The Tigers Get Their Magician

Reports began emerging in the wee hours Tuesday morning of the Detroit Tigers and Javy Baez agreeing to a six year, 140 million dollar contract with an opt-out. Jon Morosi of MLB Network was first to report a signing was imminent and Evan Petzold of the Free Press shared details. To Tigers fans, Baez may seem like a consolation prize when the assumed target was Carlos Correa, but Correa’s financial expectations may have Baez looking like a grand prize when all is said and done.

Baez, known as El Mago (The Magician) around baseball for his theatrical flair and sweeping tags around second base, joins the Tigers after starting the 2021 season with the Chicago Cubs before a trade to the New York Mets. Baez’s season turned around after the trade, slashing .248/.292/.484 in the Cubs’ lineup and .299/.371/.515 with the Mets.

What led to the turnaround?

Looking at the numbers, Baez became a more selective hitter in New York. His walk percentage increased from 4.2% to 7% and his strikeout percentage fell from 36.3% in Chicago to 28.5% in New York. He walked 13 times in 186 plate appearances to 15 times in 361 plate appearances for Chicago. A more patient Baez resulted in better outcome Baez as well. When contact was made, Baez was able to hit more line drives and less fly balls or ground balls, suggesting perhaps better contact and less selling out for the home run, supported by a drop in home run percentage. Another look shows a ten percent increase in hitting to the opposite field and less to center. On the surface level, it could be hypothesized that a tenth of a second delay allows Baez better pitch identification and a slightly later swing sending the ball to the opposite field and less to the pull side or central areas of the field. Baez did benefit from some luck in his Mets tenure, with a BABIP of .390. A regression closer to his career number of .345 would still result in solid numbers from Baez.

What can we expect?

Removing a dismal shortened 2020 season, Baez has posted all-star caliber WAR seasons since entering his age 25 season in 2018. Celebrating his 29th birthday tomorrow (December 1st), it can be assumed Baez will spend at least half the contract in his "prime", posting similar seasons if healthy. Throwing facts aside and trusting your gut, I have faith in the Tigers staff to further help Baez make adjustments and find another level to his game. Assuming the Mets staff could help Baez, Hinch and his coaches should be able to present Baez with multiple tweaks.

On the defensive side, Baez slots in as the everyday shortstop immediately. Baez was worth three defensive runs saved above average last season at the shortstop position, despite spending a majority of his time with the Mets playing second base. The 2021 Tigers shortstop position totaled to -15 runs saved, so Baez simply stepping on to the field turns things around very quickly.

Tigers fans should expect Baez to be a building block as the franchise edges closer to contention. The cost savings of Baez over Correa can help contribute other building blocks, or at least maintain some flexibility as the rebuild moves over the hump.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the <em>Bless You Boys</em> writing staff.