What's wrong with Anthony Rizzo?

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…

JC Stance

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.

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    I hope he figures it out soon. For the Cubs sake and because I gambled and picked him up early in my fantasy league, in the hopes he'd be someone to build around (it's a keeper league).

  • In reply to brober34:

    I think he'll turn it around largely because he learned how to shorten up last season in certain situations. He doesn't do it all the time -- and I wouldn't want him to if it costs him too much power, but there are times where he'll have to pick his battles and live to hit a HR another day, or another AB.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    You can see what you are saying is true, because his front arm is nearly straight, or "barred" as we call it. This means his hands have to wrap around and in front in an arc to reach an inside pitch. The cure is not complex, though all old habits are hard to break. He needs to keep that front elbow bent more and his frame angles correct, thus creating a shorter linear path to the ball. It is also going to hurt him going the other way this year, which it seems he did well last year.

  • In reply to Quasimodo:

    I forgot to mention that both he and Jeimer are going after inside pitches, one higher, one lower, but notice Candelario's front elbow. His swing will be more linear, direct to the ball, as that elbow has allowed the hands to stay in. They are both exercising one necessity, and that is the hands have preceded the back elbow which you can see is at the pant line or hip. It is the one pitch location where the hands should be ahead of the elbow at that point. So that is good among both. Candelario is showing excellent bat lag (wrist load). John this was an excellent choice of examples.

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    Great article, John. People are really overreacting to Rizzo's struggles. If you watch closely you can see that he's missing some pitches he normally doesn't and ends up fouling them straight back.

    Another thing is instead of trying to drive that outside pitch the other way like he did last year he puts an emergency swing on it and fouls it off. You can also tell he's been frustrated with the strike zone these first two weeks(as we all have been) and it's getting to him.

    He'll be fine, he's still hitting for power and playing good D. An adjustment or two and time to implement that adjustment and he'll be back on track. One good week and it'll be forgotten

    Starlin started slow but has hit in 9 straight and got his avg up to .325 in just a week......Oh yeah I forgot, nobody cares when he's playing well. Sorry about that lol

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    In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Castro starting hitting well when he got more selective at bat. Against Romo the 1 st time he went fishing after two pitches way outside the zone. The next day late in the game Romo started him the same way, but he layed off them. He was quickly ahead in the count, saw a good pitch and he whacked the winning hit. Pretty simple really with Castro.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Driving pitches the opposite way is what's missing right now. It seems to me that he's trying to carry the whole offense on his shoulders, waiting for one out over the plate that he can pull. Last year he seemed more willing to fist one into LF if that's what it took to get on base.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Exactly. I intended this to be a positive article without painting Rizzo as being flawless or infallible. We know he's not.

    We also know that the game is a constant battle of adjustments. Rizzo is getting busted inside a bit and he'll have to prove he can handle that, in my opinion. I think there have been some strides made beneath the surface, both this year and last year and once he gets in sync again, we'll see the Rizzo we know and love.

  • Has the hitting coach noticed this?

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    I hope so. It was plain from where I was sitting the other day that the Giants pitchers (that day it was Lincecum) had a plan of attack.

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    One thing that I noticed in a number of Rizzo's at bats is he's going after the high heat. He's not catching up to it either. During the Giant series look how often he went after the high pitch. And like any good scouting department they worked him high through out the series. I think pitch selection could be a good start for Rizzo--- lay off the high heat!

  • In reply to John from Denmark:

    That's another way to exploit a guy when his swing is getting long. Just too hard to catch up to those high fastballs.

  • He'll get it figured out - and in the meantime he is still driving in runs, taking the odd BB, and playing a good defensive 1B.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I'll be shocked if he doesn't figure it out -- if he hasn't already.

  • I'm sad to say thst his problemis mst likely related to by whom he is employed. This is were careers end badly.

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    I think he'll be fine. He already knows what he needs to do but he's a little frustrated and out of rhythm right now. He just needs to slow things down again.

