Javier Baez is having a very Javier Baez season.
The Cubs infielder has played multiple positions, made awe-inspiring defensive plays and deftly run the bases. Most of all, though, Baez has swung the bat, both frequently and with great force.
Never afraid to take his cuts, Baez ranks in the top three in the Majors at swing rate on in-zone pitches, out-of-zone pitches and first pitches. That aggressiveness had helped produce this batting line through Thursday: .258/.288/.538 with 14 home runs and a National League-high 46 RBIs.
It also has Baez in position to make some quirky history this season.
First, consider that Baez has drawn only seven walks in 233 plate appearances (a 3-percent rate), while smashing those 14 homers. In the modern era, no player has finished a qualified season with twice as many home runs as walks. In fact, the only player to have pulled off that feat while collecting even 300 plate appearances was Mel Hall, who homered 12 times against six walks for the 1990 Yankees.
Highest single-season ratio of HR to BB
Min. 600 PA, since 1901
- Dante Bichette (1995 COL): 1.82 (40 HR, 22 BB)
- Rougned Odor (2016 TEX): 1.74 (33 HR, 19 BB)
- Alfonso Soriano (2002 NYY): 1.70 (39 HR, 23 BB)
T-4. Adam Jones (2014 BAL): 1.53 (29 HR, 19 BB)
T-4. Andre Dawson (1987 CHC): 1.53 (49 HR, 32 BB)
Dawson won the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 1987, Bichette was the NL runner-up while playing at pre-humidor Coors Field in '95 and Soriano finished third in the American League MVP race in 2002. In other words, there's some good company here.
Baez's homer-to-walk ratio is even more impressive, given that four of his seven free passes have been of the intentional variety.
In fact, before walking in the ninth inning against the Mets on May 31, Baez had strung together 39 consecutive games (37 starts) without any walks and 42 games (39 starts) without any unintentional passes. During that 42-game stretch, he batted .289/.295/.595.
There's still a long way to go for Baez, but he could become the sixth player to have more intentional walks than unintentional walks in a season with at least 600 plate appearances (intentional walks have been tracked since 1955, according to Baseball-Reference.com).
Highest single-season ratio of IBB to UIBB
Min. 600 PA
- Bill Russell (1973 LAD): 1.43 (20 IBB, 14 UIBB)
- Barry Bonds (2004 SF): 1.07 (120 IBB, 112 UIBB)
T-3. Vladimir Guerrero (2006 LAA): 1.0 (25 IBB, 25 UIBB)
T-3. Steve Garvey (1982 LAD): 1.0 (10 IBB, 10 UIBB)
T-3. Warren Cromartie (1979 MON): 1.0 (19 IBB, 19 UIBB)
That's a strange list that includes Bonds at the peak of his absurd, breaking-baseball powers, a slap hitter in Russell who mostly batted eighth in front of the pitcher and one of the most dangerous hackers in baseball history in Guerrero.
Like Guerrero did for many years, Baez is showing a tendency to swing at anything, while still managing to do damage. The results include both plenty of production for the Cubs and an awkwardly tilted slash line.
Despite a slump that has dropped his slugging percentage by about 100 points in the past month, Baez is still slugging .538. No player has qualified for a batting title and posted a sub-.300 on-base percentage, while also slugging that high, although Baez does have some close company this year in Padres rookie Christian Villanueva (.297 OBP, .531 SLG) and the Blue Jays' Teoscar Hernandez (.292 OBP, .511 SLG).
Highest SLG with a sub-.300 OBP
- Mike Jacobs (2008 FLA): .514 SLG (.299 OBP)
- Dave Kingman (1976 NYM): .506 SLG (.286 OBP)
- Rougned Odor (2016 TEX): .502 SLG (.296 OBP)
- Adam Duvall (2016 CIN): .498 SLG (.297 OBP)
- Butch Hobson (1979 BOS): .496 SLG (.298 OBP)
It's a fair question as to whether Baez can maintain his walk-averse approach and his prodigious power output all season. Over his past 24 games since May 11, Baez's OBP has plummeted to .229, with just a .402 slugging percentage.
Perhaps something has to give. But it will be entertaining to watch Baez take a big cut at some of these oddities.