Better Know a Cub: Anthony Rizzo

Anthony Rizzo has packed a lot of bags. Drafted in the 6th round out of Stoneman-Douglas HS, Rizzo has been a part of 3 different organizations in 6 years, being traded in both 2011 and 2012. He was an early riser, spending only 24 PA in Rookie Ball and only a season or so in A and A+ combined. His plate discipline and power stroke were enough to have him named the #75 prospect in 2011 and #47 in 2012.

His 2011 Major League debut was nothing short of terrible. His line was .141/.281/.242, good for an OPS+ of 51. He struck out at a 30.1% clip, and only hit 16% line drives. He had 153 terrible plate appearances and there was a very real worry he’d never put it together.

The Cubs dealt a promising power arm in Andrew Cashner for him, seeing as Jed Hoyer and Anthony Rizzo are probably in the same ka-tet, and Rizzo spent the first part of 2012 in AAA. After his call-up, things went a lot better for him: .285/.342/.463, with 15 HR in 368 PA. Which Rizzo can we expect going forward?

Offense

Rizzo features left-handed power and patience from at 1B. Last year, he had an OPS+ of 119, which is right around average for 3s. Most of his value is derived from his ability to both walk and get extra-base hits, though his 7.3% walk rate last year was lower than the league average of 8.1%. His BABIP last year was .310; that’s completely sustainable and the strongest reason to believe that his 2011 year was just fluky (his BABIP that year was a miserable .210).

Rizzo cannot hit lefties to save his life, with an OBP of .243; however, his first home run as a Cub was against a lefty (I was there :), one of my top-3 favorite games I’ve attended). Ideally, you’d sit him against lefties around half the time (there’s no need for a full platoon), and give Rizzo those days off. I think 135-140 games would be the ideal.

He’s also much better in day games than night games. That’s pretty cool, obviously; that’s very atypical and good for the Cubs. It’s also counter-intuitive to his home/away splits, which actually show him favoring road games.

I think Rizzo’s greatest chance to grow is by (surprise!) seeing more pitches. He saw 3.92 in 2011; just 3.64 last year. Some of that can be attributed to the absolute lack of protection he has, but he was batting 8th last year so you know he was getting attacked.

Oddly enough, his OPS after 2-1 counts is his lowest for any count (though it only occured 17 times). He’d much rather be looking at a 1-2 or even 0-2 count!

Defense

Rizzo was hailed as a defensive stalwart at first. He didn’t disappoint; he was a very good defensive first baseman, though he did make a few mistakes (to be expected from a 22-year-old). He’s got really nice footwork and is good at scooping (though he’s no Derrek Lee). He’s going to need to be agile, with Castro throwing his way!

Summary

I was very scared that Rizzo had a good chance of crashing and burning. 2011 was really, really ugly (significantly worse than Brett Jackson’s first ~150 PA). He came in this year and crushed, but then pitchers adapted to him. Many players never find a way to re-adjust, but give Rizzo all the credit in the world because he did. He doesn’t have the highest ceiling in the system, but he’s got potential to hit .310/.380/.530 for a good, long time. I think that would be a very successful career.

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