Detroit Tigers’ prized free agent shortstop Javier Baez is currently in a massive slump.
When the Detroit Tigers signed free agent shortstop Javier Baez to a six-year, $140 million contract in the offseason, many fans were skeptical. His high strikeout rate and low walk rate, combined with his ultra-aggressive plate approach left fans concerned about his long-term viability.
Here we are 115 plate appearances into this contract, and after a hot start, Baez has hit a wall offensively. He’s currently slashing .211/.252/.321 with just two homers and a wRC+ of 69.
Baez has always been a streaky player, but he’s never struggled quite like this. His strikeout rate is actually below is career average at 23.5%, but both his chase rate and whiff percentage are in the first percentile among MLB hitters according to Baseball Savant, which suggests more strikeouts are coming.
But what’s particularly concerning with Baez are the frequent groundballs. His groundball rate is by far the highest of his career at 54.9%, while his flyball rate is the lowest of his career at 29.3%. His average launch angle is just 7 degrees.
The groundballs and low launch angle has been a problem for all Tigers’ hitters so far, but players like Jeimer Candelario and Jonathan Schoop have recently started driving the ball more, and they’re finally starting to see results. If there’s one player the Tigers shouldn’t have to worry about driving the ball, it’s Baez.
He hasn’t even been hitting the ball hard. Last season he was in 74th percentile for hard hit rate and the 85th percentile for barrel rate. This season, he’s down to the 28th and 54th percentile, respectively. So what’s the deal?
Recently, A.J. Hinch said Baez has been in pull mode due to this struggles.
This checks out for the most part. His pull rate is definitely higher than his career average, but he’s been a dead-pull guy for the last two years coming into 2022. Baez has been rolling the ball over at an alarming rate.
So what’s the verdict? Should we be concerned about Javier Baez? Is he just a victim of Scott Coolbaugh?
Here’s the thing: like we touched on earlier, Baez has always been streaky player. He’s always had a tendency to start out hot in April, have a rough May, heat back up in June and July, and then slow back down again in August and September. Take that into consideration.
But the constant rollovers are getting real old, real fast. Last night against the Tampa Bay Rays, for example, Baez came up to bat in the eighth inning with one out and the bases loaded, only the bounce into an inning-ending double play.
The Tigers were down 6-1 in this instance, and if Baez was able to find a gap, it would’ve gotten them right back into the game. The Tigers inked Baez to that deal in the offseason in part to be a clutch middle of the order bat, and right now he is far from that.
The Tigers need Javier Baez to get it going again. The team is obviously much better when their star shortstop is hitting well. For now, however, keep the level of concern to a minimum.
Baez is clearly frustrated with how things are going, but we’ve seen this countless times throughout his career. He’ll get it going again. But for now, we just have to ride the wave.