After bursting onto the scene in 2012, Anthony Rizzo’s 2013 campaign defined the sophomore slump.
By pure comparison of traditional numbers, his season wasn’t far off from his rookie season. His overall WAR value only dropped from 1.7 to 1.6, but the 53-point drop in average and 19-point drop in OBP were the most disturbing aspects of his game.
Those stats on the surface don’t tell us the full story on why Rizzo struggled to progress from one year to the next. I had previously written that it seemed Rizzo took a more timid approach to the plate last season and took too many pitches, a rarity in itself when speaking of Chicago Cubs hitters.
In fact, the numbers support my theory on his approach to a certain extent. His total swing rate dropped 5.5 percent from 2012. Meanwhile he saw 2 percent more pitches in the zone, while swinging at 3 percent fewer in-zone pitches.
Advanced stats also suggest he was a bit unlucky with a BABIP of just .258, nearly 50 points below the league average. All of this helped contribute in some part to his lackluster season and .233 average.
As far as expectations for 2014, BABIP suggests his average should see a bump. While his more conservative approach led to a 3.7 percent uptick in his walk rate, it also led to an increase in his strikeout rate. It is possible if Rizzo fixes his approach and swings at more strikes, while keeping his near-league average contact rate, things could also turn around even quicker.
Of all the advanced stats, Rizzo’s isolated power (ISO) in majors is worrisome and reason to believe he might be not be the 30-homer monster that’s expected of him, at least not this year. In 296 games, his total ISO is on .174. Even though that is around the above average mark, his expectations are more in the .200 range. He shouldn’t be expected to repeat his unreal .300-plus ISO from Triple-A. Rather look toward his Double-A and Single-A numbers while in the Boston system, which were (.217 and .230 respectively).
In Spring Training, new hitting coach Bill Mueller will have to work with Rizzo — and Starlin Castro — on changing their approach and righting the ship at the plate. Castro has different problems but Rizzo’s seem to be more correctable. He’s still only 24 years old and played an impressive 160 games in his first full season at the top level.
Some things went right for Rizzo in 2013 and some things went wrong. He deteriorated on defense along with his approach. For him to be successful, he needs to find his approach and swing early in spring and carry it into the regular season. While that sounds almost too simple, many problems are just that — simple.
If he gets a bit more aggressive and swings at more strikes, the stats show he’ll have a better looking stat line from 2103 and take a step closer to his massive offensive potential.