Although it took many years of patience from Dodgers management alongside endless moments of booing from the Los Angeles faithful, Pedro Baez has finally emerged as one of the club’s most trustworthy relievers.
Saturday night’s 1-1/3 innings of relief may have been one of his most impressive appearances to date. Although he walked one batter, he didn’t allow a single hit, shutting down the Brewers when the Dodgers needed it the most. Some pundits believe that it’s the effectiveness of his slider and changeup that has made the difference, but to me, it certainly appears that his self-confidence has elevated his game tremendously. He’s not pensive in the least—he wants to be given the ball in the game’s most critical moments, it seems.
“’I feel good to have won their confidence,” Baez told reporters recently. “I feel good. I just got to keep working every day and pushing to move forward.”
A converted third baseman, Baez made his big league debut in 2014 when he was equipped with a fastball that was a straight as an arrow and a slider that was very rough in composition. Scouts were impressed with his heat, though, so much so that he became a regular part of the relief crew the following year. Over the past few seasons, there were indeed some rough points, so many that a number of folks close to the club wondered when the team would cut ties with the 30-year-old righty.
His 2017 campaign seemed to show a bit of improvement, yet his peripheral numbers were still on the downside. Despite his 2.95 ERA, his FIP was an ugly 4.44 and his walk rate was still astronomically high at 4.1 BB/9. Still, knowing his ceiling was definitely on the high side, management stuck by him. The only question was if the investment would ever pay off. Many followers thought not.
“We felt strongly that this version of Pedro Baez was the best we had ever seen,” Dodgers’ boss Andrew Friedman said at the time. “And as we’re saying that to ourselves he was struggling. But just believing in his makeup, his right arm, and the weapons that he possessed at that time, we felt confident that he would get through it.”
Although Baez gave the impression of being the same shell of himself through most of 2018, he began to dramatically turn things around during the latter part of the summer. While he had a 4.14 ERA through early August, he posted a 0.38 ERA from August 13 until the end of the regular season. What’s more, from September 11 through the final regular-season game on October 1, the righty didn’t allow a single run while only allowing three hits. During that stretch, some argued that he was the most successful reliever in the majors.
As far as the 2018 postseason goes, Baez has already made four key appearances between both the NLDS and the NLCS. Through those four games, he has thrown 4-2/3 innings, striking out five while allowing just two walks and one hit. As the latter part of the NLCS approaches, it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s used in the highest leverage scenarios, perhaps even throwing in the high-stress eighth-inning hold situations.
It’s quite remarkable how much things changed over the course of a single year. Although he was a member of the 2017 NLDS roster, he didn’t throw a single pitch in the series. Subsequently, he was left off the NLCS roster against the Cubs and the World Series roster against the Astros.
Yet, as well as his secondary pitches have emerged to compliment his fastball, he’s equipped with one other weapon that will be enormously valuable in his efforts moving forward—belief in his own personal ability to succeed.