anthony rizzo hittingMy non-Wrigley ballpark tour continues today, as I’ll be heading to Milwaukee to see the Brewers host the Yankees (Tanaka!) at Baseball Prospectus’s event at Miller Park. That’s going to have me departing relatively early in the day, so, although there should be plenty of content, I may not be around quite as much in the comments/Twitter/etc. later today.

  • Jed Hoyer tells Patrick Mooney what many have been saying for a long time: Jose Abreu, while a fine player, was not someone who made sense for the Cubs to pursue: “In our situation, in the National League with a young, left-handed-hitting first baseman, [Abreu] wasn’t a player we were interested in. Had there been a player with his profile that played outfield or maybe played a different position, we would have been involved as well.” There’s a reason that every single finalist for Abreu was an American League team.
  • By the way, at the close of the White Sox/Cubs series, Jose Abreu has a .392 wOBA and a 147 wRC+. Really incredible numbers. Anthony Rizzo is at .404 and 156. Rizzo is younger, less expensive, under team control for longer, a better defensive first baseman, and a better hitter of meatballs. Just sayin’.
  • Jeff Samardzija threw 126 pitches on Monday night, and the Cubs’ GM was still answering questions about it on Thursday night (CSN, – in that respect, I’ve got to agree with Jed Hoyer when he says that this is something that just needs to die. Everyone has said his peace, everyone is mostly on the same page – it probably won’t happen again, but was probably ok-ish on Monday – and it’s been beaten to death. I regret my part in focusing on it so intensely earlier in the week, though, in my defense, that was immediately after it happened.
  • I know he’s been striking out a lot, but I do wonder: if Mike Olt didn’t have a .186 BABIP, how might his .184/.259/.434 look?
  • You can tell from the scatter plot of his pitches that Jake Arrieta had some control issues last night. It’s worth pointing out, though, that there were three pretty clear strikes that were called balls, and two of them were potentially at-bat-ending calls. That’s probably true most nights for most pitchers, but it’s interesting to think about the impact it can have on a guy’s outing. Maybe one of those calls ends an inning before a few more hits are lodged? Maybe he can pitch another inning or two. So on and so forth. (Can you tell I’m really getting into the relationship between ball/strike calls and pitcher performance and pitch framing this season?)
  • Jed Hoyer is happy with how Rick Renteria has performed so far this year (Carrie Muskat), setting an appropriate tone and creating an environment in which players can succeed. From where I sit, that’s how I feel – the early returns on the things that matter right now (player development and/or rebounding) look pretty good. Obviously I’ve got some in-game philosophical differences with RR, but they’re relatively minor and infrequent.
  • A couple prospect notes from Sean Kernan: Rob Zastryzny probably won’t miss a start after taking a liner off of his arm this week, and Zeke DeVoss is scheduled to play for Daytona, although he was technically sent down to Boise. It looks like that was just a procedural move, rather than a “goodbye from the organization” move.
  • One more prospect item: Kris Bryant raised his OPS about 40 points yesterday. That, alone, isn’t that amazing, given that a big day will do that in May. But it’s amazing because his OPS was already 1.028 entering the day!
  • I really would:

  • ced landrum

    I saw that pic of Starlin on twitter yesterday and immediately thought of you Brett. It is a thing of beauty.

    • Coop

      Wow, Starlin looks like a scrawny little kid in that photo.

  • Head and Heart

    I love Rizzo and prefer him to Abreu at this point as well. But the meatball thing is just stupid. First of all small sample size alert! And as far as I know Abreu hasn’t faced a pitcher who throws actual meatballs yet. So maybe let’s stick to the relevant stats for now. Once they’ve both had about 100PAs actual actual meatballers then we can make a better comparison.

    • another JP

      You’re kidding, right? Did you bother to see what Brett was really referring to when he was talking about meatballs? It was a joke.

      • Darth Ivy

        no way. Rizzo’s BABIP vs meatballs is way too high to make any real conclusions. And like what H&H wrote, small sample size.

