Most of our dynasty coverage of the shortstops rolled out yesterday and I’m here to close it out with a Tale of the Tape between the Cubs’ utility dynamo Javier Baez and former Diamondback great Dansby Swanson. Each is a top-10 option according to Bret’s dynasty rankings, and your preference probably comes down to what kind of profile you value. You can see my answer below, or you can read the cases and decide for yourself.
Baez’s 72.4 percent contact rate was the 21st lowest among 175 players with at least as many plate appearances in 2016. He managed a .273 batting average aided by an unsustainable number of infield hits and a .336 BABIP that’s unsupported by his batted ball mix and quality of contact. It looks like Baez will hit well enough to avoid submarining the category – a real question after he hit .169 in his first major league trial – but he’ll never be an asset here. Meanwhile, you can’t find a scouting report that has anything less than a 60 grade on Swanson’s hit tool. He showed it off in a short major league stint late last season, batting .302 in 38 games. Expecting a repeat of that number in the near term over a full season is foolish, but Swanson could challenge .300 routinely in time because of his line drive stroke and ability to use the whole field. Advantage: Swanson
Swanson will pad his batting average advantage thanks to wildly divergent approaches. Where Swanson has the discipline to achieve a double-digit walk rate, Baez is ultra-aggressive and struggles to lay off spin. Only five qualified players walked less frequently than Baez in 2016. No reason to make this more complicated than it is. Advantage: Swanson
If you’re somewhat new to this, you might think Baez’s calling card is the highly GIF-able defense that was on display last fall. If you’ve been playing in dynasties for a few years, you know his lofty prospect status was built on his 30-plus smusheroo power. Baez is still capable of that many orgos at peak, but a more reasonable projection given what we know about his approach and contact limitations is something more like 20-25 in a full-time role. Swanson makes enough hard contact that he should get to double-digit outtahere boys without much trouble, though I think he’ll have trouble pushing his garfunkel total into the high teens with his current swing path. Swanson already has the big league job near his hometown at age 22, the comparisons to Jeter, the hair. Above-average long dong ability just wouldn’t be fair. Advantage: Baez
Current circumstances have Baez likely playing a super-utility role and hitting in the bottom third of his club’s lineup. He tallied 109 R+RBI in 450 plate appearances last season in a similar role. I think Baez will be a full-timer at some point in the near future, but I don’t think he profiles in the top third of the order unless something changes in his approach or he reaches his upper quartile power potential. Meanwhile, Swanson is a prototypical two-hole hitter and the beautiful face of the franchise. He’s damn near a lock to spend the next decade batting in the first inning and his contextual stats should stand to be solid, if unspectacular, while Atlanta reshapes its roster. Advantage: Swanson
Reports suggest Swanson possesses plus speed. Since he has everything else, he probably possesses the base-running smarts to get the most out of whatever straight-line athleticism is there. His speed – as manifested in sack thievery, anyhow – has been more ordinary than plus during his short time as a professional. Swanson swiped nine in 122 games last year, split between Double-A and the majors. For what it’s worth, he did steal 38 in the two seasons he spent as a starter at Vanderbilt. 12-15 steals per annum feels like the right place to set expectations. As it happens, Baez fit right into that range last year, converting 12 of 15 attempts. You can nudge that up a bit to accommodate a bump in playing time when and if he becomes an everyday player, and that fits with Baez’s minor-league track record of nabbing 20 bases per season consistently. I’ll give the slightest edge to Baez even though year-to-year variance will likely eliminate the very skinny differential here. Advantage: Baez
Baez has twice missed time with finger injuries sustained while sliding into a base. A broken finger cost him nearly two months in the middle of 2015 and he opened 2016 on the disabled list thanks to a thumb sprain. There’s no reason to have long-term concerns about either. Swanson has no significant injuries to speak of, though he was beaned in the face by Yoan Lopez shortly after signing. Draw
We often use upside as shorthand for the kind of loud, unrealized physical tools that Baez possesses. That’s not necessarily wrong. Baez does have massive upside in the form of raw power that could lead the positon in slamburgers. He has enough athleticism and plays with enough aggressiveness to steal 20 bases. He’s young enough that you could envision progress at the plate and with it, a batting average that isn’t a liability. If he does all those at the same time, we’re talking about first round value. Limiting the definition to physical criteria you can spot when a player gets off the bus or takes batting practice ignores the upside in Swanson’s game. Sure, it’s not as flashy or as fun to watch as Baez’s flavor, but if Swanson is challenging for batting titles and/or sitting atop the runs leaderboard, you won’t care. The correct answer here is Baez, but Swanson is not devoid of fantasy upside. Advantage: Baez
Estimated Time of Impact
I covered this in my three-year rankings earlier this week, where I slotted Baez 9th and Swanson 18th. That’s a pretty substantial gap, owing mostly to the fact that we’ve seen Baez produce at the major league level while we’re still leaning on projection, a too-small major league sample, and volume to measure Swanson’s immediate impact. Advantage: Baez
This really comes down to personal preference in roster construction. With the exception of my cornerstone players, I’ll almost always favor explosion over accumulation where the acquisition cost is similar. It leaves me open to downside risk, but I get the potential windfall. In this case, I also get to skip the premium for perceived safety in a player we haven’t seen enough of to describe that way.
And the winner is… Javier Baez.