Chicago Cubs first baseman, and perennial top four MVP finisher, Anthony Rizzo is having a tough start to the season.
Through his first 158 plate appearances, he’s hitting just .218/.342/.398, which is good for a 96 wRC+. Yes, Anthony Rizzo has – by results – been a below average hitter this year. Didn’t see that coming.
Of course, the sample is small, the peripherals are screwy (.218 BABIP, .180 ISO), and he’s still doing things like barely ever striking out (13.9%), but the numbers are presently ugly. He’s also not hitting the ball as hard as usual, with his soft contact way up and his hard contact way down (which probably goes at least some of the way to explaining the crazy low BABIP and ISO figures).
In reality, it’s only about half of those 158 plate appearances that are dragging him down – the most recent 15 or so games (73 plate appearances), as a matter of fact, during which he’s hitting an eye-popping (the bad kind) .129/.260/.242. To say Rizzo is in a slump is an understatement, and has been masked only by the fact that just about every other Cubs player has been in some level of slump over the same stretch.
But I was curious: is this just the early-season thing? Where stretches of numbers stand out to us only because there aren’t many of them to go around? How much would we notice and comment upon these 73 plate appearances if they happened in June or September? Rizzo has been remarkably consistent by the end of the season (155, 145, 145 wRC+ each of the past three years), and so I wondered: has he had 15-game stretches this bad in the past three years?
FanGraphs has a charting tool where you can look at rolling averages for the last X number of games, which is handy in these cases. I created a chart that shows Rizzo’s 15-game rolling average wRC+ for each of the past three seasons plus where we are in 2017. As you can see, he’s had extreme dips like this before, even in wildly successful seasons:
There are some modest caveats, if we’re being intellectually honest: the depth of the current 15-game dip is matched only his low point last season, this current dip could continue dipping if his slump continues, and he hasn’t had a high-high yet this year like in years past.
Of course, the caveats to those caveats are, respectively: the current dip isn’t even as low as the lowest low last year and the difference between it and the lows in the other seasons (in a 15-game stretch) is an extra 0-fer or two; of course the dip could keep dipping, but it could also turn around in an instant (what kind of point is that, Brett?); he hasn’t had a high-high yet this year because it’s the second week of May. Give it a minute.
So, in other words, I could talk on both sides of this thing if I were so inclined. But that’s not really the point in today’s exercise – we’ll get more data soon enough. Instead, I only wanted to know (maybe mostly for myself) if Rizzo had stretches like this in recent very good years. And the answer is more or less “yes.”
That doesn’t mean it’s not something to monitor, and, if the slump continues, break down for actual causes. But for now, be heartened slightly by the fact that this isn’t necessarily some crazy anomaly for even a great and consistent hitter like Rizzo. Sometimes, a terrible 15-game stretch stands out if you isolate it.