anthony rizzo cubsComing into the 2013 season, the two offensively players you heard mentioned most frequently when folks tried to talk up the Cubs’ otherwise non-existent offense were Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Forget that Alfonso Soriano is still around, and forget that Castro’s offensive value is largely tied to his position on the field. The mention of Rizzo was completely legitimate. With a revamped approach that played very well at the big league level last year – when he was just 22/23 – it was completely fair to project that Rizzo could be an offensive cornerstone for the Cubs in 2013 and beyond.

And then he started the 2013 season in a slump. A deep one. He was striking out in every other at bat, and it didn’t look like he was seeing the ball well. Fortunately for Rizzo, that slump lasted all of a week. Unfortunately, the narrative has carried on for almost a month.

Let me state it clearly for those who tuned out after that first week of games: Anthony Rizzo is killing the ball this year.

Yes, he’s hitting just .210 and he’s striking out in more than 25% of his plate appearances. But, once you get past those two numbers, you see a young man who’s blowing up.

First, let’s look at the highest level. Rizzo has six homers, the most of any first baseman in the National League. He’s just one behind Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis for the Major League lead at first base, and is tied for the 8th most homers of anyone in baseball. His 14 RBI don’t just lead the Cubs, they tie Rizzo for the 14th most in baseball. Rizzo’s .842 OPS puts him just behind Mike Trout and Evan Longoria, and ahead of a host of stars, including Carlos Beltran, Andrew McCutchen, and Matt Holliday. I haven’t heard any demotion cries coming out of St. Louis or Pittsburgh.

Digging deeper, Rizzo has been far better than even those numbers suggest. Although that batting average is just .210, his OBP is .310 and his SLG is .532. That gives him an impressive IsoD (the difference between your batting average and your OBP, a measure of your discipline) and a herculean IsoP (the difference between your batting average and your SLG, a measure of how much power you’re producing). In other words, if not for that pesky batting average, Rizzo’s OPS would be near the top of the league. He’s taking a lot of walks, and he’s crushing the ball when he hits it.

And what about that batting average? .210 sucks, and Rizzo can’t be completely excused from it. Or can he? You know where I’m going with this: Rizzo’s BABIP so far this year is an hilariously, unluckily low .184. That number is completely unsustainable, and will climb closer to .300 as the season goes on. I won’t muddy the waters with a lame attempt to project a new slash line if, say, his BABIP were .300, but, suffice it to say, his OBP would be approaching .400 and his SLG would be well over .600.

Even in his approach, there’s very little you could point to in the numbers that support any struggles. Rizzo is swinging at pitches outside of the zone at a lower rate than in either of 2012 or 2011. His contact rate with pitches in the zone is the best in his career, as is that rate at which he’s swinging and missing.

Taking it all together, it’s very hard to argue that Rizzo has been anything but great this year, and is simply being dragged down by some bad luck.

Now, that all said, Rizzo could still fall prey to the Sophomore Slump. It’s early, and any numbers I use to support Rizzo’s breakout could easily be neutered by chants of “small sample size.” Those chants would be completely legitimate, and let me join that chorus right now. These numbers are minuscule  and tell us almost nothing about Rizzo’s future in 2013, let alone the next 10 years. I offer the numbers only to refute any grousing that Rizzo hasn’t been hitting so far this year. He has been. In spades.

Everything passes the eye test, too, as – at least to my eye – Rizzo’s approach has looked so much better in the last couple weeks, and he is patiently awaiting the optimal pitch to drive. And, when he gets that pitch, he drives it, using the whole field. Without much effort, I can think of four screaming line drives he’s hit that have been caught in the last 10 days alone. In a season of small samples – that’s all we have in late April – those four liners falling for hits could be the difference between an .842 OPS and a .900 OPS.

Defensively, Rizzo has made some mistakes. There can be no disputing that, and he’d probably be the first to tell you. Some of that is undoubtedly tied to having to adjust to the ranges of several second baseman while Darwin Barney was out. And Rizzo’s pitchers haven’t given him a lot of help when it comes time to cover first base, either. I have no reason to believe Rizzo’s defenses lapses aren’t a fluke, and that he won’t be fine there long-term.

The focus here, however, is on the offensive side of the ball. To anyone who suggests Rizzo has been anything but great – and a touch unlucky – offensively this year, you can tell them: you’re wrong.

