If I didn’t love Javy Baez so much, I would say that this is the perfect encapsulation of what it means to be a Met and the Mets experience (my urge to laugh at the Mets never dies).
The fact that this comes during yet another Mets spit-up only makes it more so, while also tugging at the strings that connect me to Javy over the past seven years.
It’s hard to fathom how a Major League hitter could miss a pitch by this much. As Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez says, this is not picking up the ball at all. It’s probably beyond that. This is a hitter just guessing, and doing so poorly. This is a cartoon.
This is the Gashouse Gorillas whiffing on Bugs Bunny’s change-up.
There’s probably more symbolism about society as a whole by watching someone try so hard and fail so miserably, but we’re already up to our knees here.
It’s been a lost season for Baez, at the worst possible time for him. This is the second straight season that he’s had an on-base percentage under .300, if you count the 2020 season for evaluation purposes. 2019 wasn’t much better at .316. Baez has hit just enough homers to achieve squarely average overall, but it does not portend well to his free-agent journey.
Whatever the new CBA dictates teams can and will do, Baez is going to be a tough sell for teams. Baez’s game has always been a high-wire act, in that he’s never been selective, nor does he have great bat-to-ball skills. Or even good ones, really. He’s gotten by on his insane bat-speed and making loud contact on the rare occasions that he made contact at all. Vladimir Guerrero could swing at everything because he could make contact on most of it. Javy can’t.
The fear has always been that when he lost any slice of bat speed, it could look… well, like it did last night. The last thing Baez needed to be doing was to start to cheat on fastballs, making him more susceptible to the breaking balls he was frequently fooled by anyway.
It’s hard to know if that’s what’s happening now, but it doesn’t look good. Baez’s whiff-rate on offspeed pitches is 50.9 percent, up 11 points from last year. His whiff-rate on breaking pitches is up to 45 percent from 41 last year and 39 percent the year before that. He’s whiffing 10 percent more often on fastballs than he was three years ago when he nearly won an MVP. You could argue that the more fastballs he can’t get to, the more he’s starting early, and the more that anything other than a fastball is going to make him look like the goofus above.
Baez is still more than a plus defensive player, and his instincts will keep him so for a while yet, even as he turns 29 next year. But any player whose main strength is his glove doesn’t get $20 million per year as Baez once might have.
Given owners’ general miserliness, and whatever the new CBA looks like, Baez might have to take a one-year deal to prove his bat-speed hasn’t hamstrung him for the rest of his career. Which is pretty sobering of what was once one of the most exciting players in the game.