Anthony Rizzo: the next Ryan Howard or something more?


Ever since Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard‘s Rookie of the Year breakout season in 2005, the first baseman’s game has drastically changed – especially in the last few years. From winning a National League MVP Award to becoming a strikeout machine, Howard’s career will surely go down as one of the most controversial in recent memory.

As surprising as it may be, Howard and the Chicago Cubs’ young slugger Anthony Rizzo have more in common than the fact they both bat left-handed. Similarly to Howard, at age 25, Rizzo has proven himself to be an up-and-coming young star, who has already shown flashes of immense potential – even with a relatively weak supporting cast around him in the lineup.

After being acquired in a trade with the San Diego Padres that sent now-ace Andrew Cashner to the West Coast, Rizzo broke out in a big way in Chicago in 2012, appearing in 87 games and batting .285/.342/.463 with 15 home runs and 48 RBI. This was a tremendous improvement from his debut season of 2011 with the Padres, when he hit just one home run, limping to a .141/.281/.242 line in 49 contests.

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After a less-than-stellar 2013 season, in which Rizzo was regularly held out of the Cubs’ lineup against lefties due to his struggles, he put it all together in 2014, blossoming into a key piece of the team’s lineup, thanks to offseason adjustments that actually saw the young slugger hit southpaws better than right-handers – a complete 180 from the season prior.

As is the case with increased power output, strikeouts unfortunately follow. But for Rizzo, his home run totals have paved the way for his success. This past season, the 25-year-old hit an impressive .286, drove 32 balls into the stands and finished with 78 RBI – despite missing almost a month with a lower back injury late in the season. He finished second in the National League in home runs, trailing only Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who also missed time due to injury.

In addition to showcasing his power that has been known since he was a prospect, Rizzo also drew 73 walks – just five shy of his career-high of 78 that came last season, despite appearing in 20 fewer games. As a supporting cast of young prospects, including Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and the organization’s top talent Kris Bryant, makes its way to Chicago, the output he could have only grows.

Flash back almost a decade, and Howard was still a young up-and-comer with the Phillies, appearing in 88 games en route to the National League Rookie of the Year Award. That season, he hit 22 long-balls with a .288 clip and a .567 slugging percentage. A key difference in the young Howard and present-day Howard is the fact that he struck out 100 times. In his last three full seasons, the slugger has struck out 190, 172 and 157 times. Following his Rookie of the Year campaign, he averaged almost 200 punch outs a year – which has since been established as his most glaring offensive shortcoming.

With trade questions and two more years of a $25 million salary on the books, as well as a team option for 2017, Howard’s legacy has faded in the City of Brotherly Love of late. The only question for Cubs fans moving forward is whether or not Rizzo will follow in his footsteps or produce well into his thirties, leading the club to postseason glory.