If you would’ve told me Anthony Rizzo would be slashing .213/.315/.361 with one week left of May I would’ve called you crazy. These aren’t the types of numbers we expect from a starting first baseman in fantasy baseball. However, Rizzo has put together a solid May slashing .272/.365/.519 with five home runs and 23 RBI. His May stat line is similar to the numbers we expect from a player that was drafted in the second round of nearly every fantasy draft. I know there are owners like myself that select Rizzo as one of their keepers and the frustration still hasn’t left. This week, I want to take a look at the slow start of Anthony Rizzo and the glimpse of light that is starting to shine through in “That’s Amore!” Has Anthony Rizzo Finally Turned The Corner?
The picture to the right sums up how Rizzo’s season has been and how Rizzo owners have felt up to this point of the fantasy baseball season. He crowds the plate and a pitch is up and in or he gets pelted by a fastball. There have been numerous at-bats where he’s made solid contact and either he hits into the shift or a hard line drive finds a fielder’s glove. One of the anomalies has been the strikeouts in key situations. This is something we are not accustomed to as he’s only averaged 109 since the start of the 2013 season. Still, he’s only had a 15.4 K%. Since 2013, Rizzo has been consistent at the first base position slashing .272/.374/.501 with 30 home runs and 95 RBI.
Early into the season, we’ve seem some struggles when it comes to production. I’ve watched numerous at-bats in real time and on video. There was never any mechanical flaws with Rizzo. He was still the same batter that crowds the plate and looks to get his arms extended to drive the ball. Believe it or not, he’s one of the handful of players that has had his share of bad luck early on. It’s not as if he was going up to bat and striking out, but as I mentioned earlier there were a number of at-bats that saw him hint into shifts and times where he was getting to much air under the ball. When Rizzo has had success, it’s come from jumping on pitches early in at-bats. When ahead in the count, or at a 0-0 count, Rizzo has had tremendous success hitting .437 with four home runs and 12 RBI. I attribute much of this to be able to jump on, not only fastballs, but pitches in the strike zone. As with nearly all Cubs hitters, pitchers tend to get ahead in counts and shy away from giving them pitches in the strike zone. This has led to swinging at breaking balls or other pitches outside of the hitting zone. If you look at when Rizzo sees more than one pitch, and sees the count go to 1-2, or even 2-2, his batting average drops dearly .326 points. This is a drastic drop, and the product is nearly non-existent when Rizzo sees at-bats go into these counts. One of the adjustments I loved that manager Joe Maddon made when Rizzo was slumping during March/April, and early into May, was sending Rizzo to the leadoff spot. He was able to see better pitches early into the game and a pitcher is more than likely to start the game with a fastball down the middle of the plate. This helped Rizzo as he did hit a home run out of the leadoff spot.
One of the adjustments he made in May compared to March/April was hitting the ball the opposite way. We saw his Oppo% increase nearly 6% and this is directly correlated to Rizzo’s average jumping up nearly .134 points while seeing his on-base percentage increase .123 points. I preached this in my article two weeks ago when breaking down Paul Goldschmidt, but there’s nothing better than a slumping player to use the middle of the field as well as the opposite part of the field. I’ve watched numerous at-bats during the month of May and I’ve seen Rizzo make this adjustment and it’s helped him get base hits. If there’s one thing the Cubs need, it’s for Rizzo to hit the ball where the fielders are not. This will not only lead to runs being scored, but allowing the hitters behind him the chance to drive him in.
Looking at his batted ball statistics, there wasn’t much difference in his March-May Soft%, Med%, and Hard% compared to his career averages. Again, this leads me to believe that there was a string of bad luck associated to his at-bats. Even if there is a slight discrepancy in the Med% and Hard% it’s not enough for me to think he’s getting cheated during at-bats. One minute detail would be the 4.7 Hard% increase in May compared to his career average. This is also 6% higher than his Hard% in March/April. Rizzo is one of the few players that while the frustration grew through the early months, he was still making contact on pitches, keeping his strikeouts low (15.4%), and having success (.306) with runners in scoring position. During the month of May we’ve seen Rizzo produce and it’s been easy on the eyes seeing batted balls fall for base hits that would’ve been fielded by position players during March/April.
Still, there is a lot left to the baseball season and there are a few things I like to see Rizzo do during his at-bats. As I mentioned earlier, I love seeing Rizzo putting the ball in play early into the count. He’s absolutely crushed pitching within the first pitch or two hitting a combined .437. If he sees a fastball early on, and he can get to it, he needs to get a nice swing in and serve the ball into the outfield. I know there are plenty of critics about swinging at the first pitch, but evidence is there that Rizzo has been successful early into the count. Secondly, Rizzo needs to be a better two-strike hitter. A lot like Votto, who chokes up during the entire at-bat, Rizzo chokes up during two-strike at-bats. However, through the first three months of the season, Rizzo has only hit .073 when in a 1-2, 2-2, or 3-2 count with 0 HR, 6 RBI, and 20 strikeouts. He’s too good of a hitter, and history has shown that Rizzo is a better two-strike hitter than his .073 average has shown.
Believe me, Rizzo is showing signs of battling through his early season woes and May has been a successful season for the Cubs first baseman. If you’re looking for a key matchup for success, look no further than this series with Pittsburgh. Monday, the Cubs played at Pittsburgh and Rizzo had great success against righty Chad Kuhl taking him deep during his first at-bat. He finished the game 3-of-4 with a home run and 3 RBI. This gives him 13 RBI in his last 10 games. Through 15 at-bats prior, Rizzo has slashed .400/.471/.867 with a home run. If you’ve been patient, Rizzo is on track to turning his season around and, if you’re in the market, Rizzo can still be had for cheaper than his market value usually is at this point into the season. Keep calm, and ride high with Anthony Rizzo.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday May 27th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #122 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.