The 2018 season has been a struggle so far for Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Even when he has had good swings, the results have not often worked in his favor, causing some misleading stats.
There is likely nobody more frustrated than Anthony Rizzo so far this season. In his first 35 games he is slashing .203/.297/.357 with six home runs. Rizzo is traditionally an on-base machine, averaging a .386 OBP over the past four seasons. He is also known for slow starts the first few weeks, but it is late-May.
What is the deal?
In times of frustration, Rizzo has been seemingly a bit more aggressive at the plate attacking first pitches, many times resulting in popups or grounders. However some numbers suggest Rizzo is overall hitting the ball better than the line appears, and is simply having some terrible luck. Data taken from FanGraphs can back this up.
Data of balls put in play and his plate appearances.
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The most important stat to first note is his .198 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) in his first 165 plate appearances. Coming into 5/22, only five other players entered the day with a lower BABIP. That right there says that the balls put in play by Rizzo are resulting in outs at a very high rate. The median BABIP currently (bases on data of all hitters) is around .305.
BABIP may not tell the whole story, what is his contact like and how are his plate appearances? Well, his strikeout rate is 13.9 percent which is around what he had last year (13.0 percent) and his walk rate is 7.3 percent. The last three seasons he has averaged roughly a 12 percent walk rate. This is just under the current median of all big league hitters. He is not walking as much, but he is not striking out a lot, either.
Not finding the holes on the diamond
In terms of balls being put in play, he is hitting line drives at a 21.5 percent rate with 36.9 percent hard contact. The line drive rate is right around his career mark (20.9 percent), with the hard contact slightly higher than his career rate of 33.3 percent. He is going oppo 18.9 percent of the time while pulling 46.7 percent.
The pull is a bit higher than his career average (43.6 percent), which has seen a number of hard-hit balls result in outs via the shift. In terms of elevation, he is hitting slightly less groundballs (34.7 percent) and more flyballs (43.8 percent), but the difference is not unbelievably significant. Nor are most of these batted ball stats.
Why we should not worry and everything will come around for him.
Some of the data can be taken as you will. Sample sizes compared to full seasons sometimes skew things. However the data can also show that Rizzo is still for the most part playing normally, just not getting results. A .198 BABIP is an early indicator of that.
The walks will come; he has been too consistent over the years to see those go away for an entire season. It is a matter of more smoked line drives finding grass. Over a 162 game season, it will happen. These things tend to even out over time. Key for Anthony Rizzo is just for him to do what he does and everything should fall into place.
One last thing to note is his career BABIP numbers. In his career, he carries a .296 BABIP. He has never had a super-high BABIP, but he is good enough to keep putting the ball in play resulting in solid averages and a very good OBP. Plus his 30-homer power (BABIP does not account for homers) is something he is still on-pace for.