Say whatever you want about pythagorean record and run differential, the Chicago Cubs still sit at the bottom of the National League Central, and barring any more stretches like they had last week, that’s likely where they’ll remain for the rest of the 2014 regular season. Nonetheless, there have been some success stories for this club this year, as limited a quantity in which those may be available.
One of those is the bounce back year experienced by first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo was acquired from the San Diego Padres for pitcher Andrew Cashner, and given the misguided belief that this Cubs’ system is one that lacks arms, some have started to question whether or not the deal was worth it for the Cubs. Especially considering the struggles that were presented by a great deal of Rizzo’s numbers from last season.
In 2013, Rizzo hit just .233 and reached base at a clip of only .323. The power numbers were there, though, as he went for 23 home runs on the season and 40 doubles. With the help of those two figures, he recorded a strong .186 ISO, which measures his ability to hit for extra bases. It’s also important to consider his BABIP last year, which was a paltry .258. So while the numbers weren’t pretty, overall, there was still plenty to look at and be satisfied with for Rizzo in 2013.
This season has presented a major bounceback for him, though, in a number of ways. His strikeout rate is still right about where it’s been, but he’s rebounded in many respects. He’s walking at a much higher rate, jumping up five percentage points to 16 percent, helping an on-base percentage that has jumped up 77 points this year. He’s reaching base at an even .400, while hitting .276 for the year. The fact that his BABIP is at .305, representing a much more reasonable figure, has also helped. His ISO on the season is a very good .210, and he has an even 20 extra base hits on the year.
What’s even more impressive about Anthony Rizzo is how he’s finding his success. He’s hitting lefties extremely well, coming off of a season in which he hit only .189 against southpaws. Although he has over twice as many plate appearances against righties then against left-handers, he’s still hitting .333 against lefties compared to .253 against right-handers. Four of his 12 home runs thus far this year have come with a left-handed pitcher on the mound. The fact that he’s rebounded overall is encouraging, but it’s especially exciting that he’s managed to do it against lefties.
A large part of his success can be attributed to his plate discipline. He’s swinging at less pitches outside of the zone, and his overall swing rate is down five percent overall. His contact rate is down less than a percent, so that patience at the plate is absolutely paying off for him.
Rizzo’s rebound, in conjunction with a similar bounce back from Starlin Castro, has the Cubs appearing to be right back on track with this rebuild business. Together, the two represent the only real core pieces on this current Cubs team. Their success will be key, as the Cubs would certainly like to have them as established veterans, without such large concerns over their consistency, when it’s time for some of the younger impact prospects to make their way to the big leagues.