Not long after the Cubs hired Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, the two traded Andrew Cashner and Kyung-Min Na to the Padres for Anthony Rizzo and Zach Cates. Rizzo had just completed his age 21 season with the Padres and to say it didn't go well would be putting it nicely. Still, he had hit well in the minor leagues and obviously Theo and Hoyer loved what this kid had to offer.
Rizzo was sent to AAA Iowa to begin the season and hit the crap out of the ball. He was promoted to Chicago midway through the season and put together a very strong season. He turned 23 in early August, but for baseball purposes it was his age 22 season (age as of June 30th). It was an old age 22 season, but still 22 according to the way people have traditionally organized it.
For the purposes of much of this post, I'm going to ignore the 51 OPS+ over 153 plate appearances in 2011. Instead, I'm primarily going to focus on the 368 PA of 119 OPS+ baseball. I was curious where that season would rank among first basemen at a similar age if his 2012 was the only season he had.
The question is, what criteria do we use to compare his 2012 to historical results? I went with careers spanning multiple seasons on Baseball Reference's Play Index. It was the first choice to make. Then I had to pick age and obviously we'd want to include younger players because it's even more impressive to do what Rizzo did (or even close to it) while being younger than he was. I also wanted to include the age 23 season for players because Rizzo was close to that and because there really isn't a whole lot of difference between the two. 16-23 it is.
I wanted the first part of a player's career since I'm ignoring Rizzo's 2011 and treating 2012 as his first season. Knowing I'd have to choose plate appearances later, I decided to go with a player's first season through his third season. I'm interested in how he compares to 1st basemen so while a shortstop hitting even close to as well as he did would be far more impressive, it's not relevant to what I want to know.
I decided to go with a player who played at least half his games at 1st base figuring if the player could still play half his games elsewhere, he might be a better overall player, but also a player who will eventually play first base full time. I could probably safely reduce that to 25% and still get a pool of players who were primarily 1st basemen throughout their careers.
Rizzo had 368 plate appearances last season so I used a minimum of 300 PA.
Here's the list:
Dick Hoblitzell's name is bolded in red because Anthony Rizzo's 2012 would slide right above him and right after Keith Hernandez. If that's all Rizzo had done so far, it would be good for 35th. However, Rizzo's 2012 season had just 368 PA and only Joe Cunningham, Sean Casey and Tony Perez had fewer plate appearances than Rizzo in 2012. The number of plate appearances are also important because if a player has 2000 plate appearances prior to 23 then he was probably more qualified to play than someone who had just 368. Rizzo, though, has over 500 in his career so far so we have to consider that, but there are still many on the list with more than he had.
If we were interested, and clearly I am since I'm writing this, we could take a look at those who performed offensively most similar to Rizzo did in 2012 to get an idea of how he might perform over the next 5 seasons (years before free agency). Here it is:
|Vic Saier||118||played only 4 more seasons over 5 years|
|Joe Hauser||117||played only 5 more years over 7 years|
|Dick Hoblitzell||106||played only 6 more years|
|Bob Chance||88||played only 4 more seasons over 5 years|
|Ike Davis||NA||Active player|
One Hall of Famer in George Sisler and only Bob Chance was worse than average at the plate over the next 5 years. The average OPS+ of these players from the first table was 120 and over the next 5 years the average was 119. I don't believe first basemen have generally had long careers, but I thought it was interesting that in this group, 4 of the players played less than 6 years after the age of 23 and 2 of them didn't even make it 5 seasons.
Prior to now, we've been ignoring Rizzo's 2011 season. So far in his career he has a 100 OPS+, which puts him right after Eric Hosmer on the first list, which is why I cut the list off where I did. Looking at the entire career we find he'd rank 68th on the original list. Several of these guys weren't your average 1st baseman. They piled up the triples and stolen bases, something that Rizzo will not ever do. He has 1 career triple and only 5 stolen bases. That's not a bad thing, but many of these guys were adding value in ways that Rizzo never will.
If we consider the whole career and now look at the most similar players, this is what we get for production over their next 5 years.
|Daric Barton||101||3 seasons|
|Ed Stevens||31||played only 1 season|
The average of this group is 107.
I'm willing to give Rizzo's 2011 less weight than we typically would, but it still happened. What this means is that I think he'll do better than this group, but maybe not as well as the earlier group. But Rizzo is just one player so he could end up being in the Hall of Fame like 2 comparables. He could end up being out of the league for various reasons in short time too. It's probably somewhere in the middle. Expecting a Hall of Fame career is a bit riduclous and anticipating his career ends soon is equally ridiculous.