As a mainstay on the major league roster for the Chicago Cubs since 2012, first baseman Anthony Rizzo has become a franchise cornerstone over the years, belting out long home runs and making great plays at first. A consistent offensive threat for the Cubbies, Rizzo is what consistent looks like in terms of production at the plate.
Coming into 2019, Rizzo has had six seasons of 23+ home runs and 78+ RBIs, four of which have consisted of 25+ home runs and 100+ runs driven in. From 2015 to 2017, Rizzo had totals of 31, 32 and 32 home runs, coupled with RBI totals of 101, 109 and 109. Having two consecutive seasons of 32 long balls and 101 runs driven in is remarkably consistent and unheard of, an achievement in its own right.
Defensively, Rizzo has become a stalwart in picking low throws and gloving hot shots off the bat. While he is a big dude and can have slight issues with mobility on split-second decisions, Rizzo can easily be ranked within the top five first basemen in the National League and top 10 in the entire MLB.
With the Cubs looking to get over their disastrous end of a season in 2018, Rizzo will need to remain at the focal point of their attack if they want to win the division again and make it past the Wild Card round of the NL playoffs. Riding Rizzo is going to be key for this team, as Javier Baez is susceptible to high strikeout rates and Kris Bryant needs to get healthy before he can be counted on again for a high offensive output.
Here are three bold predictions for Rizzo during the 2019 season in the Windy City.
Career high in home runs, walks… and strikeouts
With that focus at the plate put on Rizzo comes more stress, something that can easily wear away at a player and make them feel uncomfortable. While it should not affect Rizzo to the point where he does not perform as his usual peak offensive levels, it will make him a bit less valuable than in recent years.
At this moment, Rizzo’s career high for home runs is 32, achieved three times in his career, 2014, 2016 and 2017. As consistent as he has been across his career, he can easily cross that threshold and set a new career-best in that category.
For walks, Rizzo has the appreciation of opposing pitching staffs, as he regularly earns 70+ walks every season, with his career high being 91 in 2017. Along with his high power numbers should come pitchers wanting nothing to do with him, but Rizzo has the patient eye at the plate that can put him over the century mark of 100 for walks in a season.
Unfortunately, not all things are good for the Cubs’ first baseman, and the jig stops here with strikeouts. To this point, his career-worst season in terms of punchouts is 2013, where across 160 games and 606 plate appearances, Rizzo had a woeful amount of strikeouts with 127.
He has had four seasons in which he has been over 100 punchouts, and 2019 should be that fifth season. While he will not eclipse his career mark by much, 131 punchouts, combined with 36 home runs and 102 walks sounds just about right for Rizzo this season.
Highest mark of games played in a season reached
160 games, a mark Rizzo has reached twice in his career, is his career-best in terms of how many games he has been in, in a season. In order for the team to get back to their divisional-winning ways, Rizzo will need to avoid the injury bug and become a dependable player who only gets an off day every once and a blue moon.
167 games, with 15 games off for rest or slight injury, seems like a fair amount for Rizzo to play in this season. He is one of the calming forces for a team that so desperately wants to get out of the national spotlight and just play baseball, and he will need to play a lot to help get the national pundits off their backs after what transpired in 2018.
Starts in the All-Star Game, finishes top-5 NL MVP after the first-half surge
Long overdue to get Rizzo back into the starting lineup for the NL in the mid-summer classic, the big first baseman will come out of the gate and out of spring training hot, leading the Cubs to a very successful opening half of the season. Along with that will come his fourth AS game appearance, his first since 2014, when he had three in a row.
His team’s performance, coupled with the number of difference-makers across the NL, have led to Rizzo not getting the usual coverage in the MVP race as he is used to, but fear not. 2019 should bring him back into MVP relevance, once again injecting his name into the conversation that was won by their divisional rival, the Milwaukee Brewers, with outfielder Christian Yelich.
Ever since Rizzo bounced around from the Boston Red Sox, then to the San Diego Padres and finally to the Cubs, he has had high expectations tied to his name. While 2019 should be more of the same for him and his productions and numbers, Rizzo will have a breakout season in a sense that he is becoming more of a well-rounded player, except for that rapidly-rising strikeout number.