        • ssckelley

          I don’t give a damn what you stat heads say about his BABIP. Based on what I seen Rizzo can hit meat balls and at a cheaper salary! His meatball hitting ability would project well at any position.

      • Head and Heart

        No I wasn’t kidding. I think it was pretty clear that I was being 100% serious with that post. Was it not clear enough? My apologies. Yes, I was 113% serious.

        • Darth Ivy

          and his ISO must be teenee tiny, too. Those things went no where.

          Olt really should be getting more PAs vs meatballs. They really need to know what they have there

          • Head and Heart

            I’m sick of platooning guys against the meatball. RR over manages this team against meatballers.

    • Soda Popinski

      mmmm… meatballs.

    • CubsFaninMS

      You’re not Italian, are you?

  • Medicos

    Phillies outrighted SHAWN CAMP to Triple A. Had one decent season for the Cubs in 2012: 80 games–.8 WAR. Didn’t realize that he was 36 when he pitched at the Friendly Confines. For some reason thought he was much younger. Pitchers like Camp seem to bounce around from one 1 MLB team to another.

  • JulioZuleta

    Not for nothing but Rizzo and Abreu are tied in fangraphs WAR, and Rizzo has a slight edge in BR OWAR. Defensive WAR, is always shaky, especially this early in the season, but I was still pretty surprised to see Rizzo with a -0.5 dWAR.

    Another way to see how great he’s been: last year he was fine, not great, but not terrible by any means. He already has a higher oWAR this year, and tied with his 2013 output in Runs above Replacement. Off to a good start, I’d say.

    • Darth Ivy

      did you mean BRO WAR?

      Luke, I have another summer project

  • KSUCub

    I want a t-shirt with that picture on it. An awesome t-shirt inside of an awesome t-shirt.

  • JB88

    Rizzo is just locked in right now. My gut tells me it is unsustainable, but I’m enjoying the ride for now. If he could put up numbers that are at all similar to this over the course of the year, man, does he look like a steal on that contract.

    According to FanGraphs, Rizzo is quickly approaching his 2013 WAR (2013 – 1.6; 2014 – 1.2) (Castro FWIW already has a higher WAR through May 9th than he did in all of 2013.)

    • JulioZuleta

      Well, to be fair, Starlin had a -0.1 WAR last year, so his 2014 WAR was higher on January 1 than it was in all of 2013.

      Rizzo- *this* rate of production might be unsustainable, but I think there is real improvement. Even Keith Law, the first person to dismiss a hot start as a small sample size/fluke, says that both what he has seen, and what scouts and others have told him leads him to believe that it’s real improvement that is here to stay.

      • JB88

        On Castro, a more than fair point.

        On Rizzo, what I like more than anything is that he seems to have really changed his approach at the plate (or perhaps he’s reached a level of comfort so that he can be selective like he once was). His selectivity and ability to lay off pitches outside the zone after his clear problems with that last year is truly laudable. He’s been on such a tear that he is almost becoming must watch TV, himself.

        • Q-Ball

          PS: And on Castro, I don’t think it’s a breakout, as much as a bounceback. He’s hitting on almost exactly the pace of 2012, with more HRs. I don’t think Castro will be the selective, elite hitter that Sveum was trying to make him into, but I do think we’re seeing the “True” Castro; bit of a hacker, but overall pretty good hitter, especially for SS.

    • Q-Ball

      Why do you think it’s unsustainable? Rizzo hasn’t been lucky; his BABIP is .308. What Rizzo has been doing is controlling the strike zone. He is making pitchers either walk him, or throw him hittable pitches.

      If he maintains this approach, it’s not a fluke. In fact, his power numbers will climb as the weather warms up

      I think Rizzo is having a “Breakout” season

      • JB88

        I hope you are right, but his K rate and BB rate seem unsustainable to me. Some of his peripheral numbers are also substantially higher than they have ever been. I hope it is a breakout, but fear it is just a hot streak.

