Major League Baseball has been on a major slump this season. Attendance numbers have hit a new low, and officials are scrambling to find ways to make the game more appealing to the younger generation – a generation that craves drama and non-stop action. In contrast, the National Basketball Association seems to be the main attraction in today’s age where drama never stops and whose main players generate daily discussions in social media. The NBA’s offseason draws more attention than MLB’s regular season, so we know that there’s a real problem, needing a real solution.
Russell Westbrook is one of the most exhilarating players in the NBA. He’s oftentimes mentioned as the one player people would pay to watch for the entertainment that he brings through unmatched athleticism and energy. Luckily for MLB, they have a player that compares to Russell Westbrook in Javier Baez. However, Javier Baez is the enemy of analytics, just a nightmare to a system that the sport is hellbent on protecting.
MLB’s golden child is Mike Trout, the analytics community poster child because he gets on base half the times he steps up to the plate. It appears that most sports fans are not too intrigued by Trout’s ability to draw a walk, which means the game drags even more and fans are forced to see more pitches.
Javier Baez oozes entertainment comparable to that of Russell Westbrook. Westbrook’s tagline early in his playoffs career was “Let Westbrook Be Westbrook” as he would run wild on the court, attempting to destroy the rim each time he went up for a dunk. Westbrook would face a sea of defenders in front of him and would nonetheless pull up for a jumper prompting every fan in the arena to go from “No, no, no, no, no” to “Yes!” after whatever crazy shot he had taken went in. Same thing goes with Baez, the moment he steps up to the plate every fan in the stadium knows he’s swinging for the fences with all his strength. He never cheats on any pitch, he swings on 0-2 counts the same way he would swing at having the green light on a 3-0 count. Baez has walked 14 times and 9 of those have been intentional, meaning he’s only walked 5 times in 97 games this season. Those numbers are atrocious to the analytics community, so much so that most baseball writers have left him out of the Most Valuable Player conversation, although Baez has a 292 average, 19 HRs, 74 RBIs (leads NL) and 19 Stolen Bases (including stealing home twice). His defense is straight magic, earning him the nickname “El Mago” which is Spanish for “The Wizard or The Magician” as he turns sure singles into outs, and even goes out of his way to make the routine play look extraordinary, something that has gotten him in trouble with Cubs’ Manager Joe Maddon.
The same tagline used for Westbrook is being used for Javy Baez in “Let Javy Be Javy” and he seems to be thriving in his own way within the league. If baseball continues to punish Baez for swinging too much, or taking risks, or doing anything in his power to make the game more exciting, then MLB will continue to struggle to compete with other sports whose athletes draw so much attention. When Russell Westbrook went on his triple-double “stat-chasing” tear during the entire 2016-2017 season the league embraced him, and celebrated him as he garnered so much attention in the entire country. They didn’t care that his shooting percentages were abysmal, or that he turned the ball over 6 times a game, or that he didn’t make teammates better – Westbrook was still rewarded with Most Valuable Player for his efforts and the numbers he was putting up, which hadn’t been seen since Oscar Robertson over 30 years ago. MLB needs to find a way to embrace Javier Baez, as the league needs him now more than ever.