Anthony Rizzo’s Been Smokin’ Since 4/20

I wrote a couple weeks back that Anthony Rizzo’s “struggles” were due in large part to an unsustainably low BABIP and that things would soon even themselves out. At the time, he was batting only .163 and had a wRC+ of 92. There were, however, signs that a turnaround was imminent. A 16.1% walk rate and an OBP that was 176 points higher than his batting average proved that Rizzo’s approach was just fine.

And that batting average on balls in play? Only .139, less than half of his career average of .282. But the nervous whisperers cared little for peripheral stats as they lamented their slugging first baseman’s paltry one sixty-tree av’ridge even as his team cruised to the best record in baseball. Ah, but there’s nothing like a trip to Great American Ball Park to jumpstart a slugging lefty’s season.

Rizzo’s assault on opposing pitching actually began in St. Louis, when he went 2-for-4 with a homer and was a Randy Grichuk burglary away from 3-for-4 with two homers. All he’s done since I predicted a breakout is mash taters and silence haters with an abandon bordering on reckless.

In the 12-game stretch beginning April 20, Rizzo has slashed .362/.474/.894 (1.368 OPS) with 6 home runs and 16 RBI. That’s good for a wRC+ of 247(!), roughly 147 percent better than the average hitter. Oh, and his BABIP during that time? .314. Huh, weird that a positive regression to the mean would bring about better numbers.

For what it’s worth, Rizzo has also worked his WAR total up to 1.5 (tied with Kris Bryant for 11th in MLB), 1.1 of which have been accumulated in the last 14 days (tied with Bryant for 3rd).

Just like the abnormally low numbers to open the season, this current hot streak won’t last. Rizzo, like any ballplayer, is prone to fits and spurts here and there, so this is to be expected. With his season slash up to .260/.403/.635 and his wRC+ at 168, he’s already sitting at or above his career marks in every category. He’s also walking more and striking out less than ever before, and that includes his minor league numbers.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t follow up on the second half of my prediction from that same article, which was that Jason Heyward would bust out as well. Though it might not be immediately evident from his time on the bench with a sore wrist, Heyward has actually improved significantly in the same stretch.

Despite going 0 for his last 19, the J-Hey Kid is slashing .270/.386/.324 (99 wRC+) since 4/20. Nothing crazy, but he was at .170/.267/.208 (33 wRC+) in the 14 previous games. Looking at his struggles over the last handful of games in the more recent same, you have to wonder if maybe he was hiding how badly that wrist was bothering him for a while before Joe Maddon finally sat him.

Even with some inconsistency and bad luck hampering two of their stars, the Cubs boast MLB’s best offense and have now outscored their opponents by 93 runs on the season. Much of that has come from their ability to get on base and make the most of opportunities even when they’re not hitting. They walk more than any team in baseball (13.3 percent) and their 10.9 baserunning runs (BsR) are nearly as many as the next two teams (Padres – 6.4; Indians – 4.8) combined.

Len’s right on the money there. Rizzo and Heyward are also keystones of a defense that sits atop the rankings as well. Best scoring, best walking, best baserunning, best defending. Huh, it’s almost as if this Cubs team is, for lack of a better word, the best.

I’m going to turn back to the thoughts of the Cubs play-by-play man to close this thing out because he basically stole mine. This is one hell of a team, so let’s try to enjoy the ride.

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