MESA, Ariz. -- Javier Báez did everything in his power to help carry the Cubs as injuries and other issues hindered the roster and offense down the stretch last season. He played all over the infield, hit all over the lineup and finished as the runner-up for the National League
MESA, Ariz. -- Javier Báez did everything in his power to help carry the Cubs as injuries and other issues hindered the roster and offense down the stretch last season. He played all over the infield, hit all over the lineup and finished as the runner-up for the National League MVP Award.
On Tuesday morning, Baez met with the media for the first time this spring, discussing last year's abrupt finish for the Cubs and his goals for the season ahead. He expects to see more daily urgency from the players, and he's hoping to once again hear those M-V-P chants from the fans pouring into Wrigley Field.
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"I hope so. I hope so," Baez said. "I'm trying to have a better year than last year."
What Baez really wants to see is more adjustments throughout the season. There were a lot of things that did not sit right with the team when the postseason run wound up being limited to the one-and-done NL Wild Card Game loss to the Rockies. For Baez, he felt that the players needed to look at themselves in the mirror before the winter's early arrival.
Baez hopes that was a lesson learned for everyone in Chicago's clubhouse.
"After the season was over, after the last game, we started saying, 'What were we missing?'" Baez said. "That kind of bothered me, because that's part of the game, to make adjustments and get better. And we waited for the season to be over to look at it and to try to make adjustments when there was no tomorrow.
"So I think this offseason we had a lot of time to think about it and to see how we're going to react this year."
In 160 games last season, the 26-year-old Baez turned in a .290/.326/.554 slash line to go along with 34 home runs, 40 doubles, nine triples and an NL-leading 111 RBIs. He stole 21 bases, scored 101 runs and finished with a 131 wRC+ and 5.3 WAR (per FanGraphs). His production was crucial for a Cubs lineup that collapsed in the second half -- hurt by the shoulder woes of Kris Bryant.
Baez, who finished behind Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich for the NL MVP, did all that damage by making the most of his free-swinging style. General manager Jed Hoyer said this spring that Baez "organized his strike zone" better, helping make up for his low walk rate (4.5 percent, 10th lowest in MLB) and high strikeout rate (25.9 percent, 14th highest in MLB).
"I'm just trying to get more walks," Baez said of his goals for 2019. "Obviously, people are talking about my walks and strikeouts. It's only going to make me better if I walk more and I see the ball better."
Baez had the second-highest swing rate (57.7 percent) and fifth-lowest contact rate (68.5 percent) in baseball among qualified hitters. Within that, however, Baez's .765 slugging percentage on balls in play was the ninth-best in MLB per Statcast™ (min. 300 results).
"The offensive signs that we saw last year," Hoyer said, "I think the arrow is pointing straight up."
Hoyer also said the Cubs saw growth from Baez on the leadership front.
"The players respect him so much," Hoyer said. "He plays hurt. He plays all out. And all he cares about is winning. He really takes losing to heart more than anything. He takes any kind of lack of effort or anything pulling in the wrong direction in the clubhouse to heart, and I think that's something that he wants to continue to focus on, is how can he vocalize his thoughts and become a better leader."
Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.