Detroit Tigers: Javier Baez’s awful start is very concerning

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Javier Baez

This past offseason will be remembered for its free-agent frenzy centered around the shortstop position.  That position happened to be one of the most significant areas of need for the Detroit Tigers.

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Many fans found themselves disappointed when Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila went out and signed the flashy Javier Baez after talks with Carlos Correa seemingly broke down.  Ironically, following those talks, the star shortstop elected to change his representation before signing a three-year deal with the Minnesota Twins.  That deal continued an offseason trend of adding player opt-outs into the agreement, similar to the ones Avila handed out to Baez and Eduardo Rodriquez.

Baez signed a six-year deal worth $140 million with a player opt-out following the second year.  It didn’t seem like a terrible deal considering what the Texas Rangers threw at Corey Seager and Marcus Semien.  Seager netted a 10-year contract worth $325 million, and the Rangers also signed Semien, 31, who was coming off a career-like year with the Toronto Blue Jays, to a seven-year deal that totals $175 million.

Seager has belted eight home runs in 2022 but is slashing .245/.319/.752.  On the other hand, Semien is hitting just .178 with no home runs and nine RBIs.  Correa is also off to a slow start, with the Twins hitting .265 with two home runs and 12 RBIs.

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Should the Detroit Tigers be concerned about Javier Baez’s awful start?

Baez is slashing an atrocious .204/.244/.552 to begin his Tigers’ career.  Although those numbers are worse than expected, none of us should have hoped to see a stellar batting average or on-base percentage knowing his tendency as a free swinger.  I’ve noticed Baez striking out on a slider down and away more than once that lands in the left-handed batter’s box.  His 4.1% walk rate is in the lower 8% of the league.

In a recent article by Nick Selbe of Sports Illustrated, he gauges the panic meter of each of these offseason shortstop additions.

Baez comes in just ahead of Semien and Boston’s Trevor Story, who is also off to an atrocious start.  Selbe puts a 6.5 out of 10 on the ‘Panic Meter.’

Always a free swinger, Báez has chased pitches outside the zone more often (47.0%) than he ever has before, which has produced a career-worst 22.0% swinging-strike rate. When he does make contact, it’s weaker than it has been in the past, and his 55.7% ground ball rate has completely sapped his power. It’s hard to see him replicate another 30-homer season anytime soon unless his approach at the plate alters sooner rather than later. Then again, maybe we shouldn’t doubt El Mago just yet.

According to Baseball Savant, Baez is barrelling up the ball just 8.1% of the time, which is the second-worst rate of his career.  He’s also swinging with a launch angle of 6.0, the lowest of his career.  He’s only finding the sweet spot of the bat 24.4% of the time, also a career-worst.

Baez has always been a streaky player, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a bit concerned.  He’s been just as advertised; he makes unbelievable defensive plays, he puts some flare on routine plays, and he will make the odd mistake on a play he should make.  Baez will strike out a ton but can also be counted on in the clutch.  The problem is, he’s striking out more than usual, and he is pounding the ball into the ground far more than expected.

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Let’s hope he turns things around quickly, or this has the makings of being a long six years.

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Posted by Bob Heyrman
Bob currently serves as the Editorial Director at Detroit Sports Nation. Bob's writing is comparable to the third starter in a rotation. Sometimes he throws junk that finds the barrel of the bat and gets smacked over the fence, but the odd time he can toss a complete game shutout. Bob is a passionate lifelong Detroit sports fan. Bob loves the city and can often be found downtown taking in a sporting event or a cold beverage at a local watering hole.