Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Anthony Rizzo's interesting rebound season (so far)

Cubs first baseman and franchise cornerstone Anthony Rizzo is enjoying a resurgent season, and it's interesting how he's doing it.

Last year, Rizzo disappointed with a .233/.323/.419 batting line. Not what you want from your first baseman, even if it does come with a good defensive reputation. The two main culprits for the diminished output seemed to be at paltry .258 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), and an even more anemic .189/.282/.342 result against left-handers.

It always seemed like the BABIP would come back up a little since Rizzo has hit for good averages in the minors. While he isn't difficult to strike out, he also doesn't have severe issues making contact. And sure enough, Rizzo's BABIP is .299 to start the week, helping lift him to a .283/.399/.488 line so far this season.

The more interesting thing to me is that this year, Rizzo is batting .317/.408/.561 against left-handers, better than the .267/.394/.453 he's posting against right-handed pitchers -- basically the reverse of the results from the rest of his career. His BABIP is .357 against southpaws, while it's only .275 against righties.

Rizzo is only 153 plate appearances into the season, so instead of instructing us that he's figured out how to hit left-handers, the better assumption is that batting-average driven numbers are more likely to regress to something closer to what he's done in the past.

If Rizzo ultimately settles in with an overall BABIP around .290 this will still end up being a pretty solid comeback season for him, even if he doesn't finish it with an OPS around .900 that he's been dancing around most of the year so far.

To do that, he's going to have to keep up his power output, which faded on him when the weather got warmer last year, and show that his better contact against left-handers is for real.

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