The Detroit Tigers made the big move this offseason to sign their shortstop of the future. This was a six-year, $140 million contract that Javier Báez signed to join the Tigers organization. He has an opt-out after the 2023 season, but if he does not take it, he will remain in Detroit until the completion of the 2027 season, barring a trade or another roster move.
The Detroit Tigers made a mistake. With a $23.3 million annual value for Báez, it's hard to watch him perform as poorly as he has. While the defense has looked “magical” at times, El Mago has been far from magnificent, leading the league in errors.
The performance at the plate has been even more brutal to watch. The organization is paying this guy to be an impact bat; sometimes, the approach has been questionable. The average baseball fan should be able to see this. The plate discipline and plate coverage have been horrendous.
He's being vastly overpaid, and it will be a long six years for Detroit Tigers fans at the rate things are going. Watching Báez swing through the fastball up and chase sliders away is going to get old quickly. While the narrative is that Báez feeds off of the hate, there's just a lot to dislike about the at-bats.
Detroit Tigers shortstop Javier Báez is overpaid.
The organization is overpaying its star shortstop to swing through sliders, chase fastballs, and take pitches in the zone. While I understand this was an Al Avila move, it does not mean the contract goes away after his firing; he's still stuck in Detroit, barring an opt-out or trade, etc.
I also understand that he does get on base, rack up hits, and produce runs. But most of the time, those hits come from the pitcher's mistakes, something any big leaguer should be able to do; capitalize on mistakes. For example, in the first inning of Saturday's game against the Chicago White Sox, Báez singled on a line drive into centerfield.
While a base hit is a base hit, it's hard to call it a great at-bat when Lucas Giolito misses his spot. Yasmani Grandal was set up for a fastball meant to be on the outer third away from Báez, leaving it over the plate, and Báez capitalized on this. Looking on Twitter, I found another instance.
Here Báez goes deep to left field; again, great to pick up a home run, but look at where Luke Maile is set up versus where the pitch ends up.
— JpaBaseball (@JpaBaseball) August 11, 2022
It's one of those things where teams know how to attack him, but pitchers make mistakes, and Báez can capitalize on them. For that, I will give him some credit. Being able to stay true to the skillset and put good swings on pitches is important, and Báez can do just that.
In 2022 as a whole, Báez has produced a .224/.266/.379 slash line over 99 games and 406 at-bats with 22 doubles, 11 home runs, and 44 RBI on the season. Whether it's a down season for the Tigers offense as a whole or not in 2022, Báez has not been a $23.3 million AAV player.
The problems lie deeper than the regular stats. They lie deeper than the slash line. The issues with Báez come from the stuff mentioned above. While it's great that he's capitalizing on mistakes, which any $23.3 million AAV player should do. But what happens when pitchers do execute?
Detroit Tigers shortstop Javier Báez is more than pitchable.
Báez has kryptonite. The slider away and elevated fastball are a problem for the right-handed hitter. Recently, the slider down the middle of the plate also seems to be an issue. See below as Shane Bieber drops one right down the middle, and there's next to zero intent to swing shown from Báez.
— Starting 9 (@Starting9) August 10, 2022
If that wasn't enough, here's Báez continuing to struggle with the breaking ball as he swings at a spiked curveball from James Karinchak, thrown at about 58 feet. Though, Báez still swings through it.
James Karinchak just got Javier Báez swinging on a bounce pass pic.twitter.com/9y6Vno7ZYL
— Casey Drottar (@CDrottar19) August 10, 2022
The point is, it's not pretty a lot of the time. It gets even worse when the pitcher executes the low and away slider or elevates the fastball. Karinchak's curveball above was not him “executing,” and Beiber probably did not want the slider to catch that much of the plate, but they both still resulted in punchouts.
Báez has managed a 34.7% whiff rate, which is the best rating he's posted since the 2018 season. His chase rate is at an all-time high of 46.0% in 2022. According to Baseball Savant, Báez is in the top 4% of the league for the highest whiff rate, the top 1% for the highest chase rate, and the lowest 6% for BB% in 2022.
Taking it a step further, utilizing the zone breakdown on Baseball Savant, it's easy to see with the assortment of red zones why Báez is struggling. For his whiff rate zone by zone, the low and away is bright red and at 59%, with the chase numbers being all lit up in red.
Moving down the list is strikeouts by zone, which has a bright red spot low and away, with 45 punchouts being in that area. It's impressive his inability to lay off that low and outside corner. You can see it in-game; the stats are crystal clear to back it up.
Something else that stands out visually is Báez's stance in the batters' box. He starts in the middle of the box, off of the plate a good distance. In today's game, it feels like most of the players are up on the plate and take the HBP with their expensive elbow guards and wrist guards taking the damage.
This seems like a countermeasure to keep him from chasing those low and away pitches. But as shown by his performance and the stats, it's not doing much. But it looks like something that he's certainly trying to use as a counterweight to his poor swing decisions.
The stats back that up too. Being farther off the plate leads to him doing more of his damage on pitches middle-in to him, even off the plate in, which would make sense with more room to bring the hands in and barrel up pitches. The zone-by-zone breakdown on Baseball Savant supports this as well.
With that being said, the Tigers are going to be stuck paying Báez for the next few years at a price point that's far too high for the number of bad at-bats that are going to be taken. To think, we didn't even talk about his defense besides the brief mention of his league-lead in errors early on.