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Comparing Javier Báez to other Detroit Tigers

Shortstop Javier Baez smiles after hitting a home run. Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Shortstop Javier Baez smiles after hitting a home run. Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Detroit Tigers came into this offseason with huge question mark at shortstop, and early Tuesday morning they found their answer in the form of Javier Báez.

It was just the latest big signing in what has been one of the most frenzied weeks of player movement in recent memory; the impending lockout like an enticing sack of blood in shark-filled water.

Teams like the Mets and Rangers brazenly strode into the roiling froth and then emerged, cartoonishly denuded, but seemingly stronger and more dynamic. For a time it appeared the Tigers were content to stand ashore and watch.

But whispers started circulating Monday afternoon, and then overnight Jon Morosi tweeted a deal was close. It took another five hours for more information to come, but then Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press reported the deal was complete:

And so it’s done. The Detroit Tigers and Javier Báez are a match for at least two years, and possibly six.

Readers can learn more about Javier Báez in a speculative trade piece we wrote last year, or the free agent preview we wrote three weeks ago, but what Detroit Tigers fans really need to know about Báez is that he’s absolutely unique as a player.

There are few players in MLB history who are capable of being as simultaneously exciting and frustrating as Javier Báez.

And there certainly aren’t any Detroit Tigers players who work as a direct comparison to him. But, if we break down Javier Báez into his separate tools, we can come up with some pretty good comparisons in recent Detroit Tigers players.

So let’s do it! Starting with the most worrisome aspect of his game: Hitting.

Detroit Tigers Javier Báez Hitting Comp: Jonathan Schoop

Detroit Tigers
Jonathan Schoop hits a solo home run against the Chicago White Sox. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /

We could probably write a full article just on the adventure that is Javier Báez at the plate. He combines the elite bat speed of Gary Sheffield, the aggressive approach of Nick Castellanos, and the rock-bottom contact rates of second-Tigers-stint Alex Avila.

And yet, Báez owns a completely reasonable lifetime batting average of .264. Those numbers look even better if you pull out his rough rookie season (.169 in 213 AB), and his horrific 2020 pandemic year (.202 in 222 AB).

Yes, everyone has better stats if you just remove the bad ones, but that’s not the point here.

Javier Báez is absolutely the sort of player who will struggle to bat .200 for 60 games at a time. That’s not ideal. But he’s also the kind of player who will hit .320 over a two-month span. Last year he posted a .326/.381/.555 line for a 60-game span from July 4th to September 28th.

Detroit Tigers fans seemed to warm up to Jonathan Schoop over the past two years, particularly during hot streaks like his 60-game stretch from June to August last season, when he hit a very Báez-like .328/.366/.555.

These streaks are just part of the deal with players like Schoop and Báez, who never met a pitch they didn’t want to hit. Their seasons can be real roller coaster rides, but those hot streaks are incredibly fun.

Next up, let’s talk about his power.

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