After tearing triple-A to shreds in 2012 before hitting 15 home runs with an OPS of .805 for the Chicago Cubs, Anthony Rizzo was supposed to take the next step towards stardom in 2013. In a lot of ways, he did take steps in the right direction last year, but it’s hard for fans to believe that when taking a glance at his overall line of .233/.323/.419 in 690 plate appearances.
When comparing Rizzo’s 2012 season to 2013, the first stat that jumps out, other than the horrendous batting average, is the fact that he increased his walk rate from 7.3 to 11 percent in just one year. That is a substantial increase and shows Rizzo’s maturity and growth as he placed himself in the top-30 for walk rate after a concerted effort by the front office to have players become more patient at the plate.
While Rizzo struggled mightily against left-handed pitchers, he did walk in 10 percent of his plate appearances against them.
A contributing factor to Rizzo’s line against lefties of .189/.282/.342 was the fact that his batting average on balls in play against them was just .207, a rare number as the league average is anywhere from .290 to .310 on balls in play. Part of the reason for this was an infield fly rate of 15.3 percent against lefties and a below average line drive rate of 17.1 percent; however, these numbers cannot fully explain a 100-point gap from the league average.
With positive regression to the mean, combined with another year of maturity and adjustments, Rizzo has the ability to show marked improvements across the board in 2014 as he is still scratching the surface of his long-term potential.
It hasn’t translated all the way to the big leagues yet, but Rizzo has the talent to be more than just a .270 hitter with 25-HR power at first base. While that would be a great player to have, in 163 total triple-A games, Rizzo compiled 49 home runs and a line of .336/.405/.670 at the plate. Those stats were also accomplished at just 21 and 22-years old.
While Rizzo struggled last year with his batting average, his large increase in walks combined with more power than a year ago (.178 ISO to .186) are positive indicators of future results. If Rizzo can learn how to handle left-handed pitchers the way he did in the minors, he can take the next step towards stardom.
Offensive value only tells half of the story and according to defensive wins above replacement, Rizzo was the best first baseman in all of MLB in just his first full season in the league. Rizzo is still only 24-years old and if he can continue to improve on defense, in addition to reaching his full offensive potential, he remains capable of becoming one of the most valuable players in baseball.
After a season of adversity and with a track record for making adjustments in the minors, Rizzo remains poised to continue his ascent to becoming an elite first baseman.