Inside Javier Baez’s MVP-grade month without a walk

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His teammates had looks of disbelief on their faces. They didn’t believe the numbers at first. Some — including closer Brandon Morrow — just stared into space, standing at their lockers, while trying to do the math. Is it really possible for a hitter to compile anything close to a 1.000 OPS over the course of a month or longer without earning a single walk?

It is if your name is Javier Baez.

That’s right. The Cubs’ lead-off hitter on Saturday hasn’t taken a free pass in over a month. The last one came on April 11 — and that was an intentional walk. His last regular walk was April 7. Yet from April 8 through Saturday’s game against the White Sox, he compiled an eye-popping 1.003 OPS.

“Really?” slugger Kyle Schwarber said. “Over .900 for a month without a walk? That’s hard to do.”

The ultimate work-the-count and take-a-walk guy, Ben Zobrist, was equally impressed as he was shocked.162

“With no walks? That’s amazing,” Zobrist said. “I did not know that. That’s really crazy. You have to be able to hit every kind of pitch all around the zone. And some outside the zone, for sure.”

All those asked agreed there’s only one way to accomplish such a feat: by swinging. A lot. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Baez leads the majors, swinging at 61 percent of all pitches and 54 percent of first pitches in an at-bat. He swings at 46 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, also the highest in baseball. The last Cub to accomplish an OPS of .900-plus over course of a month withoout a walk was Starlin Castro in 2010.

“He’s always been a bad-ball hitter,” Morrow said. “You just had to miss the bad spots that he was good at hitting. Right now, he’s probably still swinging at those bad pitches that he’s good at hitting but not swinging at the bad pitches that he’s bad at hitting.”

It took an Abbott & Costello answer by Morrow — after thinking about it for a minute — to half-explain what Baez is doing. It really is hard to comprehend.

“That would be like hitting .450 on singles,” Schwarber said without really making a point. china

In fact, Baez has kept his numbers up in a variety of ways, beginning with earning an inordinate amount of extra-base hits during his walk-less time. Of the 35 hits he had between April 8 and Saturday, 20 went for extra bases, including 10 that left the park.