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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.

  • Chris S

    Nice write-up, Brett.

  • Anthony Huether

    What I am seeing is the man that could be the next Adam Dunn.

    • Cub Style

      You should probably buy some glasses then because you’re not seeing correctly.

    • DarthHater

      What I am reading is a comment by the next Adam Dunce.

      • Wilbur

        Ordinarily I don’t like to see comments that criticize the writer versus the writer’s argument, but every once in awhile I do get a perverse pleasure from one as well played as this one,

        Shame on me …

  • brickhouse

    Wasn’t Sveum’s rant regarding mental & physical errors and not the offense ?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      This isn’t about Sveum’s rant.

  • http://chicagosmma.com/ Matt

    Hitting lefties hard and hitting for power off righties. I don’t see a sophomore slump coming. I don’t put as much credence into BABIP as some people, but that .184 is certainly going to go up a lot.

  • Rich G

    Just think how much he’ll be able to hone is craft down in AAA, right Paul Sullivan??

    • Rich G

      is=his, derp derp

  • NextYear

    Great read, Brett. However, an offensive article on Rizzo and no mention of the 475 ft. smash?? One of the few watchable highlights this season haha.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Ha. Indeed, that was a monster shot.

  • Andy

    Adam Dunn comparison is so far and away from reality, it’s not funny. Dunn is a pure feast for famine, dead pull hitter. Rizzo hits to all fields, has a solid average, and is good in the field, unlike Dunn, who is a pure DH. I hate comparisons because they’re misleading, but better comparison for Rizzo is Joey Votto

    • Cub Style

      Votto is still pretty far off too, albeit because Votto is a freak of nature.

      • hansman1982

        Through their minor league career, the comparison wouldn’t be too far off.

        Rizzo out- doubled, homered, XBH’d, and K’d (as in fewer K’s) (in terms of percentages) Votto.

        Votto only out Walked and tripled Rizzo and Rizzo had 1100-ish fewer PA.

        Just looking at that, I’d say that Rizzo would project to be a better MLBer than Votto. Given that we know that Votto has blown up into a potential HoFer, I’ll temper my expectations and not think that.

        • Cub Style

          I would definitely give that to you in regards to their minor league careers.

          Generally, when I think Votto, I think about the little things that he does, which is why I’m hard pressed to make comparisons with him to anyone.

          • hansman1982

            Right now, Votto is otherworldly and comparing Rizzo to Votto is unfair.

            I’d be more than content if Rizzo had a Derrek Lee-type career.

            • Cub Style

              I’d agree with that. I think a Teixeria type career, pre getting to the Yankees, is within the realm of possibility. Generally, a .370 wOBA player that hits a shade under .300.

          • hansman1982

            (BTW, I agree with you, just discussing)

  • Matty V

    “I have no reason to believe Rizzo’s defenses lapses are a fluke, and that he’ll be fine there long-term.”

    Did I read that correctly, or did you mean you have “every” reason to believe his defensive lapses are a fluke? My brain isn’t comprehending that sentence very well.

    • Cyranojoe

      You’re right, Matty.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      You read it correctly. I wrote it incorrectly …

  • mudge

    The very least of our worries, Anthony Rizzo. Slugging his ass off.

    • hansman1982

      I can think of a lot of women that would be a grave concern to.

  • Alex

    What are the stats on Rizzo vs Left Handers. It seems obvious he struggles against them far more then righties. Don’t think a platoon is in his future but he needs to improve as I see him strike out often against them.

    • hansman1982

      http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?id=rizzoan01&year=2013&t=b#plato

      Check this out before you say:

      “It seems obvious he struggles against them far more then righties.”

      (for those of you too lazy to click the link, .990 OPS vs. LHP)

      • MichiganGoat

        meh Truth Sruth…whatevas

        • hansman1982

          It’s amazing how easy it is to check these things, yet people fail to do so.

