I really couldn’t care less what walk-up music Anthony Rizzo chooses to employ as he approaches the plate. But whether it’s Marky Mark or Taylor Swift, the results have been the same and what used to be good vibrations are quickly turning into bad blood between the All-Star first baseman and his production. I’d even go so far as to say he’s put out a funky bunch of stats over the last month or so.
Since June 22nd, a span of 30 games, Anthony Rizzo has a grand total of 5 extra-base hits. Four of those were doubles and you know there’s not a triple to be seen, which means that we’ve only seen one dinger in that period. And before you go blaming this on the Home Run Derby, keep in mind that 19 of the games in this sample came prior to the All-Star break. But, Evan, Rizzo is more than just a home run hitter. You can’t just look at the power.
This is very true, which is why I’m not going to focus on the dearth of home runs. In fact, it’s not the lack of longballs that has me worried at all. Rather, it’s the .217.338/.283 slash with the .621 OPS and wRC+ of 78 that have got me filling my incontinence undergarments. Just because it’s fun to make incongruous comparisons to illustrate a point, Jon Herrera is hitting .286/.302/.429 (.731 OPS) with a wRC+ of 93 in that same time. He’s also got as many homers and only one less double.
In looking at Rizzo’s contact numbers, nothing really jumped out at first. In the month of July, he’s been hitting fewer line drives and more fly balls, but only 4-5% in either direction there. His walks are down a little and strikeouts are up, but only marginally so. Something that does stand out, however, is his batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which dropped from .310 in the games preceding our sample to .244 during it.
That’s an appreciable drop-off and a pretty strong indication that a good deal of bad luck has been at least partially at fault for Rizzo’s decreased production. Take last night for example, when his looping hit barely managed to avoid the outstretched glove of a diving Charlie Blackmon, and only after a somersault jarred it loose. The slumping slugger’s reaction was a testament to just how many of balls haven’t been falling for him lately.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) July 28, 2015
But just chalking it up to luck would be silly and irresponsible. After all, luck is largely what you make of the opportunities you’re given and Rizzo has not been doing a great job of taking advantage lately. To wit, he’s had a significant drop-off in hard-hit balls in July (24.6%) vs. the rest of the season (33.7%), along with a significant shift in where he’s hitting. For the season, Rizzo has a pull/center/oppo split of 39.9/38.9/21.2, but that has been 29/43/28 this month.
I’m not a scout and I don’t know that my eye is keen enough to detect any little changes, but something is happening that has impacted Rizzo’s impact just a skosh. I just mentioned how his hard-hit balls are down, but so is the soft contact, resulting in a sharp increase in medium contact (69.2% in July vs. 51.6% on the season). The harder a ball is struck, the more likely it is to drop for a hit, so this shift to the middle, both in contact rate and the field itself, dovetails nicely with the decreased BABIP.
The good news here is that we’ve seen enough from Rizzo to know that the last 30 days doesn’t provide an accurate picture of who he really is as a hitter. My fear, however, lies not so much with him, but with the team in general. Kyle Schwarber has been great, Kris Bryant appears to be squaring more pitches up, and Dexter Fowler has roared back to life in the second half. But without Rizzo’s bat coming back to life here pretty soon, it could all be for naught.
Writing like this is nice because I can sort of talk myself off the ledge to an extent, even if it feels like I’m just sort of rationalizing things away from time to time. But I really do worry that Rizzo’s depressed production here could really cost the team in the end. The Cubs feel to me like an episode of Pimp My Ride; they have a shiny exterior and some really cool features but without a fully-functioning engine, they’re still just a hoopty with a nice paint job. Rizzo is the engine that makes this team run and they will need him to be running smoothly again here very soon.
But how does he get the necessary tune-ups? Are they physical or mental? Based on what little I can see, it should take only a slight adjustment in his approach, both physcial and mental.
I don’t really believe that the music Rizzo walks up to is really going to help or hurt his production, but at this point I don’t think it can hurt to try something new. Of his recent choices, I’d definitely eschew the more current stuff for some 90’s hip-hop. Perhaps he could go with I’ve Got the Power to Snap! out of this funk.