Anthony Rizzo: Not a disappointment

As a Cubs fan (ostensibly – why would you read this otherwise?), you really haven't had many reasons to cheer this year. Arguably, the most exciting good thing is that the one the Cubs' tradeable pieces didn't get hurt long enough to be traded (Jake Arrieta, hello! I wish it was 2009 so I could be excited). We've seen Starlin Castro go from "young budding star" to "young, fairly cost-controlled average SS" to "well, he could rebound, right?" to "holy shit, is that Jeff Blauser in Starlin Castro's uniform?" Shark's season has been up and down (though the peripherals are still there). Matt Garza has been great so far, but the return for him is going to underwhelming and you should brace yourself for that fact right now.

One thing I don't get, though, is the imagined struggles of Anthony Rizzo. People have chattered about his regression and poor year so far, but I'm not seeing it. Sure, his .241 average is not exactly desirable. However, his 44 point drop in BA basically matches his 43 point drop in BABIP. I'm not all that worried or interested in Rizzo's batting average, to be perfectly honest. I'm much more interested in his on base percentage and his power numbers. His OBP has fallen this year, but only slightly (.342 to .328). His SLG is also 22 points lower (.463 to .441), but that's a function of his reduced BABIP: his ISO this year is actually up to .201 from .178. 

Peripheral-wise, Rizzo has made some gains this year. His walk rate has climbed from 7.3% to 10.4% (and in the minors, his rate was always from the 9% to 12% range), while his strikeout rate climbed modestly to 17.9% (it was ~22% in the minors). His batted-ball statistics do tell a story of slight regression, with an additional 7.2% flyballs this year eating into the more productive types of contact. Lastly, PITCH f/x tells us that Rizzo is swinging much less often (down to 45.7% from 50.5% – he went from well above average to right at it). This is very consistent with an increased number of walks. His contact numbers haven't regressed meaningfully, so he's extending at bats by not swinging at balls (and, of course, striking out slightly more often by not swinging at some strikes). When he does swing, he's still fouling it off or putting in play – those balls just aren't really falling in for hits. 

Rizzo was projected this year to hit somewhere around .267/.343/.484. He's currently sitting at .241/.328/.441. If his BABIP was .297 (what it was projected – he's currently at .267 which could be his true talent level, who knows?), he'd be somewhere like .272/.354/.473. I know that's not how it works, but I'm just floating it out there.

Rizzo is in his age-23 season. Post-integration, 55 players have been 23 and played at least 80 games at 1st. In that group, Rizzo is 37th in OPS+ – tied with Eric Hosmer (also 23 this year). There are some good players below him (Mark Teixiera, Chris Davis), and some bad ones above him (Ike Davis, Ike Davis). True, Rizzo isn't Eddie Murray. However, we aren't paying him to be Eddie Murray. We're paying him to be pretty young and pretty good. Right now, he's both, and he's going to get better.




Or, he could turn into Starlin Castro, and Cubs fans will start to wonder if Julio Zuleta got a hold of Rizzo's uniform.