While it’s still early and small sample size caveats apply, first baseman Anthony Rizzo is showing signs that 2014 may be the breakout year that Chicago Cubs fans have been waiting for. The one glaring concern in Rizzo’s first full MLB season last year was his performance against left-handed pitching as he hit just .189 with a .625 OPS. However, through 21 plate appearances in 2014, Rizzo has turned those numbers around and is hitting .350 against lefties.
Rizzo’s lack of strikeouts so far in 2014 is another reason to believe that he may be taking the next step towards stardom. While we are just over two weeks into the season, Baseball Prospectus has shown that a player’s strikeout rate begins to stabilize after 60 plate appearances. Rizzo has a total of 54 plate appearances and his strikeout rate is down from 18.4 percent last year to 14.8 percent this year.
If Rizzo can maintain his strikeout rate at or below 15 percent, he will have a much better chance to produce a quality batting average.
Overall, Rizzo is hitting a robust .319/.389/.489 with two doubles and two home runs. His batting average, however, has been propped up by a .342 BABIP, which is a nice change of pace from the .258 BABIP that caused Rizzo’s average to sit at just .233 a year ago. While maintaining a .342 BABIP is unlikely, if Rizzo can maintain a league average BABIP of around .300 to go along with his reduced strikeout numbers, he should be able to hit around .280 this year.
The sky’s the limit for Rizzo if he can continue to have quality at-bats against left-handed pitchers and stabilizes his strikeout rate at 15 percent. In this era of vastly reduced offensive production around MLB, a .280 hitter with 30 home run power can be a perennial All-Star. If nothing else, the 2014 season will have been a success for the Cubs if Rizzo continues to make strides and solidifies himself as one of the best young sluggers in the game.