The Javy Effect: How Baez's fearless nature has rubbed off on the Cubs


The lasting image of the Cubs' annual trip to Coors Field will be Javy Baez's reaction to his bomb in the eighth inning of Wednesday's 10-1 victory.

Just a few pitches after the Rockies had plunked Anthony Rizzo and the Beanball War seemed to be ready to erupt, Baez retaliated in the most effective way — on the scoreboard:

While his pimp job and the sheer distance of that homer stand out, it was yet another positive result for Baez on an 0-2 or 1-2 count.

On the season, he is now hitting .278 with a .570 (!) slugging percentage, 5 homers and 15 RBI in counts that end on 0-2 or 1-2 pitches. By comparison, MLB hitters are batting just .154 with a .243 slugging percentage in 0-2/1-2 counts.

So why is Baez so good when he's down in the count?

"It's about fearlessness," Joe Maddon said last week. "I think that's what it really comes down to. He's developing a better eye on two strikes, but I don't think that guy goes to bed one night and worries about how many times he struck out that day. 

"Now, of course, I'm an advocate of striking out less. But I'm also an advocate of not messing with Javy and his ability to play this game. I think that's just indicating to you how full throttle he plays this game. 

"He doesn't overthink it; he's not worried about it in a negative way. He's really anticipating a positive outcome."

Baseball is a game fraught with failure and it's very easy for anybody — even the most established big-league veterans — to get caught up in the fear of failure.

But somehow, Baez seems to have been born without that gene. He does not spend his time worrying about potential failure or trying to avoid making mistakes. 

He just plays the game his way. It's a way that nobody else can duplicate, but Baez's fearless nature is certainly something the entire Cubs team is trying to adopt. 

"He's definitely a guy that you try to look at and it's like, he goes out and plays as hard as he can," Albert Almora Jr. said. "He really brings the kid out in you. You really think a lot about, 'Oh man, I used to play like that.' 

"But he does it at the highest level, which is something special. You can definitely see it in the team. He changes the whole attitude and the atmosphere."

The Cubs have been talking about Baez's sensational baseball IQ for the last five years, but it's gotten to a point where they now lean on him and that "sixth sense" during the course of the game. 

On the last homestand, Baez came out to the mound for a chat with Kyle Hendricks and it was later revealed he was letting the Cubs pitcher know what he saw about the current hitter/at-bat from his shortstop position. Hendricks said he now routinely looks back to Baez during the course of the game to get the shortstop's perspective.

And then there's the baserunning.

Baez is one of the most aggressive baserunners in the game, always looking to take the extra bag or put pressure on the defense. This week was another great example as he went from first base to third base on a groundout Monday night in Colorado. The Rockies were caught in a shift without a player at third base and Baez took advantage, prompting a brief "JAVY! JAVY!" chant at Coors Field after the play.

Yes, Cubs fans travel well, but it's not every day the crowd chants for an opposing player following a groundout.

When Kris Bryant helped the Cubs eke out a win over the Phillies with a pair of heads-up baserunning plays last month, it was Baez's name that was brought up unprompted for partial credit.

"Not trying to take away from KB 'cause I feel like he's secretly one of the best baserunners in the game — he always runs hard and he plays the game like an MVP — but that's one of the effects that Javy has on us," Jason Heyward said. "I feel like you see other guys making plays like that on the bases and we're aware those things can happen if we stay in tune."

Of course, that same game, Baez wound up coming off the bench to connect on a walk-off single despite dealing with a painful heel injury that kept him out of the lineup. 

As he tried to work through that heel injury, Baez wound up slumping at the plate, striking out in half his at-bats (20-of-40) over the span of two weeks. 

But he's since righted the ship — crushing 4 homers and knocking in 12 runs in his last 10 games including Wednesday.

"He could go bad for a couple days, but you don't worry about that," Maddon said. 'He doesn't overthink it. And he wasn't going home and beating himself up about it. He wasn't trying to reinvent himself. 

"He knows it's coming back to him. He knows he's good. I love that. That's why he can be as good as he is and better for so many years to come. It's really awesome to watch him play."

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