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    In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    Rizzo is hardly the first guy to struggle in his second season. ("Sophomore slump.") Many of them go on to have good careers. I know we're trained to expect the worst as Cubs fans, but it's a bit early on this one.

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    His struggles have nothing to do with where he's employed. If anything, his employers gave him extra time last summer to work on making the proper adjustments when he struggles like this. That statement makes no sense.

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    Nice analysis, though in his defense, Rizzo has also been somewhat unlucky. He's 5 for 27 on balls in play; with a normalized BABIP of .300, he would be batting .240 right now, now .179, and we may not be seeing this article. If he was Welington-Castillo lucky (.444 BABIP), he'd be hitting .326, and we'd be talking about what a great start he's having.

    Not to take anything away from the swing analysis, but this is the problem looking at small sample sizes like 46 ABs.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Thanks. Small sample sizes apply to statistical information but it's never too early to detect a potential flaw in an approach. I'm not advocating that he revamp his swing, it's fine. I would just like to seem him slow things down and apply the things he learned and used so well last season.

    This also isn't a case of him being unlucky, he's obviously scuffling a bit. That applies to that low BABIP as well. We can look at that number and assume it's bad luck, but have we really seen Rizzo hit the ball with authority consistently? Or is his low BABIP explainable at least in part because he just hasn't been hitting the ball well consistently?

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Very much agree. He has hit the ball weakly and squared up few.

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    In reply to Zonk:

    It's kind of unfair to assume a normalized BABIP when Rizzo is having this much trouble making solid contact. I honestly haven't been paying attention -- it's entirely possible he has been unlucky. But it's also possible the balls he's putting in play have no realistic chance of being hits. Using Fangraphs, his line drive percentage is down. (Small sample size warnings definitely apply to that.)

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    He hasn't really hit the ball that well, not consistently anyway and not the way he is capable, so I discarded BABIP early as a possible factor in his slow start.

    I once had a debate with a friend once on Aaron Miles of all people. Friend argued for his low BABIP with the Cubs. My counter was that it's hard to have a good BABIP when you are popping the ball up all the time ;)

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Mike, its quite simple. Rizzo is swinging at bad pitches-struck out twice on Sunday, for example, chasing a shoulder-high fastball and the 4th time up chasing a slider in at his feet. Like Lillibridge, its not a matter of Babip, its makling contac t period.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Thinking about it more, one thing that may be a factor as far as luck may be with the pitchers facing him. I'm amazed at how consistently they've been getting called strikes on the inner half without missing. That can't last, can it?

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    John I can tell you look at tape, look at Rizzo and the times he swings at letter high or higher pitches, during the Giant series. Maybe I'm wrong in that its not that much, but give me your assessment.

  • In reply to John from Denmark:

    I think that's a good observation. He has missed up high at times this season. It's another adjustment he'll have to make.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree, but would add that he is being busted inside and put away with the high heat. I mean, right now these are two holes in his swing and he has to at least take one away for a start. His swing just looked shorter consistently last year to me. So I question if it's the pitchers making adjustments from last year, OR he is trying to do to much and they are taking advantage; if that makes any sense.

  • Rizzo needs to stop looking at the outside pitch expecting a 'ball'. That's why he's struck out looking so much. He's being too patient (with bad umpires).

  • In reply to CubFan Paul:

    He's getting a lot of called strikes this year. That can be frustrating as well.

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    Good article John. Sometimes it helps to move off the plate or even closer.

  • In reply to Dale Miller:

    Thanks Dale!

  • I think Rizzo is fine. I think he is been (largely) pitched very well, it's been cold, and it's been a small sample size. No panic button here yet, not even close.

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    There's no panic here at all, just an observation of how pitchers are trying to approach him. Others have also made good observations as well. It's nothing he hasn't faced and overcome before, but pitchers are going to keep doing it until he proves he can beat it consistently. I think he will.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It was a pretty good analysis as always. You guys do good here. I'm sure a day will come soon when one or more of the writers here are singing the 7th inning stretch. I look forward to it (as atrocious as it may be). :) Keep up the excellent work.

