It seems like only yesterday (actually, last Thursday) since I wrote about the Cubs Javier Baez, but he's off to a terrific start at the bat so far. This is his line through Saturday's games:
It's fun to see the numbers, but far more important to see how they compare to other player's first five games -- is he among the best that ever was, middle of the pack, something else entirely? In all cases, the data goes back to 1914 and was retrieved using the Baseball-Reference Play Index Player Batting Game Finder function.
Baez hit the game-winning home run in his debut game and two more a couple of days later, becoming only the second player to hit three home runs in his first three games. When the other player is the Cardinals' Joe Cunningham in 1954, it's clear this is no guarantee of success. This list shows the most home runs in a player's first five games:
|Yasiel Puig||Dodgers||2013||4||Mark Quinn||Royals||1999||3|
|Mike Jacobs||Mets||2005||4||Magglio Ordonez||White Sox||1997||3|
|Javier Baez||Cubs||2014||3||Brant Brown||Cubs||1996||3|
|Josh Phegley||White Sox||2013||3||Ricky Jordan||Phillies||1988||3|
|Manny Machado||Orioles||2012||3||Luis Medina||Indians||1988||3|
|Yoenis Cespedes||Athletics||2012||3||Sam Horn||Red Sox||1987||3|
|Will Middlebrooks||Red Sox||2012||3||Ruben Sierra||Rangers||1986||3|
|Yasmani Grandal||Padres||2012||3||Alvin Davis||Mariners||1984||3|
|Danny Espinosa||Nationals||2010||3||Dave Kingman||Giants||1971||3|
|Trent Oeltjen||Diamondbacks||2009||3||Billy Conigliaro||Red Sox||1969||3|
|Taylor Teagarden||Rangers||2008||3||Curt Blefary||Orioles||1965||3|
|Shelley Duncan||Yankees||2007||3||Dick Gray||Dodgers||1958||3|
|Kevin Kouzmanoff||Indians||2006||3||Joe Cunningham||Cardinals||1954||3|
|Carlos Quentin||White Sox||2006||3||Ed Sanicki||Phillies||1949||3|
|Keith McDonald||Cardinals||2000||3||Zeke Bonura||White Sox||1934||3|
That's a list that can be taken many ways and includes current stars like Yasiel Puig, hot starts that fizzled like Will Middlebrooks and so-much-promise-what-happened like Carlos Quentin. Power is a fickle skill, but with Baez' hyper-violent swing, if he makes contact the ball will end up significantly farther away than its starting point.
This is the most hits in a player's first five games:
|Junior Lake||Cubs||2013||12||Ichiro Suzuki||Mariners||2001||10|
|Trent Oeltjen||Diamondbacks||2009||12||Doug Dascenzo||Cubs||1988||10|
|Bo Hart||Cardinals||2003||12||Andy Allanson||Indians||1986||10|
|Mike Lansing||Expos||1993||12||Brad Mills||Expos||1980||10|
|Kirby Puckett||Twins||1984||12||Willie McCovey||Giants||1959||10|
|Ken Reitz||Cardinals||1972||12||Spook Jacobs||Athletics||1954||10|
|Jim Davenport||Giants||1958||12||Emil Verban||Cardinals||1944||10|
|Riggs Stephenson||Indians||1921||12||Snuffy Stirnweiss||Yankees||1943||10|
|Jay Bruce||Reds||2008||11||Nanny Fernandez||Braves||1942||10|
|Ron Cash||Tigers||1973||11||Stan Musial||Cardinals||1941||10|
|Bill Bruton||Braves||1953||11||Enos Slaughter||Cardinals||1938||10|
|Jack Merson||Pirates||1951||11||Gibby Brack||Dodgers||1937||10|
|Andy Pafko||Cubs||1943||11||Calvin Chapman||Reds||1935||10|
|Barney McCosky||Tigers||1939||11||Dee Miles||Senators||1935||10|
|Charlie English||White Sox||1932||11||Johnny Vergez||Giants||1931||10|
|Gregory Polanco||Pirates||2014||10||Tony Piet||Pirates||1931||10|
|Josmil Pinto||Twins||2013||10||Ralph Winegarner||Indians||1930||10|
|Adam Eaton||Diamondbacks||2012||10||Danny Taylor||Senators||1926||10|
|Andrew McCutchen||Pirates||2009||10||Joe Munson||Cubs||1925||10|
Now some more familiar names, not just those with some thump in the bat, begin to appear, such as Ichiro Suzuki and Kirby Puckett. But again, there are no guarantees, since some of the recent players started strong and disappeared for any number of reasons.
