Anthony Rizzo will be the National League's Most Valuable Player in 2015.
The above statement shouldn't be viewed as a shot in the dark or some crazy bold prediction. Sure, Rizzo probably won't garner any preseason votes from the experts, not when they can choose the Kershaws and McCutchens. But Rizzo is the real deal and has a legitimate shot at the award, for a plethora of reasons.
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When the Chicago Cubs traded for Rizzo in 2012, they thought they were getting an MVP-caliber first baseman, but his first full season in 2013 was a bit of a disappointment. His power numbers were there as expected, but he hit only .233 and created just three percent more runs than league average.
But that's all in the past. In 2014, he transformed into one of the game's most feared left-handed hitters.
Rizzo will never be among the league leaders in WAR. His defense, or lack thereof, will prevent that from happening. To me, that's not really a big deal; WAR puts too much stake in defense anyway. All of Rizzo's value comes from his bat, which is just fine by me. With that being said, however, Rizzo might hit around .300 next year but probably not much higher. That might turn some MVP voters off, despite the fact that the ability to generate runs is more useful than what a batting average says.
Here's why I think Rizzo will be crowned next year.
Rizzo is creating runs this year, something he didn't do much of in 2013. He's created 49 percent more runs than league average (149 wRC+), and has drastically upped his other power numbers in the process.
He has 31 home runs in 133 games this season, tied for second-most in the NL and ninth overall. He'd easily be a 40-homer guy if he hadn't spent a few weeks on the disabled list. In fact, I'd make the argument that he'd be the league leader in dingers if he had played the whole year. Rizzo is a Prince Fielder kind of first baseman -- he's going to play every single day if he's healthy enough. He's not the type to take a "mental health" day off. If he plays 150+ games in 2015, you should expect 40 or more home runs from him.
Rizzo is also more than a home-run threat. He ranks third in the NL in isolated power, which measures how good a player is at collecting extra-base hits.
Knack For Getting On Base
We all know how important it is to get on base. Well, Rizzo does it as well as anyone: Only six National League players have a higher OBP than Rizzo's .380 mark. If we want to take it a step further and view it more accurately by wOBA, only three hitters have better marks. He's hitting .303 on balls in play, which is a major boost from last year, but it's too early in his career to call it luck.
For a first baseman, Rizzo walks a ton (11.5 BB%) and doesn't strike out too often (18.9%). He does a fantastic job of working the count and waiting for his pitch. His swinging-strike percentage has dropped every year he's been in the league.
Protection In the Lineup
For the first time in Rizzo's career, he'll have strong, capable hitters protecting him in the lineup. He's had Starlin Castro batting behind him most of the season at the cleanup spot, but let's be honest, Castro is no cleanup hitter. I expect the Cubs to keep Rizzo in the three-hole, move Castro to the two spot and have Jorge Soler and Javier Baez bat in the four and five slots. This way, pitchers will be forced to give Rizzo something good to hit. And if the Cubs feel Kris Bryant is ready to make the jump to the bigs, then that just helps Rizzo even more.
Typically, a player can't win the MVP award if his team fails to make the playoffs, and the Cubs are still one or two years away from being in serious contention. However, the Cubs will be significantly better in 2015, and voters will just have to deal with the fact that sometimes an MVP isn't on a playoff team.
Not only do I believe Anthony Rizzo will win MVP in 2015, I think he'll win at least one more before he turns 30. He'll have to do battle with Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen every year, among others, but Rizzo has the skill and pop in his bat to beat them out.
The Cubs' future is extremely bright, and Rizzo will be the one leading the charge.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Justin Schultz is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @JSchu23.