Breakout Candidate: Anthony Rizzo

The dreaded sophomore slump.* It can turn even the most prominent rookies into pumpkins. Despite a promising rookie season, Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo failed to live up to lofty expectations. A year later, Rizzo won’t be depended on for elite production. And given the abundance of options at first base, Rizzo is likely to be one of the last starters at the position to be snatched up. Meaning, he’s being viewed as a fall-back option in most leagues. Given some of the indications, he could be much more than that in 2014.

A cursory glance at his numbers show a low .258 BABIP, which is reason enough to buy into a rebound. During his abbreviated season, Rizzo put up a .310 BABIP. He doesn’t have enough experience for us to know his true level, but it’s fair to say he’ll post better than the ninth worst BABIP in the league again. Rizzo also showed more patience at the plate, leading to a higher walk rate during his second season. This is somewhat offset by a jump in Rizzo’s strikeout rate.

Rizzo’s strikeout numbers are actually fairly significant. Though they finished below the league-average, his early struggles with strikeouts played a big role in his decline. Through the season’s first month, Rizzo’s strikeout rate jumped to 24.3%. He basically turned into an all-or-nothing hacker. If he made contact, he was going to hit the ball a mile. If he missed, he was going to whiff. That all changed once May rolled around.

Rizzo was able to get his strikeouts somewhat under control, posting just one more month where his rate jumped above 20%. The only problem was that it seemed to negatively impact his home run numbers. After hitting eight dingers in April, Rizzo hit just two home runs in both May and June. That jumped to three in July, six in August and then two again in September.

Most of his success with home runs has to do with his fly ball rate. It’s no surprise that his fly ball numbers were highest in April and August, the two months he went homer-crazy. There are both positives and negatives to this type of approach. While hitting more fly balls will lead Rizzo to hit for more home runs, it’s also going to push his BABIP down, as evidenced by last season.

The real question is whether Rizzo can find a happy medium. Rizzo hit for a much higher line drive rate during his rookie season, which not only boosted his average, but also helped his power numbers. But even if he’s unable to get back to that level, Rizzo can succeed as an all-or-nothing hitter. If he continues to rely on a fly ball heavy approach, his average will fall, but his power numbers could be elite. The main issue is whether he’s capable of showing either of these skills over a full season.

Given that the Cubs coaching staff was fired for asking players to make too many adjustments at the plate, it looks like there’s a chance Rizzo will keep a consistent approach throughout the season. If the new staff can get on the same page with Rizzo, and are content with leaving him alone, he could provide a solid upside. A BABIP improvement should be coming, and that will give Rizzo a much needed boost in his average. With a little more consistency at the plate, he could finally see all his skills fall into place.

*It was technically Rizzo’s third season, but he still had rookie eligibility in 2012.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


15 Responses to “Breakout Candidate: Anthony Rizzo”

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  1. KB says:

    Went against better judgement last year and bought high on Rizzo after his breakout 2012 and home run binge in April… burned me real bad and never totally recovered from it last season. Might take a full season of him producing before I trust him again.

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  2. Cuck City says:

    O its this article again

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  3. Shawnuel says:

    Not sure Rizzo is going to be quite as over-looked as you imply. Virtually all the projection systems I see have Rizzo as the 7th or 8th first baseman taken.

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  4. lipitorkid says:

    He’s 24… he has zero lineup protection with zero .OBP in front of him. He was fine last year. He’ll be better this year. I’ll be happy if he finishes in the top 10 1B. Yahoo projects him at:

    156/588
    77.0
    28.0
    93.0
    5.0
    .346 .OBP

    I’d be happy with those numbers.

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  5. Mario Mendoza says:

    I’m a fan of Fangraphs and sabermetrics, but this article overlooks the same thing that we overlooked last year, when all the cold numbers pointed to a breakout: His big loopy swing. He’s a boom and bust hitter by nature.

    This time last year I was trying to pick between him and a cheaper Ike Davis. Despite all the Rizzo love, I found they were strikingly similar. I concluded that the difference between them would be luck. I think the same is still largely true.

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  6. maguro says:

    I think the real question with Rizzo is whether he will ever hit lefthanded pitching. At some point, they are going to have platoon him if he doesn’t pick it up against lefties, big contract or not.

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    • Josh says:

      The Ryan Howard Experience disputes the platoon claim.

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    • Brian R says:

      He actually hit lefties quite well at home (better than he hit righties on the road), but was horrendous against them on the road. So if he could carry home vs. lefties #’s over to the road, that would solve the problem.

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      • AJP says:

        Small sample size, only a little over 150 career PA home vs. lefty, eventually it’ll even out. The issue that remains is if he can figure lefties out in general, if so there’s no reason to believe he won’t break out. But it’s a big IF.

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  7. stan says:

    He’s the biggest boom or bust wildcard out there. He really could be great as soon as this year, but I’d lean toward him being a bust. However, if he were available in the 10th-12th round and I needed a 1b, I’d be happy to take the chance on him knowing that if he hits I’ll probably win the league.

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  8. Steve-o says:

    Why is it that no one ever mentions Rizzos propensity to hit weak ground balls to the right side of the infield a la Juan Pierre.

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  9. garett68 says:

    Quick Side note, Looking to fill out the rest of a new Ottoneu League (This is Fantasy Baseball). Auction Draft, Fangraphs Points, group arbitration $99, draft on 3/23. Email me at garettmarcum@gmail.com

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