          • MichiganGoat

            meh quit asking mes to goes onlines and those voodooy sites like FansGraph or Baseball-Reference – mes eyes are better than you’re fancy smandy teletype COMputer. COMputer are for COMmies.

            • hansman1982

              .. / …. .- – . / – . -.-. …. -. — .-.. — –. -.– .-.-.-

              (That is, “I hate technology”)

      • Edwin

        To be fair, that’s in 23 PA. So it’s a pretty small sample size. For his career against LH, his OPS is .654 in 163 PA.

        Maybe he’s made adjustments this year, which would be great, but so far for his career, he has obviously struggled against LH pitching.

        • hansman1982

          Ya, I’m only borderline comfortable using much in the way of stats so far (unless they are falling within career norms).

          I’d expect Rizzo to regress but he isn’t struggling this year (I wish BRef had MiLB stats with splits).

  • http://www.justinjabs.com/blog/ justinjabs

    My Tigers fan friend from upstate heard the demotion rumors and asked me about Rizzo’s struggles … first thing I did was point out the BABIP. I’m not worried about Rizzo at all.

    • MichiganGoat

      oh I had that from all the Tiger fans I work with, but they don’t want to hear stats above the Triple Crown line because then they realize that Trout was better than Miggy last year.

  • MichiganGoat

    It continually amazes me just how much people still look at BA as the end all measurement of batting performance. You’d think by now (and especially by people who visit a site like BN regularly) we’d stop even speaking of batting average. Keep the education coming Brett there are still many that need it.

    • @cubsfantroy

      Thanks to this site I stopped looking at a few stats as a basis for anything. BA being one of them. I only used to look at BA, SLG, OBP, OPS. Now I am neck deep in stats and it annoys me lol

  • Aaron

    As as ballplayer for over 20 years, I pressed on offense and defense if the other players on my team were not getting the job done. Rizzo and Castro feel the weight of the entire team, and perhaps the franchise, on their shoulders. We need to give the two young future superstars a break. Let’s encourage them and add some solid pieces around them.

    • Edwin

      That’s cool. Who did you play for?

      • Clutch Cargo

        From his name, I’d guess the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, and the Milwaukee Brewers.

  • MichiganGoat

    1 Question: How is Rizzo’s Belly FIRE!

    • Drew7

      MLB 13 has his Belly-Fire Temp (BFT) as a 69 – I’d say it’s lukewarm

    • DarthHater

      His belly fire is inversely proportional to the amount of time since his last meal at the Billy Goat Tavern.

  • a_mazz_ing

    Awesome read Brett! Makes me feel really good about Rizzo. And that he’s starting to come around on lefties too is really nice… like that shot of Gorzo.

  • ruby2626

    Don’t get me wrong Rizzo is my favorite Cub however you forgot one stat. The Cubs are last in baseball going into yesterday at a laughable .144 BA with men in scoring position, unfortunately Anthony was a prime contributor in this area, I believe he was 2 for 15 if memory serves me well. Agree that he has hit into terrible luck but maybe it is starting to change. The 10 pitch at bat in the first inning against Texas which ended up with a hit going off the 1B’s glove on a play that is made over half the time and the ball off the 3B’s glove yesterday come to mind.

    • Drew7

      “I believe he was 2 for 15″

      Surely you understand how little 15 PA’s tells us about anything, right?

      • mudge

        he’s driven in runners who were not in “scoring position.”

    • gocatsgo2003

      This is why there’s a fun thing in baseball statistics called “splits.”

      Rizzo’s BABIP with RISP is currently an even more laughable .111. 6 K’s in 16 ABs w/RISP is obviously nothing to write home about, but he’s been EVEN MORE unlucky with RISP than overall.

    • hansman1982

      “Agree that he has hit into terrible luck but maybe it is starting to change.”

