Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is doing a startling Joey Votto impersonation, and it’s gone on long enough that I’m beginning to believe it’s more than just a small sample size fluke. Entering the 2014 season, Rizzo was a breakout candidate for many simply because of his prospect pedigree, his age, and his ability to clear the Wrigley ivy here and there. What he’s been doing, however, could not possibly have been even in the back of anyone’s mind prior to a few weeks ago.
Looking at Rizzo’s season, no one would be all that shocked by his early .495 slugging percentage or .200 isolated power mark–even though Rizzo struggled hitting the ball with authority in 2013, that end of his game has always been in the works. The big gain has been in Rizzo’s approach at the plate, a facet of his being that simply hasn’t ever appeared this advanced. It’s only 117 PA, but Rizzo has already drawn 19 walks and one intentional pass. Rizzo has actually enjoyed a month of this level of patience before (June of last season), but there are other factors that suggest maybe the change is a permanent thing.
This new Anthony Rizzo simply isn’t swinging at pitches outside the zone, and that’s a totally new development. Rizzo has only offered at 23.3% of pitches away from umpire yelling jurisdiction, a mark that sits nearly seven percent below where it was last year. His swing percentage in general has also decreased, and it looks like he’s simply waiting back and laying into only the pitches he knows he can. It’s an easier skill to talk about than to implement, but the results are there.
Line drive numbers can fluctuate, but the 26% mark Rizzo sits at currently is leaps and bounds ahead of his 2013 figure, and that’s not all. Rizzo is striking out less than ever before, his BABIP has increased largely thanks to hitting the ball harder when he deigns it appropriate to swing, and he’s even seeing a big batting average boost. Rather than wondering if Rizzo could be a 30-homer guy who offers little in the periphery, we may now be looking at a 24-year-old poised to become a version of Joey Votto that wasn’t born in Canada and probably doesn’t have mind powers.
Even Votto, now the paragon of patience, had to hone his craft a bit before breaking out at the level he eventually reached. While he didn’t endure the struggles Rizzo has, Votto didn’t show a whole lot of discipline in his first stint at the major league level in 2007, and his very good 2008 campaign only featured a merely solid 10% walk rate. Votto is obviously Rizzo’s superior, but even his comparably minor growing pains show that a refined approach is not always pre-assembled from the beginning.
Obviously it’s early, but Rizzo’s fast start appears to be more than just raw walk totals. It looks like he’s drastically altered how he deals with every pitch, and that’s exciting. If he truly has revamped his approach, Rizzo could vault into elite territory sooner rather than later. We would be totally cool with getting on the bandwagon before everyone else and perhaps even boasting loudly about it. You know what? We’re going a step further and taking credit for Rizzo’s success. We made Anthony Rizzo, and we can break him!