There were a couple of different schools of thought when Anthony Rizzo came off the field screaming “Respect Me” after his bloop hit gave the Cubs their 2-1 lead that led to their win in Game Three of the National League Division Series. Some questioned not the moment, but Rizzo’s reaction to a knock that likely should have been caught. Others praised the intensity, applauding his role as the emotional leader of the team and yet another key performance in a big spot. We’re here to focus on the latter.
The Chicago Cubs are obviously not a team short on talent, but Anthony Rizzo is an entity all his own.
Not only does he represent the emotional epicenter of this team, but from a performance standpoint, this is a player who has demonstrated remarkable consistency in each of the last four seasons. Every time the Cubs take the national stage in the postseason, as has been the case in each of the last three, is an opportunity for Rizzo to drive home those qualities that he possesses for the rest of the country to see.
Few players over the course of the last four seasons have represented the type of consistency that Anthony Rizzo has managed to bring to the equation for his club. One can make arguments for other players at the position (Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto) being a better performer or possessing a better skill set in certain regards, but there isn’t any denying the type of production seen below:
He’s quite obviously one of the position’s elite in virtually any sense. The only things holding back his WARP are his defensive metrics, which don’t always appear as favorable despite the eye test shining down quite nicely on one of the NL’s better defensive performers at the first base positions. He’s managed to cut down his strikeout rate and drive up the walk rate, becoming a more dangerous on-base presence in the process.
It’s the performance aspect especially that has drawn our attention during this postseason, particularly during key situations. Rizzo has come up big repeatedly, knocking in five of the team’s eight runs during the series. Games One and Three each featured game-winning knocks in situations with runners in scoring position. Even before Game Two’s bullpen meltdown, he had added a two-run homer to the box score that was the difference at the time.
This series is really a microcosm of what Rizzo has done all year in those situations. He hit .283 with runners in scoring position, which trailed only Jon Jay and Albert Almora Jr. on the team, but they also posted higher figures in about 60 fewer plate appearances in such situations. It’s a strong followup to a 2016 season in which he hit an absurd .341 in those situations. And say what you will about RBIs as a measure of player performance, leading the team by 34 seems pretty significant, as Rizzo finished with 109. Javier Baez came in second with 75.
But what makes Anthony Rizzo such a damn pleasure to watch is that intensity. The leadership factor is quite difficult to quantify, but with the Cubs struggling to get on the board with even a hit against the likes of Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer, Rizzo not only performed in those key moments, but he was visibly intense on the bases. What ensued was his teammates following suit. It’s what has elicited so much talk of reviving the captain’s ‘C’ and handing it to Rizzo. At this point, it seems entirely appropriate.
There’s no clear-cut argument that makes Anthony Rizzo the best first baseman in baseball. From a skill set perspective, he probably isn’t (word to Goldy). But there may not be a first baseman that is more essential to the success of his team than that of no. 44. Not only does he perform at an exceptionally high level, demonstrating immense consistency during each of the last four regular seasons and following it up with clutch postseason play, but he’s the emotional leader of a team at a time of year when intensity and energy begin to wane. I’m very much here for Anthony Rizzo screaming for respect, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a fan on the North Side that isn’t here for the same thing.
Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports