Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo is the National League MVP
By Jake Misener
After leading the Chicago Cubs back to the postseason, is is out of the question that first baseman Anthony Rizzo could take home the NL MVP honors?
The North Side of Chicago hasn’t seen one of its own receive National League Most Valuable Player honors since way back in 1998, when Sammy Sosa edged the Cardinals’ Mark McGwire for the award after his historic 66-home run campaign.
But with the team on the cusp of eclipsing 90 wins for – just the second time since that aforementioned ’98 season, you have to take a look at the work put in by the face of the franchise in Rizzo, who has emerged as one of the most dangerous hitters in the game today.
Rizzo, considered the clubhouse leader at just 26 years of age, is nearing a career-high in home runs -€“ sitting just two shy of his 32 bombs from a year ago -€“ and has already set a new personal best, knocking in 95 runs on the season, which trails only third baseman Kris Bryant for the team lead.
Now, while this is a no-doubt feel-good story given the fact that Rizzo overcame cancer, reunited with Theo Epstein – the same man who drafted him with Boston – and is in the midst of his first winning big-league campaign, there’s one problem with considering the Cubs first baseman as a front-runner for the National League honors:
Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals.
Harper, still only 22, is putting the finishing touches on a historic campaign in which he’s batting a staggering .339/.470/.663 – not to mention 41 long-balls, 117 runs, 37 doubles and a league-leading OPS+ of 203.
So how did he take such a huge step forward this season? It’s simple. He became more selective at the dish, appearing more content to draw walks than in years’ past – evidenced by his 123 walks to 127 strikeouts and league-leading OBP.
Just how much better has Harper been at reaching base than the other elite hitters in the game? The next-best hitters in terms of on-base percentage is former Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, and he clocks in roughly 30 points behind the Nationals’ outfielder.
Without Rizzo, the Cubs don’t win 90 games. They don’t make the postseason. I’d call that a most valuable player.
When you look at these numbers and the overall dominance Harper has exerted this year, it seems almost foolhardy to even consider the lovable Chicago first baseman for the league’s top honors.
Rizzo enters the finale against Pittsburgh Sunday night with a respectable .280/.389/.516 slash-line in 153 games to go along with his 95 RBI, a career-high 17 stolen bases and a league-leading 29 hit-by-pitches.
In other words, he trails Harper in home runs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, WAR, OPS+, total bases and doubles. Not an impressive set of statistics upon which to build one’s claim to an MVP award.
But there’s one major facet of the game that isn’t included in those numbers: a team’s win-loss record.
While Harper has undoubtedly had the more impressive season, Rizzo has, in my mind, been more valuable to the Chicago Cubs. The team is sitting at 89 wins – tied for the third-best winning percentage in the game with the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays â€“ and its due largely in-part to the work Rizzo has turned in this season.
This season, Rizzo finally got some protection in the Cubs lineup. He’s often been slotted next to breakout rookie Kris Bryant in the order and pitching staffs have to now pick their poison rather than simply pitch around Rizzo as in years’ past.
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Although he’s had some rough patches this season, it has been Rizzo who has again and again stepped up when the pressure is on.
In 131 “high-leverage” plate appearances this year, the left-handed slugger is batting an unthinkable .408/.519/.755. Harper, meanwhile has shied away from the pressure at-bats, struggling to a .246/.415/.441 mark, while the Nationals fell flat on their face in the National League East down the stretch.
The most valuable player should be just that: the piece to the puzzle that, without, their respective team would not have been successful.
While Bryce Harper made history with his personal accomplishments this season, Anthony Rizzo led the Chicago Cubs to a postseason berth and their second 90-win season in the last 17 years.
I’d call that pretty valuable.