This is the last of our position player previews and we're going with the position that is quite possibly the most set in stone for the next couple of years -- first base. Unfortunately that is not to say there aren't question marks.
Anthony Rizzo really struggled in a number of areas last year. He showed a steady decline from month to month, starting off hot with a 130 RC+, dropping to 119 in May, then down to 102, 96, and finally 81 and 82 by August and September. It was a steady downward spiral to say the least.
Rizzo also struggled vs. LHP, against whom he was a well-below average hitter (,282 wOBA, 72 RC+) in 2013.
Yet, there is some optimism. With Rizzo there was a combination of bad luck, good scouting from opposing teams, and falling into some bad habits. The BABIP was a very low .258, something we can expect to improve, but as always it's not strictly about luck. We saw a drop in his line drive rate, from 24.4% in 2012 to 19.6% in 2013. And Matt Trueblood wrote an excellent piece over at Bleacher Nation on Rizzo's unsustainably low BABIP on groundballs. It was .172, among the lowest in baseball. It's noted in the piece that some of that goes with the territory as a slow-footed power hitter. He has some good company in that respect. Combine his lack of foot speed with the difficulties of trying to beat a defensive shift to his pull side and you can understand why he'd make a ton of outs in that fashion. The amorphous blog of green on the right side of the infield in the chart below show illustrates that.
The good news is that this kind of poor BABIP on groundballs is not normally sustained long term. And some of it is within Rizzo's control. One thing Rizzo still needs to work on is not rolling his wrists over, a habit he fell into at times that exacerbates the groundball issue.
Overall, there is reason to believe Rizzo can improve on those BABIP numbers which will have a residual effect on his overall numbers. Most projection systems see a bounce back season from Rizzo, although how much varies
- Steamer is projecting a major bounce back for Rizzo at .268/.350/.501 with 31 HRs and a well above average .367 wOBA and 131 RC+. He rates as a 3.6 WAR player despite a projection for well below average defense.
- ZiPS and PECOTA are a little more modest in their offensive expectations. ZiPS sees Rizzo at .255/.336/.464 (27 HRs) with a .343 wOBA while PECOTA has a sightly better .258/.332/.472 line.
It was a trying year for Rizzo but there is optimism here that Rizzo can at least supply LH power, a solid OBP, and good defense over at 1B. It's pretty much what we should expect from Rizzo for his entire career and while it may not make him a superstar, he should at least be an above average starter on a good team.
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