WARR baseball writer Kevin Luchansky writes about the Cubs and the White Sox weekly for WARR.com.
Check out Kevin’s daily baseball betting picks on NorthSideWire.
For a moment there, it looked like the Chicago Cubs were reversing their fortunes after taking five of six games from the Mets and Marlins last week, but the Cubs of old reared their ugly heads in a trip to Pittsburgh this week. Chicago managed to steal just one game from their division rivals in a four game set, a 7-3 victory on Tuesday night in which Travis Wood picked up the win despite Cubs pitching combining to allow 10 hits, but only three runs.
The Cubs are now sitting at 26-38 this season, 12.5 games back of the surprise success Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central (and still 4.5 games behind the fourth-place Cincinnati Reds). Many analysts predicted the St. Louis Cardinals to coast their way through the division and repeat as Central champs this year so the results thus far certainly come as a bit of a surprise.
Rather than beat a dead horse talking about Cubs pitching woes — save for Jeff Samardzija and maybe Jason Hammel — let’s put the spotlight on a slugger who has quite the resume of accomplishments over the past two weeks. First baseman Anthony Rizzo has been punishing the ball of late, making the most of his second full year starting in the Majors.
Player Showcase: Anthony Rizzo
Over the last 14 days, Rizzo has gone deep five times and has driven in 12 runs, bringing his home run total to 13, which is good for a tie at 15th place in the Majors. Rizzo’s success at the plate in June has raised his month average to .316 and his overall batting average to an even .260 — not too shabby for a guy with a lot of holes in his long swing.
But that’s not all. Rizzo has done a solid job of shaking the “power hitter only” narrative surrounding him this season and it has especially shown in the last two weeks. Aside from driving in 12 runs, Rizzo scored 11 runs while sporting a .429 on-base percentage and a monster .786 slugging percentage in the same time frame.
One thing I find surprising about Rizzo’s numbers are his preferences towards pitcher-handedness. Certainly that isn’t always the case, typically hitters like facing pitchers who throw with the arm opposite of the side of the plate that they hit from, this is not the case for the left-handed hitting Rizzo. In 2014, Rizzo has faired decent gainst right-handed pitchers with a .255 batting average, but he is lighting up left-handers at a .333 average in 76 plate appearances. Still, eight of Rizzo’s 13 home runs have come against right-handed pitching, but there is also quite the disparity in plate appearances with Rizzo having faced right-handed pitching nearly three times (198 plate appearances) as often as he has faced lefties.
A further look into Rizzo’s batting splits also reveals a huge disparity when it comes to his home and away numbers. Playing in the sandbox that is the Friendly Confines, I fully expected to see the majority of his deep balls coming during home games, but that is not the case. Just five of Rizzo’s home runs have come at Wrigley, but he is flashing a .327 batting average at home compared to eight home runs and a paltry .236 batting average on the road.
Another stat that seems to fit the narrative for a power-pull hitter is that 10 of his 13 home runs came to right field — all pull shots. But what Rizzo has done to dispel the opinion that he is purely a pull hitter is that his average to right field is much, much lower than that of his to center and left field. Rizzo is hitting only .296 on base hits to right field. The “only” in that last sentence is justified when you look at his numbers to left (.455) and center (.394). What is amazing about that is that the hits to each field are fairly even, the numbers tell a true story here.
So, basically, Rizzo is just daring you to play the shift against him and open up the left side of the field. He’s shown he can go there this season and hit balls on the outer half of the plate. Uh oh.