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anthony rizzo featureAnthony Rizzo is hitting .288/.404/.532 with a .404 wOBA (8th in baseball), a 156 wRC+ (13th), and a 2.9 WAR (15th).

If your March crystal ball showed you that sentence about what was to come three months down the road, you would have burst into tears of joy. That’s how well this year has gone for Rizzo, who, by the way, doesn’t turn 25 until August.

Rizzo’s walk rate (14.9%) is up dramatically this year, as is his ISO (.243). Rizzo is finding pitches to hit very, very hard, and, when he doesn’t find those pitches, he takes a walk.

Sahadev Sharma spoke yesterday with Rizzo on his development, and also spoke at length with Joey Votto – a guy whose style at the plate Rizzo has started to reflect, whether consciously or not – about Rizzo, statistics, and plate approach. It’s a hell of a fantastic read over at ESPN.

Check out this amazing quote from Votto on the interplay between performance and BABIP (batting average on balls in play), something we talked about a lot last year with respect to Rizzo’s “down” performance:

The idea that your numbers will come around because your luck will turn around …. Well, are you being honest with yourself?” Votto told Sharma. “Whether you really have been unlucky, or is this a byproduct of too many ground balls, too many easy fly balls? I’m not really sure, but I do notice that some form of regression can be a bit of a lie if it’s not actually happening during a game. That’s where the scouts’ eyes come in. There needs to be a complement, a good relationship between both sides. When a scout says this guy’s just not driving the ball, how are you going to expect the luck to kick in if you’re swinging like [crap]?

That’s just so very right, so very smart, and so very appropriately cautionary about what we – as fans/writers/arm-chair analysts – do when we break down performance over stretches of time. I know we’re not supposed to like Joey Votto … but I’m crushing.

And, even if they aren’t bestest buddies in the world who train together night and day, this is definitely the kind of player I’d be tickled pink to see Anthony Rizzo taking after. So far this year, the approach and the numbers say he is (even if he’s not literally taking after Votto). The two players trained together for a time in the offseason, and you can read more about that in Sharma’s piece.

One quick quote from Rizzo that, when you digest it, demonstrates that he totally gets his job as a complete hitter:

I don’t really take pride in walking – I don’t really want to walk,” he said. “I’d rather drive the ball in the gap. But if I get a free pass, I get a free pass. It just depends on the situation. It really comes down to me swinging at the right pitches, and if I don’t get them and I have to walk, then I’ll walk.

If you find yourself momentarily blanching, I’ll forgive you. But really think about what Rizzo is saying: I’m not trying to take a walk. I’m trying to find a pitch to drive. If I don’t get it, then I’ll take a walk.

That is the essence of the plate approach the Cubs try to impress upon hitters, and Rizzo just summed it up to a tee. Better yet, he’s summing it up every game with his performance. That awesome 14.9% walk rate? That’s not the outcome you look for, in and of itself. That’s the awesome byproduct of doing everything else right at the plate, including crushing the balls in your wheelhouse.

Ah. What a wonderful experience this has all been. Not that I wasn’t already, but I’m very optimistic about Rizzo’s future, and about his ability to continue being this guy long-term. And, to to be greedy, but he could get even better.

 

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