With the success that the Chicago Cubs have had in the last four seasons, it is sometimes easy to forget the brutal rebuilding years between 2012-2014. But with the Cubs trying to close out their third straight divisional title, it is important to remember how foundational Anthony Rizzo has been to the new Cubs era.
Acquired from the San Diego Padres shortly after New Year’s Day in 2012, Rizzo made his Cubs debut in late June of that same year after a two-month stint in Triple-A Iowa. Since then, the 29-year-old first baseman has proved why he has been the cornerstone of the franchise in this decade.
Rizzo has topped 20 homers in each of his last six seasons, including a three-year stretch from 2015-2017 where he slugged 30 round-trippers and drove in over 100 runs each year. Hardly a one-dimensional player, Rizzo has established himself as an elite defender, winning a Platinum Glove Award in 2016.
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And yet, the three-time All-Star seems to fly under the radar. Rizzo is the only player leftover from Theo Epstein’s rebuild, but he sometimes seems to take a back seat to fellow Cubs stars like Kris Bryant and Javier Baez. After all, Bryant’s “Express” worthy looks and Baez’s reputation as arguably the most exciting player in baseball make them massive faces in one of the largest markets in the league.
Aside from the star power possessed solely by the Cubs, the National League is loaded at the first base position. Guys like Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto and Freddie Freeman have been among the best players in the big leagues for years now. And with Jesus Aguilar in the midst of a career year for the Milwaukee Brewers, the depth is rather absurd. With such excellence around him, it might be easy to forget that Rizzo has certainly established himself as one of the best in the majors.
Perhaps Rizzo’s slow starts have set him back in terms of recognition. Rizzo hit just .194 in May of 2017. This season, Rizzo struggled to battle through early-season injuries and was hitting just .195 for the year in mid-May. But despite the starts, the end results have been the same.
Rizzo bounced back to finish 2017 with a career-high .392 OBP to go along with 32 homers and 109 RBIs, which also tied career highs. This year, Rizzo is hitting .340 since the All-Star break, with 10 homers and a 1.038 OPS before play began on Sunday afternoon. He is even hitting home runs from his knees.
But despite asserting himself as a model of consistent production–Rizzo is primed for a fourth straight season with 30 homers and 100 RBIs–his star seems to fall victim to other storylines. Whether that is an MVP-caliber season from Baez, the fallout from the Yu Darvish signing or past Cubs headlines (such as Kris Bryant’s MVP season in 2016 or Jason Heyward‘s big contract and underwhelming performance in the same year), Rizzo never quite seems to get his due.
This simply should not be the case. While many fans in Chicago likely recognize Rizzo’s performance and popularity, his entire legacy as a Cub already stacks up well against some of the legends in franchise history.
With the Cubs’ young core continuing to grow and excel in their stardom, however, it is likely that Rizzo will continue to be one of the most underappreciated stars that Chicago has ever seen.