Cubs’ Javy Baez and Nico Hoerner becoming good as Gold up the middleon May 24, 2021 at 9:27 pm

Javy Baez and Nico Hoerner haven’t been playing together long, but you can’t tell by watching them. The Cubs’ double-play combo has developed a natural chemistry in their short time together that is showing up on a nightly basis.

Teams build their rosters to be strong defensively up the middle and the Cubs are no different and with Baez manning shortstop and Hoerner at second base, they’re playing like one of the best defensive tandems in the game.

“Having potentially two Gold Gloves up the middle is extremely strong and important and makes you feel confident that when a ball is hit towards those guys, that a play is gonna be made,” manager David Ross said. “That’s a special group out there.”

What stands out about Baez and Hoerner are the baseball instincts and athleticism that allows them to make plays no matter the degree of difficulty.

There’s no doubt that Baez is a human-highlight reel and he’s one of the most electric players in MLB. But he’s also been one of the league’s premier defenders at the position since becoming the team’s full-time shortstop in 2018. He’s fourth among active players as a plus-34 outs above average since 2016. This season, he’s had a slower start with the glove and currently minus-2 OAA.

“Javy’s played through a lot physically this season and he’s done a lot of amazing things at the same time,” Cubs bench and infield coach Andy Green told the Sun-Times. “We know what kind of shortstop he has proven to be year after year.”

Baez’s double-play partner is starting to make a name for himself.

Hoerner has been putting the league on notice that the Cubs’ middle infield is a no fly zone on both sides of the diamond. During last week’s series against the Nationals, the 24-year-old second baseman showed off his range making a number of sliding stops (while deep in the shift) and either making the play or keeping the ball in the infield and preventing runners from advancing.

Hoerner was a finalist for the NL’s Gold Glove award at second base in 2020 and appears to be well on his way to being back in the running for some hardware this season. After not starting the season with the Cubs, Hoerner already ranks third in MLB among second basemen with both a plus-five OAA and defensive runs saved.

“I think he’s already one of the best in the game,” Green said. “He doesn’t need a confidence boost. He had that confidence in him last year and you saw it from the first day he showed up. He’s already really, really good there and he wants to be extraordinary.”

“It’s been really good communication between us,” Baez said. “The way that he wants to get better. He wants to come and work and learn something every day. It’s been great.”

The Cubs were one of the best defensive teams in baseball in 2020 and took away the team Gold Glove Award last season. Various metrics have not graded them as high this year – some of that being due to some of hits against the shift early this season.

When it comes to defensive positioning, Baez prefers to go off feel while Hoerner usually goes off Green’s defensive alignment and make adjustment throughout a game or series.

“There’s so much luck involved in the shifting stuff,” Hoerner said in a recent interview. “You kind of just got to trust yourself and trust the data [we have] at the end of the day.”

While positioning and range play a role in the team’s metrics, what ultimately matters will be the Cubs turning balls in play into outs and with Baez and Hoerner up the middle, they’re confident those two will help keep a lot of runs off the board.

“Those metrics will look good by the end of the year,” Green said. “We’ve had a lot of balls beat shifts and roll through holes to start the season that don’t normally go where they’ve gone. So there’s no reason to really be overly concerned about that, because we got really good defenders out there and our process is good. It’s gonna take care of itself.”

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