Earlier today in the Series Preview, I mentioned that Anthony Rizzo has had a really rough stretch of baseball at the plate. Indeed, he has just a 28 wRC+ and a .216 wOBA in his last ten games (about 50 PAs), dating back to May 11.
I didn’t get into in the Series Preview, because, as I mentioned, there’s actually lot here to deconstruct.
In fact, I’m not entirely convinced that this “slump,” is anything more than just a flukey, luckless week and a half of otherwise good offensive performances from one of the Cubs’ most dangerous and productive hitters.
So let’s dig deeper into his numbers and see what’s actually going on.
To get to the bottom of this mystery, let’s take a look at some of Rizzo’s numbers over this stretch and compare them to his career (where we know he’s been good). First, let’s start simple.
In Rizzo’s last ten games (48 PAs), he’s slashed .125/.250/.225 with an ISO of just .100 (low for anyone, especially low for Rizzo). Getting granular, he’s managed just five hits (3 singles, a double and home run) and six walks in that stretch.
But like I said, things might not be as bad as they seem. Even on the shallowest level, his peripheral statistics look quite strong. For example, he’s been walking 12.5% of the time. That is well above league average (~8.8%) and would actually represent the highest walk rate of Rizzo’s career. Moreover, he’s striking out only 14.6% of the time. That, too, is well above league average (19.5%) and better than Rizzo’s career rate (17.7%).
Even digging into his advanced plate discipline numbers reveals nothing of note. His swing rates and contacts rates (both in and out of the zone) are more or less in line with his career numbers. In fact, he’s made more contact with pitches in the zone during this stretch (95.5%) than he has on pitches in the zone for his career (90.4%).
In other words, his plate discipline is absolutely perfectly fine, which suggests he’s seeing the ball well. That alone is hugely good news, but that doesn’t mean his slump will magically end today. To get to the bottom of this, we need to go deeper.
So, then, let’s take a look at his batting average on balls in play. As I’m sure you can imagine, Rizzo’s BABIP is a shockingly low at .121 during this stretch. If you’re only slashing .125/.250/.225 but you have an extremely low strikeout rate and an extremely high walk rate, you are definitely getting at least a little (and probably a lot) unlucky with the balls you are putting in play.
However, it’s not as though BABIP is solely left up to chance. A hitter’s BABIP can vary tremendously based on factors like speed, batted ball rates, and more. So let’s check out where Rizzo lands here. Perhaps this deep slump in results is at least partially because of controllable performance elements and not entirely bad luck.
Checking out the batted ball data, here’s how Rizzo’s hit rates breaks down over this 10 game stretch vs. his career:
Last Ten Games
- Soft: 11.8%
- Medium: 52.9%
- Hard: 35.3%
- Soft: 15.6%
- Medium: 51.7
- Hard: 36.2%
As you can see, Rizzo’s soft hit rate for his career is actually quite a bit higher than it has been over these past ten games, while his medium and hard hit rate are more or less in line with his career. Rizzo is not making poor contact, so the BABIP isn’t based on Rizzo suddenly making soft/bad contact (which aligns with his plate discipline data).
So where does that leave us? Rizzo is still seeing the ball, taking his walks, refusing to strike out, and hitting the ball as hard as he ever has. None of those numbers revealed anything other than the fact that he’s pretty much been his dominant, usual self. But we won’t give up that easy. Let’s move on to the where he’s hitting the ball, and the type of contact he’s making, to see if we can scrounge something up.
Last Ten Games
- Line Drive: 8.8%
- Ground Ball: 41.2
- Fly Ball: 50.0%
- Line Drive: 20.8%
- Ground Ball: 38.9%
- Fly Ball: 40.2%
Ahh … now we’re getting somewhere. In his last ten games, although he’s been hitting the ball as hard or soft as usual, Rizzo has been hitting far fewer line drives than he’s used to in his career, in favor of more ground balls and fly balls (neither as good for BABIP as liners). With fewer line drives, it’s not entirely unsurprising to see such a low BABIP, and, thus, overall batting average. When that’s combined with an unusually low 5.9% home run to fly ball ratio, the overall drop in production starts to become a bit more understandable.
But that’s not all that’s happening here. Rizzo is also placing the ball quite differently than we’ve come to expect. Check it out:
Last Ten Games
- Pull: 47.1%
- Center: 38.2%
- Oppo: 14.7%
- Pull: 42.7%
- Center: 35.3%
- Oppo: 22.0%
Since he started slumping, Rizzo has pulled far more balls and sent fewer the opposite direction. In a vacuum, of course, those numbers aren’t particularly bad, but the larger point is that Rizzo seems to do better when he’s spraying the ball more equally across the diamond. In fact, I think we’ve pretty much come to something of a conclusion here. So let’s button this up.
For the most part, Anthony Rizzo isn’t slumping in the traditional sense of the word. He’s doing almost everything as well as he ever has before and that’s typically been pretty damn good. The vast majority of his bad results can be explained by the kind of flukey stuff that is beyond his control at the plate. Maybe he could stand to level out his swing a tad, in order to hit a few more line drives and a few less home runs if he wanted, but a simple, positive regression in his HR/FB ratio might make up most of the difference. And it’s not like he should be looking to make any dramatic changes in response to this kind of blip in results anyway.
Essentially: No, the production hasn’t been there, but everything else has. Crisis averted, please return to your regularly-scheduled activities. Anthony Rizzo will be just fine.