As Anthony Rizzo Goes Deep, So Go the Cubs: A Look at the Impact of the Anti-Leon Durham

It goes without saying that getting production from guys in the heart of your order is an integral part of your team’s success. But as I watched the Cubs win four games in a row, largely on the strength of Anthony Rizzo’s rediscovered power stroke, I decided to look a bit more into the correlation between Rizzo’s bat and the Cubs’ results.

To that end, I checked back on the 18 games in which Rizzo has homered (two 2-HR games) and found that the Cubs are 14-4. That’s a winning percentage of .778, just slightly higher than their overall .544 and still well ahead of the MLB-leading Cardinals and their .635 winning percentage. In other words, Leon Durham he is not.

If Rizzo could somehow find a way to homer in every game, the Cubs would have 126 wins; that’s what we call “unrealistic statistical application.” For my next trick, I’m going to put wings on a frog see about preventing him from bumping his ass when he hops. I’ll keep you apprised of my findings.

I must admit that I’ve really not got a baseline against which to compare Rizzo’s results, though I did a little further research just to provide a little comparison. I wanted a guy who had hit nearly the same number of homers for a team that has had roughly the same overall success, which is why I settled on Brian Dozier. He has hit 22 home runs and his Twins have a .524 winning percentage.

In the 21 games in which Dozier has gone yard, the Twins are 16-5 (.714), which extrapolates to 116 wins. Not too shabby, but still not quite on par with Rizzo. This isn’t enough evidence upon which to base a firm conclusion, but it strengthens the idea that Anthony Rizzo’s power is perhaps more integral to his team’s success than that of other players to theirs.

Here’s another thought for you: in Rizzo’s little power outage that had lasted just a bit over a month, the Cubs were really struggling. From June 22nd through July 28th, a 32-game span during which the big first baseman hit only one home run, the Cubs went 15-17. If we add in the game on June 21st and the four from July 29th – August 1st, all of which featured Rizz-OH’s, the Cubs were 20-17.

If that doesn’t seem like a very big swing, consider that if we extrapolate those different totals over an entire season, it’s the difference between 10 games under and 13 games over .500. The Cubs have a great deal of talent and it’s looking lately as though they’re starting to warm up a bit, but Rizzo is clearly the engine that really makes this team go.

In 18 homerless games from June 7th – 28th, Rizzo only had a positive impact on the Cubs’ win probability 5 times (with a .11 on 7/18 representing his best effort) and posted a -0.56 overall impact. In the four ensuing games, however, Rizzo’s homer streak allowed him accumulate a WPA of 1.54 (with .15 on 7/29 and 7/31 representing his worst efforts and .75 on 7/30 his best).

And while I’m on the topic of WPA, I’d like to do a quick callback to the brief reference I made earlier to Bull Durham, a man renowned for his ability to hit homers in games that had already been decided. To further prove that Rizzo is no such supererogatory slugger, I submit the fact that his WPA in the 18 games in which he’s gone yard is 3.66* (.2033/game). In the remaining 85 games, however, it’s only 1.58 (.0186/game).

Not every blast is as important as that 3-run go-ahead shot in Milwaukee, but Rizzo doesn’t hit meaningless stat-padding shots too often. No, his blasts are quite often integral to his team’s success. Rizzo’s overall performance is much better when he’s hitting for power; 34 of his 108 hits (31.5%), 25 of his 57 runs scored (43.8%), and 39 of his 61 RBI’s (63.9%) have come during games in which he homers (a sample that accounts for only 17.5% of his games played).

It’s obvious in the grand scheme that the Cubs don’t need Rizzo to hit a home run in order for them to win an individual game, but it’s also obvious that his power makes them a much more formidable team and improves their chances of winning. That power needs to be wielded judiciously though, as the Cubs have lost both games in which Rizzo has hit two home runs. Baseball is weird.

But if the Cubs are to make something of this season and have a legitimate chance at the playoffs, they’re going to need Rizzo to continue passing out souvenirs to the folks in the bleachers. Is it too much to ask that he hit 70 more?


*FanGraphs considers a cumulative WPA of 3.0 for an entire season great.


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