  • John, I think not just his arms are long in that swing but also his stride. On that pitch he guessed right but that can lead to hitting pitches off balance which will lower the babip. If I were Rowson, I'd have him shorten the stride 1st and try taking the pitches back up the middle. A couple seeing eye singles and pretty soon you're whacking line drives to all fields. As you said, he'll be fine.

  • Excellent article. The headline had me worried, but the article is excellent.

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    Rizzo had a double off a lefty (Affeldt) on Sunday, taking a hanging curve ball and hooking it into the right field corner. His first AB against Holland (lefty) yesterday he had a 10 pitch AB that ended with a single but it was a smash line drive that he pulled to Moreland at first and if he doesn't get a glove on that ball it's another double. His AB against Kirkman last night in the 9th was another good AB (resulting in a 5 pitch walk) against the 3rd different lefty he has seen over the past 2 games. I too am a little concerned with strikeouts on the inside corner looking and the swinging at high heat but the last two games have been encouraging to me in the fact that the has had 3 really good AB's off of 3 different left handed pitchers. His approach in those three AB's give me hope to a quick turn around. I too think he will turn it around and he will do it soon, if the weather allows him and the rest of the team to play the next two days.

  • So basically in order to get out of his current funk, he needs to shorten his swing. Thus fore go some power, but hopefully make better contact resulting in higher BA. As a season rolls on contingent on how he is being pitched, he could alter his stroke. Interesting article. I hope I am understanding it.

  • He holds his hands very low and is not exactly quiet up there.

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    Still no Soler in the DCubs lineup. Hope he's there when they leave Clearwater tomorrow, but guess I gotta have faith in Theo to handle this correctly.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    He is serving a 5-game suspension. He's probably out because that isn't served yet.

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    In reply to Zonk:

    It's served. He was officially on the roster yesterday. This delay is coming from the Cubs. Not super encouraging.

  • Alcantara 1 for 1 with 3 walks and 4 stolen bases for Tennesee already. Oh and forgot to mention his fifth error of the season. That is a pretty full stat line

  • For one, he's in an abysmal lineup. Opposing pitchers can focus on him, and they can focus on hitting spots and not worry too much about missing them. They probably figure if they walk him, he's probably not going to score anyways.

    But the long swing is something to keep an eye on because it's why the Padres traded Rizzo for a relief pitcher. They are a cheap organization but not a stupid one.

    All that stated, I don't know if he'll ever be a superstar but he should at least be a solid starting player for a long time.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    I don't necessarily agree with your premise that the Padres traded Rizzo bc of his long swing. Maybe that had a bit to do with it, but they just got Alonso from the Reds as their future 1B, and was closer to being ML ready. Let's not forget that Cashner had some risk there as well. The guy has been pretty injury prone so far.

    I think it was a case where both teams filled needs while taking a small risk on some high end talent with the Cubs getting the better end of the deal. They traded a reliever that happens to hit triple digits, which is tough to find. Meanwhile the Cubs got a potential cornerstone 1B for the next decade or so that bats lefty, has serious power potential and plays gold glove defense.

    Rizzo has shown a penchant to adjust accordingly so far in his young career, so I see him turning this thing around sooner or later. Color me not concerned.

  • John,

    You've got a scout's eye. This is tremendous analysis.

  • A couple of other 1st basemen that had a long swing which limited their upside were Hee Sop Choi and Leon Durham. Choi had more problems hitting major league pitching well and Durham had the drug problem later in life, but Leon's OPS+ consistently declined following his first year as a full-time player at 24 year of age. By age 30, when he should have been peaking his offensive numbers, he was falling off the cliff and was pretty much gone by the next year. I especially remember how his production was so much better in the first half of '84 and noticeably declined thereafter, when the Cubs could have really used it. That ground ball between his legs in October wasn't the only manifestation of his slow decline that started at the halfway point of the '84 season. His career basically started going downward as he reached 27 years, just at the time when he should have been hitting his stride.

    Adjust or die.

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