      Over the past 7 days his BA is up to .314 and over the last 14 his slash is:

      .243 .349 .622

  • DocPeterWimsey

    If your entire team batted as much above league-average as Rizzo and Castro have this year, then you would expect to win 96 +- 3.5 games in the season 50% of the time. Yeah, demote them: how are you going to top the 1906 Cubs that way????

  • http://thenewenthusiast.com dw8

    I’m with you on this Brett and I don’t really care about Rizzo’s batting average too much. Some concerns in his power production and low BABIP and subsequent BA and OBP:
    K rate is up 8.5% over last year.
    Fly ball rate is elevated (a good thing IMO, but can reduce BABIP)
    HR/Fly Ball right now is 33% (expect that to regress quite a bit)

    • http://thenewenthusiast.com dw8

      I’ll reply to myself by saying that those RISP stats and all the stats I’ve used are subject to pretty wild fluctuation considering Rizzo’s 71 PA’s. Although the K rate starts to approach stabilization around 100 PA’s.

    • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

      But last years K rate was much lower than expected. He was normally around 20%-21% in the minors so I would expect him to be a bit worse than that in the majors.

      • http://thenewenthusiast.com dw8

        Agreed. The K rate isn’t too troubling for me.

  • Jay

    He’s also getting hits and hitting homers against lefties this year and not flying open against them like he was prone to do last year. Any OPS above .800 is elite…..doesn’t matter how you get there.

    • Cub Style

      The part about OPS is definitely not true. Heck, OPS is largely garbage other than providing a cursory view of the player.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        And for explaining over 80% of variation in team records…..

        • hansman1982

          Well, if you read his post carefully, he does tell you the part about OPS is false.

          • Cub Style

            The part about however you get to .800 OPS, which isn’t an elite OPS to begin with. A .350/.450 player is better than a .300/.500 player.

            • hansman1982

              My statement refers to your statement alone. OPS isn’t a “garbage” stat but it tells a portion of the story pretty well.

              It’s pretty tough to get to the majors and put up an .800 OPS while only getting on base 30% of the time. (The closest two players to do this in the bigs last year were Garrett Jones and Mark Trumbo with a .317 OBP and there were only 4 players last year to OPS .800 with a >.325 OBP (those plus Soriano and Granderson)).

              You can argue where “elite OPS” sits, but that’s like debating the shade of blue the sky is. Debating the value of OPS is more like debating the color of the sky.

              • Cub Style

                The things that make up OPS are what’s important. It doesn’t tell the story like looking at OBP and SLG individually does. Like I said, it holds cursory value at most.

                • DocPeterWimsey

                  True, but net OBP and net SLG make similar contributions to winning. Team with good net OPS almost always are both good at getting guys on AND slugging while simultaneously being good at keeping the other guys off base AND not slugging. OPS is a very convenient way to summarize that.

                  Now, wOBA is even better, but in a way it is circular, too: wOBA is based on the contributions to run-scoring/allowing by singles, doubles, etc. So, net wOBA is going to be closer to run differential by design. However, that also makes it more complicated than OPS, and we should prefer simple summaries to complex ones, at least at a first cut. As the correlations between winning vs Net wOBA and winning vs. Net OPS are very small, OPS is a very convenient proxy for team performance.

                  • Cub Style

                    I’m speaking in terms of individual player evaluation. When we get into aggregates, the ball game is kind of changed.

                    I particularly use wOBA, OBP, and SLG as my three “main” stats.

                    • Kygavin

                      “But for the love of Pythagoras, please don’t add the two things together and pretend the result means anything. It is a massive mathfail…You have two fractions with different denominators — OBP gives us a rate per plate appearance, while slugging gives us a rate per at-bat — so you can’t simply add the two without accounting for that.

                      OPS, the fauxbermetric stat that results from a straight addition of the two, ignores the difference in value between the two — a point of extra OBP is worth a lot more to a team’s run-scoring potential than a point of slugging.”

