Whether you want to admit it or not, the Chicago Cubs have had flashes of better baseball this season. Success has graced the Cubs over two separate benchmarks: post all-star break and Anthony Rizzo.
His beginning as a Cubs player couldn’t have been scripted better. In his debut versus the New York Mets, Rizzo went 2-for-4 with the game-winning RBI. In fact, he had another game-winning RBI days later. The fans were hooked and remain entranced – you can always tell once the shirseys start popping up everywhere.
So far, so good for the kid who was drafted by Boston in 2007, made his major league debut with San Diego last season and was deemed savior for the Cubs before he even set foot in Wrigley Field. As unfair as it may be, these expectations – as astronomical as they are – are relatively commonplace now. Everyone seems to expect a swift change when X is added. “Well, you just wait until so and so get here and then we’ll have the right pieces.”
You can’t go ten minutes on overnight sports radio without hearing the same argument that “if only the Cubs had hired Sandberg and not this nobody…” Not to mention our expatriate saviors of the past: Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, Hee-Sop Choi and Alfonso Soriano.
Like with any good thing, patience is key. And once you have it, you need to wait again. It’s nonsense to expect overhauls of good right away. New pairs of shoes don’t come broken in for your foot. This is why when judging talent of young, new players it’s apt to wait for a certain number of starts, plate appearances, and games played etc.
Conveniently, Rizzo has reached the 100 at-bat plateau. Who are we to discern from this career milestone? Well, it’s important to keep in mind that Rizzo has been here before. Not here, as in a Cubs uniform, I’d have seen the shirseys. But he’s made a major league debut before. The whole point to the acquisition and subsequent beginning in Iowa was that Jed Hoyer felt he rushed him to the show in San Diego, leaving him ill prepared for______ (insert any number of major league baseball complications).
With the Padres, Rizzo appeared in 49 games with 153 plate appearances. Of those appearances, 128 were official at-bats. For whatever hole he may have had in his swing, he was able to walk a total 21 times. Of his 18 hits, 10 were for extra bases – eight doubles, a triple and a home run. Most alarming were the 46 strikeouts he had. In comparison (and because I’ll take any chance I can to point this out) Mark Grace never struck out more than 56 times in a season (1998) in 698 plate appearances.
If sabermetrics is your thing, try these for Rizzo’s time in San Diego:
-RAR (-3) [number of runs a player is better than a replacement player]
-RAA (-8) [compared to an average player in the league, this shows how many runs a player is better]
As for the time he’s seen with the Cubs so far, Rizzo has appeared in 29 games with 120 plate appearances. Official at bats are currently at 112 and Rizzo has already doubled his hits total with 36. 12 extra base hits (four doubles, eight home runs), an RBI total of 20 and an OPS of .938. His walks totals are down – currently at seven – but I’ll reason that to more confidence in his swing. Strikeouts have also been trimmed on average. With 16 at-bats before reaching his 2011 total, he’s been punched out 33 fewer times.
The inner fanboy wants me to proclaim these statistical uplifts from the rooftops, but I won’t because I’m afraid of heights. Once you catch your breath and look, you can’t help but feel good about the progress Rizzo has made in a year. Whether it’s the extra minor league at-bats or just a better feeling about his game, it’s there.
Yet, it’s early and we’re Cubs fans. So, the realist in me is saying, “Finish the season on a good note and start strong again next season…one game at a time.” Personally, I think Rizzo will turn out to be a fantastic player for the Cubs. His defense is solid, and he shows terrific awareness of game situations. While he still shows a tendency to have high strikeout capability (especially at pitches low and in), I’m anxious to see him lead a Cubs team that equals his potential.
Follow on Twitter @midway_brennan