It's early but it's not hard to see that so far, we haven't yet seen the Anthony Rizzo of 2012. We know Rizzo worked hard on his game this offseason. We know he's in shape. So what gives?
Rizzo is struggling to start the season. As of yesterday, he was hitting just .167 and has struck out 32% of the time. What may be more interesting is that he has struck out looking 10% of the time, up from just 3.8% last season.
Baseball is a game of adjustments. The so-called sophomore slump isn't about a jinx, but rather about the rest of the league catching up. Play enough and advanced scouts will build up a file and somewhere in that file, they'll find a weakness. Once they find that weakness, MLB pitchers are skilled enough in their execution that they will ruthlessly exploit it until you do something to counter them.
When Tom and I went to see the Cubs vs. the Giants and sat behind home plate, it seemed pretty obvious to me what the Giants were trying to do.
Here's a slow motion swing of Anthony Rizzo...
If you watch closely and compare to past videos/photo analysis we've posted on other swings (Vogelbach, Javier Baez, Soler, Candelario), you'll note that Rizzo's swing is longer, especially when you compare it to Candelario's, who has the shortest swing in that bunch. Here's a look at Candelario for sake of comparison...
You can see how he keeps his hands in and thus makes a shorter arc in his swing. On the other hand, Anthony Rizzo likes to extend his arms early, creating a longer arc -- in other words a longer swing. There's nothing inherently wrong with having a longer swing. It's an effective way to generate power and we do know that Rizzo has much more current power than Candelario.
It also makes Rizzo vulnerable. The thing you want to do as a pitcher to Anthony Rizzo (or any other player with a longer swing), is bust them inside and tie them up, don't let them extend early. It takes good command to do this, of course. Too far inside and Rizzo has the discipline to take the pitch and the pitcher takes the risk of falling behind in the count, something he obviously doesn't want to do against a hitter with Rizzo's power. If the pitcher misses and doesn't get it far enough inside, Rizzo is going to put it on Sheffield Avenue.
The thing is most MLB pitchers are good enough to walk this line. Sure, they will mistakes and Rizzo will get his HRs, but they won't miss as consistently as they would in AAA and Rizzo's overall production will suffer if he doesn't make the adjustment.
What I've seen happen this year is Rizzo trying to let that pitch go by and wait for a pitch where he can extend the way he likes. The problem has been that the pitchers have been hitting that inside corner and it's being called for strikes. That in turn has meant Rizzo falling behind in the count and getting himself into unfavorable conditions. It also helps explain why he has struck out looking so much more often in the early going.
The good news is that Rizzo already knows how to shorten up his swing. He did it last season at times and it's a matter of him doing that again this year. It may cost him some power in certain situations, but he can still make pitchers pay for trying to get the pitch in on his hands -- even if it's just fouling off the pitch consistently. That alone will force pitchers to throw more pitches and increase the probability that they will miss their spot. They may also abandon that strategy altogether and try to challenge him out and over the plate, which is what Rizzo wants anyway.
When all is said and done, I'm not worried about Rizzo right now. In my mind, it's a minor adjustment he has to make and one he had already taken big strides with last season. He just needs to be aware of what pitchers are trying to do to him and adjust accordingly. He can't wait for umpires to call that inside corner pitch a ball every time. It's just not going to happen. He has to shorten up in that situation and either put the ball in play or foul it off and wait for the pitcher to make a mistake.
When that happens it'll greatly minimize one of the weapons pitchers can use against Rizzo and he can return to being the dangerous all-around hitter we saw last season.
Filed under: Analysis