Say what you want about the Chicago Cubs' potentially bright future. The bar was set pretty low in 2014, and they've just about reached said bar, with a questionable offense and a bullpen that could be considered murky, at best. The only real solace that exists on the Major League club right now are the respective rebounds from Starlin Castro and Anthony RIzzo. While the picture currently being painted for Chicago isn't a pretty one, their hot starts are a reason for optimism on the North Side.
For the most part, the Cubs knew what they had in Starlin Castro. It was just a matter of him rebounding and returning to that 2011 form, as he has done thus far. The emergence of Anthony RIzzo, however, was something that was less expected, at least to this degree. We could be witnessing the emergence of a superstar first baseman on the North Side.
That upside was what the Cubs were hoping for, of course, when they acquired Rizzo from the San Diego Padres in exchange for Andrew Cashner. However, a rough 2013 season saw expectations for the 24-year-old get reeled back in. Rizzo slashed just .233/.323/.463/.742 last season, though he did post a respectable ISO of .186, so the ability to hit for extra bases was apparent. There's also the matter of his BABIP, which sat at a paltry .258.
While we're only a month into the young 2014 campaign, Anthony Rizzo has been a revelation for the Cubs. He's found some serious success early on, and a lot of it has come in unexpected places. Those "unexpected places" lie primarily in Rizzo's ability to hit left-handed pitching.
The numbers for Rizzo overall weren't great in 2013, but they were especially rough against lefties:
There are certainly some pretty dramatic splits present. His average and on-base percentage each have about a 60-70 point variation between facing lefties and righties, while the strikeout rate was obviously much higher against lefties. ISO is there to help illustrate the fact that he did hit for power pretty well, despite poor overall numbers on the season. But, again, the bulk of his power came against the right-handers. BABIP is in there simply to restate the fact that he wasn't as terrible as that batting average might indicate.
Rizzo's tendencies against lefties have changed over the course of an offseason. His swing rate against lefties was very high overall last year:
Which led to a whiff rate that looked like this:
In less than a year, though, we've seen a dramatic shift in what Anthony Rizzo is able to do against the southpaws. That has to do with a variety of factors. For one, he's demonstrating more patience at the plate against lefties. We're working with a smaller sample size through just over a month of the 2014 season, but the change is evident.
Again, smaller window we're working with, but that swing rate has dipped dramatically for the first month or so of the season. Which has helped his whiff rate morph into this:
That change lies in his patience at the plate against left-handed pitchers. He's swinging at seven percent less fastballs, 13 percent less sinkers, 11 percent less sliders, and two percent less curveballs. That increased patience has helped his whiff rate overall against lefties drop to the point where he's nearly cut it in half. Increased selectiveness at the plate has helped his numbers turnaround dramatically. The strikeout numbers are there, and his contact rate has dipped just slightly, but his patience at the plate is clearly paying off.
Again, we're working with a small sample size here, but these are his numbers to this point in the 2014 season:
These are the type of numbers Anthony Rizzo was expected to produce when he arrived on the North Side. In fact, these numbers actually may be a touch higher than what anyone could have predicted. He's demonstrated an increased ability to hit lefties and it's led to massive success early on. He's getting on base at an absurd rate and continues to flash the power. BABIP continues to be a bit of an issue, but only against righties. Any way you slice it, this new and improved Anthony Rizzo looks very good for the Chicago Cubs, and any questions that remain about whether or not they should have dealt Andrew Cashner to get him may dissipate completely.
Randy Holt is a contributor to Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.