How good is Anthony Rizzo?

Anthony+Rizzo+St+Louis+Cardinals+v+Chicago+LiW8X5MrinnlNot 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:

Player Age From To PA OPS+
Johnny Mize 23-23 1936 1936 469 162
Mark McGwire 22-23 1986 1987 699 157
Jimmie Foxx 17-23 1925 1931 2568 154
Ron Blomberg 20-23 1969 1972 564 150
Jim Bottomley 22-23 1922 1923 748 150
Alvin Davis 23-23 1984 1984 678 147
Lou Gehrig 20-23 1923 1926 1235 144
Willie McCovey 21-23 1959 1961 900 142
Hank Greenberg 19-23 1930 1934 1167 140
Jeff Bagwell 23-23 1991 1991 650 139
Will Clark 22-23 1986 1987 1046 139
Don Mattingly 21-23 1982 1984 980 139
Orlando Cepeda 20-23 1958 1961 2543 137
Earl Torgeson 23-23 1947 1947 487 136
Babe Herman 23-23 1926 1926 554 136
Prince Fielder 21-23 2005 2007 1391 132
James Loney 22-23 2006 2007 486 132
John Mayberry 19-23 1968 1972 931 132
Hal Trosky 20-23 1933 1936 2083 132
Eddie Murray 21-23 1977 1979 2043 131
Bob Robertson 20-23 1967 1970 594 128
Stuffy McInnis 18-23 1909 1914 2545 128
Kent Hrbek 21-23 1981 1983 1246 127
Ed Konetchy 21-23 1907 1909 1655 127
George Sisler 22-23 1915 1916 939 123
George Scott 22-23 1966 1967 1322 122
Don Hurst 22-23 1928 1929 1167 122
Vic Saier 20-23 1911 1914 2060 122
Jason Thompson 21-23 1976 1978 1823 121
Joe Hauser 23-23 1922 1922 408 121
Joe Judge 21-23 1915 1917 901 121
John Olerud 20-23 1989 1992 1507 120
Keith Hernandez 20-23 1974 1977 1321 120
Dick Hoblitzell 19-23 1908 1912 2724 117
Bob Chance 22-23 1963 1964 493 116
Wally Pipp 20-23 1913 1916 1211 116
Ike Davis 23-23 2010 2010 601 115
Freddie Freeman 20-22 2010 2012 1279 113
Nate Colbert 20-23 1966 1969 595 113
Joe Cunningham 22-22 1954 1954 356 113
Fred Merkle 18-23 1907 1912 2066 112
Billy Butler 21-23 2007 2009 1510 111
Justin Morneau 22-23 2003 2004 427 109
Dick Gernert 23-23 1952 1952 407 109
Chris Chambliss 22-23 1971 1972 957 108
Bill White 22-22 1956 1956 568 108
George Burns 21-23 1914 1916 1507 108
Al Oliver 21-23 1968 1970 1119 107
Tony Horton 19-23 1964 1968 1280 107
Pat Burrell 23-23 2000 2000 474 106
Brad Fullmer 22-23 1997 1998 590 106
Hal Chase 22-23 1905 1906 1138 105
Darin Erstad 22-23 1996 1997 834 104
John Ellis 20-23 1969 1972 729 104
Chris Davis 22-23 2008 2009 736 103
Travis Lee 23-23 1998 1998 630 103
Mike Ivie 18-23 1971 1976 912 103
Art Shires 21-23 1928 1930 762 103
Joe Nealon 21-22 1906 1907 1051 103
Mark Teixeira 23-23 2003 2003 589 102
David Ortiz 21-23 1997 1999 402 102
Sean Casey 22-23 1997 1998 363 102
Ted Kluszewski 22-23 1947 1948 408 102
Daric Barton 21-23 2007 2009 799 101
Tony Perez 22-23 1964 1965 335 101
Ed Stevens 20-23 1945 1948 1059 101
Eric Hosmer 21-22 2011 2012 1161 100

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:

  OPS+ Notes
George Sisler 160 HOF
George Scott 101  
Don Hurst 112  
Vic Saier 118 played only 4 more seasons over 5 years
Jason Thompson 128  
Joe Hauser 117 played only 5 more years over 7 years
Joe Judge 120  
John Olerud 137  
Keith Hernandez 135  
Dick Hoblitzell 106 played only 6 more years
Bob Chance 88 played only 4 more seasons over 5 years
Wally Pipp 105  
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.

  OPS+ Notes
Sean Casey 111  
Ted Kluszewski 118  
Daric Barton 101 3 seasons
Tony Perez 131 HOF
Ed Stevens 31 played only 1 season
Eric Hosmer NA  
Anthony Rizzo NA  
Paul Konerko 114  
Elbie Fletcher 130  
Ken Harrelson 118  
Billy Goodman 106  
Joe Pepitone 109  

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.

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