So long as Rizzo keeps doing what he’s been doing, the numbers will be there by the end of the year.

  • BluBlud

    I think BABIP can be misused sometimes. To determine if a player is having bad luck or not, I just look at singles, which in turn, will effect your BABIP. IF a player has fewer singles then usual/expected, then they usually are having bad luck, and if they have more then usual/expected, then they are having good luck.

    Rizzo has 8 extra base hits in 71 PA or 62 at-bats. That means he gets an extra base hit 12.9% of the time, or in other words, almost every other game. That is basic the same as his minor league rate and 1.5 time better then last year.

    He has 5 single in those 62 at-bats. That means he singles about 8% of the time. That is about half of his minor league total and 11% lower then last years total. If he were only to get back to his minor league numbers instead of last years totals, he would then have 10 singles. That alone would take his batting average up to .290 and his OBP to .380. his slugging% would be .612 and his OPS would be 992.

    In other words, Rizzo is 5 singles away from being in the debate for the best 1B in the National league so far this year.

    • TWC

      Criminy, Jay, that’s positively well-reasoned and analytic of you.

      How come you never turned that half of your brain towards Tony Campana?

    • JoeyCollins

      Not good enough with the numbers to know if that math makes any sense, but i like what you’re saying, and hope it’s spot on.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Alright! Another convert to the singles-rate evaluator. Seriously, this came up last year when Castro was “struggling” in July and August. However, is K’s, BB’s and XBH all were in line with his career rates. His singles rate was appallingly low.

      Rizzo is suffering from some of that right now. So, sacrifice a goat to Eris and get on with it.

    • Ron

      This is the best description of the “luck” attributed to BABIP. Doc i think that you have tried to explain it in the past but this description best encompases the fault that I saw in BABIP and mere luck. Thanks!

    • jt

      Last year Rizzo had a MLB K rate (K/PA) of 0.1685. This year it has been 0.2535.
      That robs him of putting the ball in play between 4 and 5 times over 71 PA’s.
      A ball he can handle for a single may not be one he can clock for a HR so he may be more selective and often swinging later in the count. I realize many of his HR’s have come early in the count but that may just mean that he gets his wheelhouse pitch early.
      In other words, at this point in his career he may have to sacrifice the singles for the power. As Kyle stated earlier in the day, the trick is to synchronize multi-aspects of the game.
      Over the past week he has lowered his K rate and has had AB’s where the pitch count was high. To me that indicates that he is working on that synchronization and seeing positive results….. not luck!

  • preacherman86

    because tony campana’s slug% was hard to look at, physically i mean, because it was so bad!!!! He only hit singles with a few doubles, and therefor had it been looked at, he would have been worse than the numbers, not better.

    • TWC

      Yo, preacherman, you’re preaching to the choir here.

    • hansman1982

      So you’re saying it’s like Schrodinger’s cat. As long as noone looked at it, it might still be alive.

      • jt

        I always wondered why the litter box didn’t give the cat away?

  • confused fan

    can someone explain how is it possible that his BABIP is .184 and his avg is .210? Shouldnt his BABIP be higher than his average?

    • Coach K

      I don’t believe that home runs are included in BABIP. Someone correct me if I’m wrong?

      • DarthHater

        I think that’s right. A ball in the seats is not considered to be “in play.”

    • cubchymyst

      On a home run a ball is never in play, so the are not part of BABIP since the defense never has an opportunity on them.

    • Kyle

      As others have noted, home runs aren’t a part of BABIP.

      So as long as your ratio of HRs to HR+K is higher than your ratio of hits+outs in play, you’ll have a higher BABIP than BA.

      • DarthHater

        Okay, what about inside the park HRs? They should count in BABIP because the ball is in play, right?

  • Jono

    Numbers, percentages, projections, greater than or equal to.

  • Bea Arthur’s husband.

    I like RiZzo as a leader and human. Good power. But his numbers against lefties last year and this year are of genuine concern. Who knows. Maybe one day it will be Vogelbach at 1B. I find the lack of hitting lefties as something keeping him from ever being even close to mark grace or bill Buckner. maybe Leon Durham?

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  • ARsucks

    Still holding that line of thinking? He’s in over his head. Completely in the shitter after getting that contract extension. Look at his stats since that day…..