Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is at the top of his game. He’s battled cancer, nagging injuries, and being traded three times.
The Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo doesn’t flip his bat or stand there admiring his home runs. He chokes up with two strikes, crowds the plate, and though he has led MLB in three seasons for HBP has to charge a mound yet, though there was that incident in Cincinnati a few years back.
Rizzo has also won three Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger, and has been to the All-star game three times. Of course, he was a crucial player in the 2016 World Series-winning season.
As a Cub, the soon-to-be 31-year-old Rizzo has slashed .277/.376/.496 with a .872 OPS, with 2019 being a career year at .293/.405/.520 and a .924 OPS. He’s averaged 29 HRs and 98 RBIs a season.
Defensively Rizzo ranks among the best first baseman in MLB, along with Freddie Freeman and Joey Votto. He ranks sixth among active first basemen in putouts and third in assists at first base. All of that would be solid enough, but Rizzo featured a new defense against the sacrifice bunt that some have tried to emulate.
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About the only thing dogging Anthony these last couple of seasons is early-season back issues. He’s been sidelined with back issues. As a Cubbies Crib colleague of mine quipped, “It wouldn’t be the start of a season without Rizzo having back issues.”
Some might argue that “old school” means playing through something like that, and Rizzo has played through all kinds of bumps and bruises. You don’t lead MLB in HBPs like he does without playing with more than a few aches and pains. But I wouldn’t wish back issues on my worst enemy, not even on Cardinals players. Well, ok, maybe on a couple of Cardinals players.
Despite the two Gold Gloves, these back issues could be affecting Rizzo’s defense more than his offense. In the last two seasons, his UZR-150 has been below his career average and below his 2016 and 2017 seasons.
It most likely explains the slimmer, leaner Rizzo we see this year. A nod to age, and the need to be more athletic at first base even if might mean a slight risk of a reduction in offensive production.
That is old school, too, refining and adjusting oneself to the physical realities of age and the demands of the game. I’m looking forward to the new Rizzo this year, and next, and if all goes well, for some years to come.