        • Noah_I

          K and walk rates are among the first things to stabilize, and neither are crazy out of line with his 2013 numbers. He’s striking out in 3% less of his plate appearances, and walking in 5% more of them. Neither of those are crazy changes for a player entering his prime.

          To the extent Rizzo’s walk rate is elevated, while I don’t believe in “protection”, I think teams may be nibbling with Rizzo because there’s no one else in the lineup that really scares you to the same extent.

      • JulioZuleta

        Yeah. I didn’t mean what he’s done this season is unsustainable, I meant, basically, what he’s done on this stretch in May is unsustainable. He’ll always have hot stretches now and then, but I don’t think he’ll sustain a 0.821 SLG% and .513 OBP (1.334 OPS), which is what he has done in his last 8 games.

        • Q-Ball

          Yes, a 1.334 OPS is not sustainable… argument there. But I think his .900+ OPS this year IS sustainable, because his approach has been excellent

          And it is true, he was really unlucky last year, so part of the improvement is just regression….but not all of it

      • DocPeterWimsey

        “Rizzo hasn’t been lucky; his BABIP is .308. ”

        True: but that also means that he hasn’t been as horrifically unlucky as he was last year!

        As for his BB:K ratio, that probably is unsustainable: but Rizzo has always worked counts well. In his “down” 2013 season, he still managed a 3:5 BB:K ratio, which is not too shabby. As such, near 50:50 stretches for a few weeks are not all that improbable.

        • JacqueJones

          I think there is very good evidence that there is a real change in Rizzo that suggests he could sustain a 50/50 stretch or at least near it. Swing data stabilizes fairly quickly from what i’ve read and he really has improved a ton. He’s gone from swinging at 30% of pitches outside the zone (already pretty good) to only 22% of pitches out of the zone (which is lower than Votto’s career O-swing % which is saying something). Rizzo has just gotten a hell of a lot better at not swinging at junk and he was already pretty good at that. The amount of contact he makes hasnt really changed, still 78.3% of the time he swings compared to his career 78.6%. This change I think has a huge chance of being sustainable. Just make sure nobody tells him to “shorten up his swing” and “put the ball in play” or other smallball crap. He needs to just keep up his patient ways.

          • JacqueJones

            All this swing data got me interested in Starlin actually and I saw something interesting. Everyone blames last year on his change in approach, but hes actually swung at even less pitches outside the zone this year than last year (30.5% this year vs. 33.7% last year). The problem last year wasnt that he was swinging less at pitches outside the zone, its that he was swinging less at pitches inside the zone. Now he has been better at laying off pitches outside the zone and swinging more at pitches in the zone, so maybe he can keep up this trend and be that 3-4 WAR shortstop we all want him to be.

            • Rebuilding

              “The problem last year wasnt that he was swinging less at pitches outside the zone, its that he was swinging less at pitches inside the zone.”

              Exactly. When they tried to change his approach it just lead to him watching fastballs right down the middle and then still swinging at sliders in the dirt. In other words, you can’t change his pitch recognition. But by taking his aggressiveness away he just kept taking pitches in the zone and ending up in bad counts.

              I think what we are seeing with Castro this year is the real Castro and that is definitely good enough to be our SS for the next 10 years

        • Noah_I

          I think a 2:3 ratio long term wouldn’t be a surprise, but I’m curious if a point or two of Rizzo’s walk rate comes from him being the best hitter by far in this lineup. I don’t really believe in the concept of lineup protection, but considering Rizzo’s wOBA is 70 points higher than the next best Cub (Castro), and about half the lineup on any given day is flat out terrible, I could understand pitchers nibbling with Rizzo and saying that he’s the guy they would not let beat them.

  • Edwin

    One thing I can’t stop noticing these days is pitcher pace, mound visits, and how many times batters step out of the box. Is it just me, or does Jake Arrieta have a slow pace?

    If MLB could focus on just one thing, I’d like it to be on the pace of games.

    • Pepitones wig

      Last night’s game seem to last forever

      • Edwin

        I ended up watching the Bruins/Canadiens game, and then split time tuning into the Cubs or catching updates about the Johnny Football special they were airing on ESPN.

