Baez's otherworldly play nabs Dutch runner at plate
Puerto Rico second baseman's throw, tracked at nearly 90 mph by Statcast, prevents go-ahead run in semifinal win
By Andrew Simon
The strong arm of Javier Baez saved a crucial run for Puerto Rico on Monday night, helping lift his team to a 4-3, 11-inning victory over the Netherlands in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium.
Puerto Rico advances to the final on Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV. It will face the winner of Tuesday's semifinal between the U.S. and Japan, which also will be at 9 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV. If the Puerto Ricans face the Americans, they would be the home team. If they Japanese reach the final, a coin flip would determine the home team.
With Puerto Rico holding a 3-2 lead in the top of the fifth inning, the Netherlands' Shawn Zarraga ripped a double to the wall in left-center field. While Wladimir Balentien scored the tying run from second base easily, Jonathan Schoop had no such luck in his attempt to bring the go-ahead tally home from first.
According to Statcast™, Zarraga's deep fly ball actually had a modest 34 percent Hit Probability, based on its 96.3-mph exit velocity and 23-degree launch angle. At the same time, left fielder Angel Pagan had a Catch Probability of 0 percent on the drive, which was projected for 368 feet.
That's due in large part to the fact that Pagan was stationed only 281 feet from home at the beginning of the play. That was one foot shallower than his average in 2016, when he had the third-shallowest average starting point out of 45 left fielders who spent at least 5,000 pitches at the position. Because of where he was when Zarraga made contact, Pagan would have needed to travel 104 feet to make the catch, in only 4.6 seconds.
While he had no chance to make the catch, Pagan got the ball back in quickly by barehanding it and firing a 78.5-mph throw to the relay man, Baez. But it was Baez's heave home that really lit up Statcast™.
The Puerto Rico second baseman already showed off his baserunning skills in last Friday's win over Team USA, then again with a smooth tag-avoiding slide in the fourth inning of this game.
On this play, getting rid of the ball quickly, Baez fired an 89.6-mph strike to the plate to retire Schoop and keep the game tied. To put that in perspective, Statcast™ tracked only two harder assists from second basemen in 2016, both at 91.3 mph. The Rangers' Rougned Odor made one to first while shifted over to the left side of the bag, and the Rays' Logan Forsythe made the other to nab a runner at home after fielding a ground ball.
Baez, a multi-position defensive star who played 38 games at second base for the Cubs last season, was fourth on that same list. On Aug. 27 at Dodger Stadium, he fielded a Corey Seager grounder and whipped an 86.3-mph throw to the plate for an out.
Monday's throw also was the second-hardest assist Statcast™ has recorded Baez making from any position since the system began operations in 2015. As a shortstop on Sept. 16, 2015, at Pittsburgh, his 94.8-mph laser to the plate caught the Pirates' Pedro Florimon.
Baez needed all the velocity he could get on this throw -- as well as a nifty play by catcher Yadier Molina to receive it and apply the tag. Schoop made the trip from first to home in a solid 10.9 seconds, which was the same time Team USA's Eric Hosmer recorded on Saturday while easily scoring on a double into the left-center gap in San Diego.
The World Baseball Classic runs through Wednesday. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.