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Walks aside, Baez worthy of MVP discussion

Cubs second baseman also contributes with solid defense, baserunning
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- What's the best way to determine who the Most Valuable Player is on a team? Is it batting average? Is it RBIs? Home runs? Or maybe you look at the complete package and consider the Cubs' Javier Baez.

Baez entered Thursday's action leading the National League in RBIs, but he wasn't in the top 50 in on-base percentage at .333 while eight of his teammates were, including Kris Bryant, who is on the disabled list. Baez did begin the series opener against the Padres ranked 11th in the NL in batting average at .299.

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CHICAGO -- What's the best way to determine who the Most Valuable Player is on a team? Is it batting average? Is it RBIs? Home runs? Or maybe you look at the complete package and consider the Cubs' Javier Baez.

Baez entered Thursday's action leading the National League in RBIs, but he wasn't in the top 50 in on-base percentage at .333 while eight of his teammates were, including Kris Bryant, who is on the disabled list. Baez did begin the series opener against the Padres ranked 11th in the NL in batting average at .299.

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"That's a sign of the times," manager Joe Maddon said. "The analytic component is not going to like that. Right now, if you make a mistake anywhere [to Baez], it gets hit hard. Vladimir [Guerrero] was pretty good. I don't have good video of Yogi Berra, but he was a good bad ball hitter. I think there are anomaly players throughout time who are able to put the fat part of the bat on the ball even though it might not be in the parameters.

"I don't think anybody wants to believe somebody who doesn't walk at least 50 percent higher than his batting average should be worthy of MVP, but look at what [Baez] is doing," Maddon said.

What's he doing? During the Cubs' five-game road trip to St. Louis and Pittsburgh, Baez batted .450 (9-for-20) with three doubles, three homers and nine RBIs. His 22 home runs entering Thursday were one shy of his career high set last year. He's already topped his previous high in RBIs of 75, which he set last year.

Baez contributes to the Cubs in other ways, too.

Video: CHC@PIT: Baez scores on Kingham's throwing error

"Don't forget the glove, don't forget the baserunning," Maddon said. "It gets really watered down too much to me sometimes that batting average is worthy of MVP."

Baez has been batting cleanup since Maddon moved Anthony Rizzo into the leadoff spot, which has been paying off for the team. What Maddon also sees is how Baez is able to use the whole field.

"He'll still strike out," Maddon said, "but like [Wednesday], he drew a walk and went from 1-2 [in the count] to 4-2 and did not chase for that third strike. That part is maturing a bit. I think he's playing with some much confidence now.

"My point is don't just evaluate based on batting average as being MVP worthy numbers," Maddon said. "There are guys in the past who have hit for high averages who people didn't want to vote for because they didn't hit enough home runs or drive in enough runs. It's always the prejudice of the day. This guy is playing good baseball."

When Bryant won the NL MVP Award in 2016, his strengths included his ability to maintain his offensive numbers while moving around from third base to the outfield when needed, plus his baserunning.

Contributing to Baez's success is his confidence. Maddon said he picks up on that in the dugout.

Video: CHC@PIT: Baez nabs Harrison between third and home

"If you get to this tight moment, he believes he's going to beat you somehow and that has nothing to do with numbers," Maddon said. "It's what's in his heart and what's in his mind because his mind on the baseball field is truly artistic. He does things and sees things that most other guys do not. Furthermore, he has the courage to do things and he's fearless."

After all that, Maddon did point out that he's not a fan of individual awards. He and Baez have another goal in mind.

"I know Javy would say the same thing -- he'd much rather be hoisting that [World Series] trophy than anything else," Maddon said.

Morrow takes positive step
For the first time since he went on the disabled list on July 18, Brandon Morrow played catch. The closer, sidelined with right biceps inflammation, got a chance to throw in the outfield for about 30 pitches on Thursday.

"It wasn't the start of any sort of throwing program. I was just testing it out," Morrow said.

The Cubs will see how he feels on Friday before deciding the next step.

"It's boring rehab," Morrow said. "There's only so many things you can do in the day. Once you're done with your lifting and running, you've got eight more hours to kill."

Is there a silver lining to this time off in that Morrow will be fresh later in the season?

"You make one up," he said. "There's no silver lining to being on the D.L. That's all you can say is, OK, you'll be a little more rested."

Smyly strong in sim game
Drew Smyly threw a simulated game on Thursday at Wrigley Field, facing Tommy La Stella and Victor Caratini for two "innings." The lefty is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery which sidelined him for all of last season.

"I thought he finished strong," said Maddon, who watched the workout with Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and the medical staff. "His second 15 pitches, a little bit of command issues with his curve and changeup not sharp but he only threw three in each set. His fastball got better and he finished really strong and felt good about himself.

"He left smiling. Smyly left smiling," Maddon said.

Smyly could be close to a Minor League rehab assignment.

Worth noting
• The news wasn't as good for Bryant, who is on the DL with left shoulder inflammation.

"[Athletic trainer PJ Mainville] was still putting [Bryant] through some tests and he's still feeling it in different spots so he kind of backed off," Maddon said.

Ben Zobrist led the Cubs in batting average at .301 entering Thursday. Not bad for a 37-year-old.

"Zo's my age and he's hitting over .300," Maddon said of the versatile infielder.

Video: CHC@STL: Zobrist belts a solo home run to right field

What's been key? Zobrist is getting the right amount of rest and has found a workout program that works. His routine rotates each day and days off have helped keep him fresh. It wasn't too tough to accept a day off now and then.

"Not when you have the players we have to run out there," Zobrist said. "I feel pretty confident in everybody. I also know I'm still going to get some regular at-bats. Early in the season when it was super cold and I was feeling pretty crappy, and last year, I didn't play very well, I think I was, OK, my mind was more up in the air as to how things would look like. Now it's more part of the routine and the communication is really good, and I know what I need to do. I talk to [Maddon] regularly and he talks to me."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Javier Baez