Last night, after Javier Baez struck out in the first inning, I playfully tweeted out a suggestion. Given the alarming number of whiffs in Baez’ career so far, I suggested that the over/under on his strikeouts was three. Casinos set a number — as close as possible to what they think the number will be — and then take action from those thinking the number is too low (thus, “taking the over”) and those who think the number is too high (“taking the under”)
I thought three was a reasonable number with the Cubs facing Johnny Cueto in his home ballpark. There was a little bit of room for Baez to go over three strikeouts on the evening, and a lot of room for him to go under. And take a guess as to which one he actually did? For the fourth time in his young career, Baez achieved what is colloquially known as a “golden sombrero” by striking out four times in a single game.
Cubs fans, by and large, are head over heels for young Javier Baez. He is the face of the Cubs’ youth movement. He’s the golden child, at least until Kris Bryant gets to the majors sometime next year. And there is little I could say to such fans that would make a difference in their assessment of him. So, this isn’t written for them. But for those who are unaware of young Baez, I offer some very disturbing facts.
Henry Aaron played in more games at the major league level than everyone not named Pete Rose or Carl Yastrzemski. He played in 3,298 games over the course of his amazing career, but not once did he strike out four times in a single game. He occasionally struck out three times in a game, but never did he earn a golden sombrero. The term likely wasn’t even invented yet, but just like we can go back and retroactively assign things like WAR to his career totals, so too can we hand out sombreros. Yet Aaron would get none.
During Aaron’s rookie season, which is the most apt comparison to be made to the rookie Baez, he strode to the plate to face a big league pitcher 509 times. And in those at-bats, he struck out a total of 39 times. In Javier Baez’ career — which does not yet extend beyond August of 2014 — he has stood in the batter’s box a total of 90 times, and has struck out in 40 of them. Baez has struck out more in a single month than Aaron did his entire rookie season.
Maybe comparing Baez to one of baseball’s greatest hitters isn’t fair. The game isn’t what it was in the days before free agency and pitch counts and designated closers. Fair enough, then, let’s compare Baez to the all-time strikeout king, Reggie Jackson. Until Adam Dunn passes him in two years’ time, nobody went back to the bench empty-handed more than Mr. October. It took Reggie Jackson 528 career games, which was well into his fifth season in the majors, to record his fourth golden sombrero. And Javier Baez hasn’t even reached the end of his first month yet.
Hitting seven home runs in one month is more than many players can lay claim to doing. And when that month is the first one at the major-league level, the potential of Javier Baez becomes clear. But historically speaking, the numbers on the other side of the ledger are even more unprecedented, and far more troubling, as well.