The next list shows highest batting average and requires at least 20 plate appearances to qualify, in effect playing full-time in the player's first five games:
|Jay Bruce||Reds||2008||.579||Trent Oeltjen||Diamondbacks||2009||.500|
|Bruce Bochte||Angels||1974||.571||Ian Desmond||Nationals||2009||.500|
|Ken Reitz||Cardinals||1972||.571||Kosuke Fukudome||Cubs||2008||.500|
|Riggs Stephenson||Indians||1921||.571||Mike Jacobs||Mets||2005||.500|
|Fern Bell||Pirates||1939||.563||Craig F. Wilson||White Sox||1998||.500|
|Wayne Ambler||Athletics||1937||.563||Andy Allanson||Indians||1986||.500|
|Ron Cash||Tigers||1973||.550||Kirby Puckett||Twins||1984||.500|
|Junior Lake||Cubs||2013||.545||Gordon Goldsberry||White Sox||1949||.500|
|Jim Davenport||Giants||1958||.545||George Shuba||Dodgers||1948||.500|
|Akinori Iwamura||Rays||2007||.529||Mike Schemer||Giants||1945||.500|
|Doug Dascenzo||Cubs||1988||.526||Gibby Brack||Dodgers||1937||.500|
|Andy Pafko||Cubs||1943||.524||Tony Piet||Pirates||1931||.500|
This last chart ties it all together and shows the highest weighted on-base average, again with a minimum of 20 plate appearances:
|Will Middlebrooks||Red Sox||2012||.594|
|Craig F. Wilson||White Sox||1998||.585|
|Sam Horn||Red Sox||1987||.570|
|Zeke Bonura||White Sox||1934||.569|
Weighted on-base average describes not only how often a player hits the ball but how hard, creating a more complete combination of both a player's ability to hit and generate power. I adjusted the wOBA to reflect the year in which the player made his debut, which is only fair to reflect the changes in offense over time. In some cases the difference between using 2014 weights and the actual year was as high as a five percent difference, but in general the variations were much smaller than that.
I strongly suspect there was one stat that should have jumped out:
|Ray Durham||White Sox||1995||25||10|
Anything I read projected Baez to strike out around thirty percent of the time, but he's exceeding even that. Earlier this week I made a comment to forget about the three-outcome hitter (home run, walk or strikeout), Baez is starting out as a two-outcome hitter, and despite his tremendous power simply can't become this generation's Dave Kingman or Rob Deer.
The future of the Cubs will be as bright as the young talent of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro joined by Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Kris Bryant and others can take them. This will probably not stay intact as some of these players will be dealt in exchange for pitching, but they have more than enough to spare. Is Javier Baez' debut as electric and ground-breaking as that of Yasiel Puig in 2013 -- in my opinion, no, since he's showing far too much one-dimensionality for my liking. But for a player who's not yet 22, he's answered the power question unequivocally. The defense will never be anything better than average at best, but if he can develop a hitter's eye and be more selective at the plate and quit trying to hit every ball through our younger daughter's window, clear your plans for August 2040-ish, when he'll be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
All data from Baseball-Reference. Any errors in amalgamating or processing the data are the author's.
Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.