First baseman Anthony Rizzo is developing into a legitimate star for the Chicago Cubs. While Rizzo is primarily known for his slugging prowess, he seems to have discovered the virtue of bunting as a means of taking advantage of a defensive shift.
In a Thursday afternoon loss to the St.Louis Cardinals, Rizzo managed to bunt not once, but twice, for base hits, obviously catching the Cardinals completely by surprise. Rizzo is known as a severe pull hitter, so teams are fond of employing a shift to the right side of the field when he is at the plate. Of course, this strategy leaves the left side more or less wide open, and if a bunt is put down successfully, it is an automatic hit.
Teams frequently use these types of shifts against dead pull hitters, but not every player takes advantage of the situation as Rizzo did on Thursday. In their defense, the Cardinals really had little reason to suspect Rizzo would attempt to bunt, as the young slugger had bunted for a base hit only once in his previous 285 games with the Cubs. However, Rizzo was able to pull it off twice against the Cardinals, scoring on the second hit courtesy of a Starlin Castro homer in the fourth inning.
While the ability to get on base via the bunt is important, the most obvious benefit for Rizzo became clear in his next two at-bats. The Cardinals abandoned the shift when Rizzo came to the plate after his second bunt hit, with both the infield and outfield playing straight away. If Rizzo is able to force other teams to abandon this strategy, it will without question benefit him long-term, spreading out the field and allowing for the possibility of more hits to the right side.
Of course, Rizzo does not have to bunt all the time to accomplish this goal. The mere fact that he is capable of placing a bunt down the third-base line on occasion will be enough to give other teams pause before they employ the shift. Rizzo is clearly evolving into a very savvy and dangerous hitter for the Cubs, and his ability to lay down a bunt every once in a while will only make him that much more of a threat in the future.