        • mjhurdle

          ESPN has killed the NFL draft. I used to watch it when it was multiple rounds in one night, but it is getting ridiculous now.
          I let the wife watch House Hunters while i watched the Cubs game on a tablet.

          Rumor is the NFL is looking to expand the draft to 4 nights now.

          • mjhurdle

            *killed the NFL Draft for me*

            i hear it got great ratings, so obviously they didn’t kill it for everyone :)

          • Fishin Phil

            ESPN has ruined many sports, it’s kind of their thing.

            • hansman1982

              They’ve somehow managed to ruin the HR Derby for me.

              BACK BACK BACK BACK…into a volcano for you Mr. Berman

          • Darth Ivy

            how did you watch it on your tablet? Do you not live in the chicago tv market?

            • itzscott

              Some cable providers (Optimum for me) offer apps that you can download onto a tablet or iPhone which allows you to watch programming on those devices. If you also happen to subscribe to Extra Innings, you can watch Cub games as well.

            • willis

              Y’all are right, ESPN has ruined literally everything they broadcast. Their on air talent is either tired or poor, and their shows are ridiculous. I could barely enjoy Sunday night’s game. The only things they do kind of ok…World Cup and The open. Other than that, it’s filth.

              • Edwin

                I like sunday night baseball, but it’s frustrating that half the time they seem to be promoting something other than the game currently going on, and that every game involves them mentioning some guy named Jeter.

                Again, it’s like they can’t just let the game be exciting on its own, they need to make everything be About Something, so that they can over analyze that Something.

                • bobww1959

                  Fox is even worse. Last year, there was a Cubs-Cards game on a Saturday night, and the entire Fox broadcast centered on how great Molina is…and he wasn’t even playing!. The next night they were on ESPN, and the broadcast was at least more balanced, with good mention of the Cubs’ minor leaguers and not so much fawning over Yadier (even though he of course had a big game that night…sigh)

            • mjhurdle

              I don’t live in the Chicago TV market, and I have my network setup to run through a proxy that alternates my “location” between Australia and New Zealand,
              No blackouts for me :)

              • Darth Ivy

                Are you Jack Bauer?

          • Pepitones wig

            NFL Network for me..I avoid ESPN at all costs

            • JulioZuleta

              Avoided TV draft coverage in general yesterday. Give the media the option to be lazy and hitch their wagon to a story like Johnny Manziel? You know they are going to eat that up. I’ll pass.

              • Pepitones wig

                the Manziel stuff was annoying

                • Drew7

                  Agreed. You knew it was gonna be like that as soon as the damn show started with Gruden trying desperately to make a case for taking Manziel at 1.

                • Diesel

                  He’s the new tebow

  • nnoreuil

    Rizzo has 1.2 WAR through 33 games which puts him on close to a 6 win pace. I think that is the part where people are saying unsustainable. If he is a 4.5-5 win player, thats an all-star.

    I agree with Brett about Mike Olt’s BABIP, but at the same time, hes not likely to post a 25% HR to fly ball ratio either.

    • JacqueJones

      ya and its hard to say its all bad luck with his BABIP. He has hit only 5 line drives all year according to fangraphs, so its not like hes consistently hitting the ball super hard and the defenders are in the right spots. He is a flyball hitter and that means he will have to live with depressed BABiPs

      • bbmoney

        Yeah I doubt Olt, just given who he is, is a .300 BABIP guy. But nobody (except maybe Darwin) is a sub .200 BABIP guy, so I’ll attribute at least a decent amount of it to luck / variation in a small sample size (only 42 balls in play). The big thing for me is keeping his K rate under 30% and start walking more, because he’ll likely always be a low batting average guy.

      • Kyle

        There’s a lot of luck involved in hitting line drives vs. other types of in-play balls, too.

        But mostly, yeah, you can’t just pick out one area of peripherals where a guy is behind and regress it without looking at the whole picture.

