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Deeper Dive: Javier Baez to the Tigers

Javier Báez

Javier Báez

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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The Tigers were one of baseball’s biggest spenders prior to the lockout.

First it was an addition to the rotation in Eduardo Rodriguez. Then they backed up the Brink’s truck to land shortstop Javier Baez on a six-year, $140 million contract. The deal also contains an opt-out clause after the second year.

Baez has always been an enigma. He oozes talent and charisma and can be one of the most fun players in the game to watch when things are clicking. But when he’s off, oh boy, can it get ugly.

We saw both elements in 2021.

Baez posted a .775 OPS with 22 home runs and 13 stolen bases across 91 games for the Cubs before being sent to the Mets at the trade deadline to form a double-play combination with his pal Francisco Lindor. After a rough August which saw him miss time with a back injury, Baez rebounded in September with his best month of the season, putting up a .981 OPS with five bombs and five steals.

All told, the 29-year-old finished the 2021 campaign with a .265/.319/.494 batting line, 31 home runs, 87 RBI, 18 stolen bases and 80 runs. It was enough to easily make him a top-10 fantasy performer at a loaded shortstop position, and he finished even higher at second base.

What we also saw from Baez last season is his already-bad plate discipline turn downright ugly. His strikeout rate was up at a career-high 33.6 percent, and his walk rate was in the bottom six percent of the league at 5.1 percent. Baez’s swinging strike rate was a laughably-awful 21.7 percent. That was the highest in baseball by more than three percent.

Baez’s landing spot in Detroit is not an ideal one.

Comerica Park is much more difficult on left-handed hitters, but it’s not a cakewalk for righties, either. It ranks 16th in baseball for right-handers per Baseball Savant’s Park Factors but comes in at 23rd for home runs. For what it’s worth, Baseball Savant has Baez’s expected home runs by park at 24 for Comerica in 2021.

The Tigers are a team which many feel are on the right trajectory. However, even if you factor in the expected arrivals of top prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene at some point in 2022, it’s not a lineup that’s likely to score a ton of runs. In 2021, it ranked 23rd in baseball in terms of wOBA (.306). Baez no doubt will bat in the middle of the order, but it’s still not the best position to be in for counting stats.

Baez’s max exit velocity (98th percentile), barrel rate (85th percentile) and sprint speed (86th percentile) were all excellent in 2021. Is he goes to put up a 28.2 percent FB/HR rate again in 2022, especially with a pretty unfriendly new home environment? Almost surely not, but Baez is clearly still capable of punishing the ball, and he hasn’t lost a step on the basepaths, either. Those two factors are obviously major reasons why Baez is more likely to help you than hurt you in the average department even though he has some of the worst plate discipline in baseball. His .265 average in 2021 was his worst over a full season, and if your fantasy team hit that last year you probably finished in the top third of your league in the category.

From 2018-21, Baez has batted .270/.311/.508, and his average per 162 games is 33 home runs, 100 RBI, 17 stolen bases and 97 runs scored. That’s including his disastrous showing during the shortened 2020 campaign during which he admitted to being lost at times without in-game video access.

There’s always going to be a level of uneasiness in rostering Baez. He definitely loses some appeal in head-to-head leagues where consistency is important and in points leagues where plate discipline is valued. The infielder should still be awfully valuable in roto formats, though, even with a ballpark downgrade.

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Quick Hits: Justin Verlander’s one-year, $25 million contract (with a $25 million player option for 2023) was officially finalized on Monday. The deal was evidently allowed to become official during what is supposed to be a transactions freeze because it was agreed to before the lockout. … Jordan Romano revealed Monday that he underwent meniscus surgery on his left knee shortly after the end of the season. He is recovered now and wouldn’t appear likely to have any restrictions at the start of spring training. … Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported Sunday that longtime skipper Buck Showalter, Astros bench coach Joe Espada and Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro are the three finalists for the Mets’ manager job. The team is expected to make a decision this week. … The Nationals signed Dee Strange-Gordon and Maikel Franco to minor league contracts over the weekend.