                      From Keith Law ( Insider Link)
                      http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/blog/_/name/law_keith/id/8961789/count/21/obp-babip-most-important-baseball-statistics-needed-player-evaluation-mlb

                      Just adding to the discussion a bit… carry on

                    • hansman1982

                      I would much rather use wOBA over SLG any and every day of the week.

                      Assuming I know how to use the CORREL function in Excel, last year’s “qualifed” batters had a .9934 correlation between their wOBA and OPS.

                      (the formula I used was =CORREL(R2:R144,Q2:Q144) with R being OPS and Q being wOBA)

                      Now, as I said before, I much prefer wOBA (and I am sure that there is a FO or two that even laughs at how little this stat tells us about a player) but OPS is useful (and even wOBA is a quick glance, generalization stat).

  • JR

    People who have been critical on Rizzo are just clueless. The dude’s on pace for over 50 bombs, and is just heating up. He might be the only sure thing this whole franchise has….

  • Stu

    Rizzo and Castro are the least of the Cubs worries. They are both doing fine and will put up All-Star numbers this year. The starting pitching has been good up to now also.

    The problem is the OF, 3B and Bullpen. Without OPS from the outfield/3B, they will always have trouble scoring. When they do have a lead, a horrible bullpen will give away too many leads/games.

    I think that pretty much sums up the Cubs from last year and this year. They will continue to be at the bottom of the standings until they fix those issues.

    • JR

      Well said.. I think Rizzo and Castro get slammed because everyone knows they will the only players around when it matters. I think this offseason will be the year they finally go after free agents or trade to help the outfield, 3rd base, and bullpen. Because the help is still a couple years off…

  • baseballet

    The power from Rizzo is encouraging, and he’s bashing left handers (albeit in only 18 at-bats so far). It’s his performance against lefties that will determine if he’s more Votto- or LaHair-esque. Last year he had a meager .599 OPS against lefties, so it’s good to see that he started off hot against them this year. Time will tell. LaHair started off hot too last season before tanking against lefties and bidding us all sayonara. Rizzo has almost the exact same number of MLB at-bats now (527) as LaHair had (535).
    Rizzo’s MLB OPS = .740
    LaHair’s MLB OPS = .764

    So far Rizzo is shaping up to be more like Votto, but it’s too soon to be sure.

    • Cheryl

      I wondered if someone would bring up the LaHair comparison. It will be interesting to see how Rizzo does from this time forward. I hope he does well. But one advantage he has over LaHair is no one will be taking his place as the season wears on so he won’t be platooned.

      • hansman1982

        We are also talking about the differences between a 29-year old MiLB veteran vs. a 23 year old sophmore (who was highly regarded as a prospect).

  • http://www.survivingthalia.com Mike Taylor (no relation)

    Last 7 days (5 Games):
    19 AB – 4 R – 6 H – 3 HR – 5 RBI – 1 BB / 2 SO – .316/.381/.789/1.170

  • Troy

    He had a bad two weeks. Over the past 5 games he is batting .365 with 3 HR. small sample size yes but the trend is going in the right direction. He is on pace to hit 40 + HR / 100 + RBI

  • Chad

    I think bad luck gets thrown around too much. BABIP can’t only be about bad luck. I tend to think low BABIP is a function of a hitter having bad at bats. I do think that bad luck plays into it….but a hitter taking a bad approach at the plate will lead to more weak ground balls and pop flys.

    Bad luck = low average……Not so sure

    Bad approach + some bad luck = low average; this is more likely.

    • DarthHater

      From 2009 through 2011, Rizzo’s babip in the minor leagues ranged from .293 to .369. In 2012, his babip was .357 in Iowa and .310 in Chicago. Even during his bad call-up to San Diego in 2011, his babip was .210. So, whether it’s luck or something else, Rizzo’s track record makes it likely that his babip will not stay around .180 for very long.

      • Chad

        I agree that over time his BABIP will improve. However, You’d have a hard time convincing me that during the first few weeks of the season his low BABIP is all about bad luck. I think it is lower than normal because of some bad at bats, bad swings, and some bad luck too.