        Olt probably deserves some more hits in play (not a ton more, he is going to be a low-ish BABIP guy), but he’s probably not going to keep hitting 49% fly balls and have 25% of them go out, either.

        • Edwin

          Guess we’ll just have to play him every day to find out 😉

        • JacqueJones

          Ya, hes always gonna strike out, hit for power, and not get a ton of hits on balls in play. The key for him will be walking, which at least he has done better as of late than he had been at the beginning of the year (12% BB% in the last 14 days (yay arbitrary endpoints))

        • Noah_I

          I think some of the predictions I saw of Olt here and elsewhere that included things like a .280 batting average were crazy. Best case scenario for me with Olt is a .250/.330/.450 type of player with above average defense at 3B. Just as a note, that’s a top 10 3B in baseball these days, maybe more like top 7.

          • Pepitones wig

            It’s funny how the numbers at a particular position change over time.

          • Chad

            Take those numbers with Bryant in the OF and Baez at 2B all day long.

  • JacqueJones

    I think Abreu is like Prince fielder, and Rizzo is like Joey Votto. Personally I think Rizzo is more well-rounded and will be much more consistent over the years. Abreu will go months where a bunch of his flies that have been going out end up on warning tracks whereas Rizzo will always be getting on base one way or another and providing value offensively and defensively.

    • Noah_I

      I don’t think Abreu’s body is anywhere near as bad as Fielder’s was, so I wouldn’t predict an early decline the same way I did for Fielder. I could see Abreu continue to be a very good hitter into his mid-30s, but would say the same for Rizzo, and Rizzo is a superior defender. And Abreu may need to move to DH around 30-31.

      I prefer Rizzo (younger, more walks, less Ks, better defense), but if every team was drafting from scratch I’d be thrilled to have either on their present contracts as my 1B.

  • another JP

    What makes me thrilled about Rizzo thus far is his approach- during his entire career he’s struck out twice as much as he’s walked and this year the walk rate is higher. As a result his OBP is an outstanding .414.

    It’s Rizzo’s success that gives me the impression that Olt will have similar results with more PT. Olt actually was an OBP machine before he got hit in the head- several years he was at .390. If he were to get anywhere close to that in the majors the middle of the Cubs order could be set for the next ten years.

  • Bilbo161

    Brett, I’m impressed that you backed off the pitch count hysteria. Like all things statistical, it’s important to keep in mind they are a guide and not a law that, if broken will cause the world to be sucked into a black hole. :)

    Have a nice trip!

    • Drew7

      I’m not sure Brett not continuing to harp on it for the rest of the week is the same as “backing off the pitch count hysteria”

      • Bilbo161

        Hmm, what did he mean when he said “I regret my part in focusing on it so intensely earlier in the week, though, in my defense, that was immediately after it happened.”

        I was complimenting him you know?

  • Bilbo161

    Olt is definitely improving/settling in. We’ll see how long it takes RR to notice and up the playing time. Soon I bet.

  • Funn Dave

    So…what brought you to a Yankees – Brewers game?

  • JRL

    Interesting post Brett. I just saw this one. I’ll tell you what though. I would much rather pay up for Abreu and keep Andrew Cashner who is a young star pitcher who we traded away for Rizzo. That’s they thing Rizzo definitely came to the Cubs at a much larger price then Abreu would have.

    • GoCubs

      When Cashner/Rizzo trade happened, no one knew Abreu was or that he would be where he is today….

    • Mike

      So, you can see the future and knew that Abreu was going to be available way back in 2012? Can you help me out with some lottery numbers?

  • GoCubs

    Has platooning helped Cubs have a better W-L record? Why not just allow those who need to develop, develop?

  • JRL

    just saw the replies to the post I had about Abreu and Rizzo. My point I had is I would rather not trade Cashner and at the time get Fielder or wait a few years and get someone like Abreu or anyone else available. It tends to be a lot easier to get a 1st basemen then Cy young caliber young pitcher like Andrew Cashner.

  • Diehardthefirst

    Man Theo will never have more trade leverage vs Yanks now that CC is out – Shark to go this week?