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Cubs Hitting Struggles: Anthony Rizzo

After the struggles of the Cubs bats in 2020, I wanted to look into each player's individual performance. Can they bounce back? What caused the poor performance? Today, it's Anthony Rizzo.

He's been a very consistent hitter, being good for a .900 OPS year in and year out. He'll hit for a decent average, walk a ton, have decent power, and be a consistent 120-ish RC+. During 2020's shortened campaign, Rizzo struggled mightily, putting up some of the worst numbers since his cup of coffee with the Padres in 2011.

With Rizzo's consistency it was very surprising to see Rizzo's walks were down, and his strikeouts were up, at least, year over year. His strikeout percentage was his highest since 2016. The walk rate was basically 4th best in his 10 years. Small differences. The biggest change I see is Rizzo's lowest ISO since 2014, and significantly so. His power was missing.

Looking at some of his metrics, Rizzo had an odd 2020. Rizzo's exit velocity was down. Lowest in 6 years, and dropping 1 MPH per year the last 2 years overall. At the same time, his launch angle did increase to it's highest in several years. Rizzo's barrels percentage was also up. Overall hard hit percentage was down.

In a few ways, Rizzo's power should be up: Barrels, Launch angle

In other ways, it should be down: Exit Velocity, Hard hit Percentage

Let's dig deeper

From '19 to '20, Rizzo's soft hit % and hard hit% both dropped slightly, and his med hit% increased with that difference. His HR/FB dropped, but was still one of the higher numbers for his career. On top of that, his fly ball rate was up by nearly 6%, while ground balls were down by 5%. In theory, that should mean more home runs and more power, right?

Rizzo was pulling the ball more year over year, but his pull% was within 2% of his other good seasons. So maybe that's an aberration. In terms of results, I'm not seeing much to sort out the drop in Rizzo's power. If anything, maybe a slight increase in power. Let's look at Rizzo's swing tendencies:

Rizzo's O swing % was within his normal range. His contact rate was the lowest in three years, but still above his career average. Rizzo's Z-swing was way down, nearly 10% from his career average. At nearly 57%, Rizzo's next lowest Z swing was 62%. Normally, I wouldn't think that swinging at less pitches out of the strike zone would be a bad thing, but it seems to be the biggest change.

Maybe this statistic is independent of Rizzo's declining performance in 2020. Maybe Rizzo hit more pitches out of the strike zone for extra bases. It's unlikely, but Rizzo is an unorthodox hitter. Between his close proximity to the plate, low strikeout numbers and two strike approach, Rizzo is anything but normal.

Overall, I'm tempted to call Rizzo's rough 2020 bad luck. His overall slugging was down, but I'm not sure I see how the metrics back it up. It was a weird disjointed year. As a team, the Cubs hitting struggled. Rizzo might have been extremely consistent before, which makes his extreme struggles very shocking. But the good news is, that there isn't much to indicate that he can't bounce back.


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