converted from the outfield grass, either on the left or right side of the infield while serving as the rover on shifts for the Cubs.

At the end of the day, this is just a fancy number to confirm what Cubs fans saw with their eyes all 2019: Baez is an elite defensive shortstop and one of the most exciting players in the game even when he's not in the batter's box or on the basepaths. 

As for the rest of the Cubs infielders, here's how the list looks in OAA:

Addison Russell: +5
David Bote: +3
Kris Bryant: +2
Anthony Rizzo: -3
Daniel Descalso: -4

As a whole, the Cubs had the fifth-best infield OAA in baseball (+20), but that was obviously buoyed by Baez's contributions. The St. Louis Cardinals ranked first in baseball (+42 OAA), with the Rockies, Astros and Angels also ahead of the Cubs.

Entering 2020, the Cubs look to expand upon that number. They won't have Russell, but currently have every other player on the list and it's unknown how much Descalso will even play given Nico Hoerner's eventual addition to the infield on a regular basis. Baez may also improve upon his overall defensive metrics, too, if he can avoid injury (remember, he missed all of September) and in his second full season at shortstop.

Before he was a Cub,, Kyle Schwarber was a high school singer, football player

Before he was a Cub,, Kyle Schwarber was a high school singer, football player

Kyle Schwarber will go down in Cubs lore for his dramatic return from a torn ACL and LCL in time for the 2016 World Series. Despite not facing big league pitching in six months, the catcher-turned-left fielder put on a hitting clinic that series.

Schwarber hit .412 in five games, which includes the rally-inducing single to leadoff the 10th inning of Game 7. That game, of course, was played in Cleveland, which is a perfect Segway for a few off-the-field facts about the Cubs slugger.

1. Schwarber was born in Middletown, Ohio and grew up a Cincinnati Reds fan. As a former catcher, his role model was Johnny Bench — the Reds Hall of Fame backstop.

2. Schwarber attended Middletown High School, where he was a linebacker on the football team. Here’s a legendary photo of him trying to tackle future Ohio State quarterback and NFL wide receiver, Braxton Miller.

3. Not only was he an athlete in high school, but Schwarber was also a member of his school’s show choir. You need this content in your life, and I’m happy to provide it to you.

There’s Schwarber, front and a bit off-center:

For good measure, the Cubs had Schwarber and other players reenact the performance back in 2016 — with future manager David Ross taking a playful shot at Schwarber:

Like I said, you need this content.

4. Schwarber has one brother and three sisters. His dad is a retired police chief, a big inspiration for the Schwarber’s Neighborhood Heroes campaign — which recognizes first responders and their sacrifices.

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The 16 most underrated players in Cubs franchise history

The 16 most underrated players in Cubs franchise history

Banks. Sandberg. Sosa. Rizzo.

In addition to being a potential “Cubs Mount Rushmore,” these players are synonymous with ones who fans remember — and likely cheered for — the most. Odds are you’ll find more Ryne Sandberg jerseys in the stands than, say, Terry Mulholland or Steve Trout.

But an astute fan of the 2016 club would mention that John Lackey nearly had as many strikeouts that season as Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta. Or that fan favorite Mark DeRosa led the 97-win 2008 team in runs scored (103). 

These are the glue guys. The grinders. The players that hold teams together.

So, with a nod toward the 2016 World Series champs, here is the list of the 16 most underrated Cubs of all-time:

The 16 most underrated players in Cubs franchise history 

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