        • Kyle

          Well, it doesn’t really matter what the reason is. If you know it isn’t going to sustain itself over time, then you just shrug and move on.

        • hansman1982

          Then you are indicting the sample size, not the time of the year.

          Also, BABIP tries to smooth out most of that kind of stuff. The things that happen throughout the year where hitters adjust or just plain fate adjusts. For Rizzo, he is probably losing about 10ish% of the balls he hits due to things, that over time, will even themselves out.

          The Rizzo we have seen thus far is as likely to stick around as last April’s LaHair (who had a ridiculous BABIP swing the other way).

  • jt

    Rizzo started the season 1 for 12 and 2 BB. That one hit was a HR.
    Since then his slash line has been 240/321/580. He has homered in 3 of the past 4 games.
    I doubt the HR rate of the past few games will stay the same. Since a single point in time is not worth a whole lot, I’d expect the SLG to drop a bit.
    At the same time, he K 3 times vs the Giants but in the other 6 of his last 7 games has only K’d twice. In that time I have seen him have at least 2 ten pitch AB’s where he was wasting (fouling off) knee high pitches.
    I don’t use fangraphs so I couldn’t find his called vs swing K rate. It seemed to me that I saw quite a few knee high called 3rd strikes in the first few weeks. I’d be interested to know if he is adjusting to that? Also, he seems to be “rolling over on that low and outside pitch at times. I’d be interested to know if he adjusting to that?
    The slash line since the first few games is good. It is a single point in time. But this guy is able to to and seems to be making adjustments.
    JD keeps mentioning that Castro’s errors often have to do with the clock in his head. He rushes when he doesn’t have to and at times takes too much time. I wonder if Rizzo also is experiencing a similar thing. If so, it would seem fixable.

  • Mr. Gonzo

    Send Rizzo down?! RIZZ-ONKULOUS! This article’s dive into deeper stats is one of many reasons I follow this site religiously. Thanks again Brett for expanding my baseball acumen and helping me improve the way I analyzing the numbers.

    • Mr. Gonzo

      *analyze the numbers.

  • Crazyhorse

    Poor Rizzo , one takes away the stat line for the 5 games he has been terrible. Going forward he should do well. I think the way he handled his slump was key. He played hard and as a sign of all good players he adjusted. He will do well

  • http://bleachernation.com lou brock

    With Borbon now on the roster it’s time for Sveum to tinker with the lineup & try to improve both the offensive production & the defense in the OF. How about this for a few days ;
    Borbon CF
    DeJesus LF
    Castro SS
    Rizzo 1B
    Castillo C
    Schierholtz RF
    Barney 2B
    Valbuena 3B
    Also with Rizzo showing he is not the best of defensive first basemen maybe its time to start thinking long term of a move to left field opening up first base for Vogelbach.

    • ETS

      Why did you just switch a career 355 OBP guy for someone who struggles to get on base above 300 at lead off?

      This team’s issues have little to nothing to do with the order they are batting.

    • Crazyhorse

      Borbon really? He would better be served in dugout in Iowa or recatching a train on the Texas Express.

    • TWC

      “Also with Rizzo showing he is not the best of defensive first basemen maybe its time to start thinking long term of a move to left field opening up first base for Vogelbach.”

      Ha.

      Hahahaha.

      Yeah. Vogelbach’s the answer to the “defensive woes” (even should they actually exist) at 1B.

      Larf.

    • JoeyCollins

      Vog projects to be a DH/possibly serviceable 1B, and is at Low A. Rizzo is a 23 year old starting 1B who made a couple bad plays in April. Yes lets start thinking long term.

  • The Dude Abides

    Right know Rizzo is the least of the Cub’s concerns let him play, learn & grow. Same with Castro and for that matter no real reason not to see what we have in Jackson this season sometime in May for the balance of the season.

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