If you had to put your finger on a single reason why the Cubs were swept by the Mets in the NLCS this week (and more broadly, why they weren’t quite themselves throughout the playoffs), the best thing to which you could point would be the dreadful performances of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. The young sluggers who had been the engine of the team’s offense for most of the season batted .188/.257/.375 and .176/.243/.441, respectively, in 72 combined plate appearances. When your third and fourth hitters do that in eight playoff games, you should feel fortunate to come out of those games with a 4-4 record.

Bryant is of little concern. He’s still adjusting, still evolving into what he’ll eventually be as a big-league hitter. Change is happening at a dizzying pace, but, still, he had been playing quite well up until his playoff collapse. Starting with the game in which he hit a season-turning walk-off home run to beat the Rockies (July 27th), Bryant batted .309/.386/.549 over his final 264 regular-season plate appearances. He ran cold at the wrong time, but so it goes.

On the other hand, something went wacky for Anthony Rizzo sometime in early June, and it never got totally turned around. Early in the season, remember, Rizzo was seeing virtually nothing to hit. Pitchers were avoiding challenging him at all, and he was ruthlessly forcing them to come into the zone before he would attack anything.

Shortly after Memorial Day, though, that changed.

Anthony Rizzo, 2015









Thru 5/31








6/1 On








Now, only Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera should be expected to sustain anything like what Rizzo did over the first two months. (Maybe we can add Bryce Harper to that club, too.) Pitchers were bound to adjust to the remarkable things Rizzo was doing at the plate, and they did, by slowly starting to attack him in the zone (though very carefully). The goal was to get Rizzo swinging more, and perhaps swinging at pitcher’s pitches. That’s not a surprise. The surprise is, it worked.

Rizzo is a hitter with exceptional hand-eye coordination, and a terrific swing. He can make contact with almost any pitch; it’s remarkable. That special sort of talent can be a curse, though, because many guys who possess it fall in love with it, and end up swinging at pitches with which they can’t do very much. In some cases, they also end up changing their swing to seek that contact, instead of sticking with one that, though it might mean more whiffs, will deliver harder, more consistent, more damaging contact. That, too, happened to Rizzo, as the summer wore on.That 50-point drop in BABIP from the first two months to the final four was no fluke. It was Rizzo mis-hitting more balls, driving fewer. As nice as his plate-discipline numbers look even after June 1st, they represent a backward leap from what he did over the first two months. That doesn’t mean Rizzo can’t bounce back in 2016; he very well might. Like Bryant, he’s adjusting as he goes, and though all the adjustments he made throughout 2015 pushed him in the wrong direction, he still found a fair amount of success. For a guy with over 2,500 plate appearances in the majors under his belt already, his continued search for an approach into which he can settle comfortably for a full season is bizarre and a bit unsettling. The fact that he’s been an All-Star first baseman for two straight years while changing the way he goes about things so often, though, is very impressive.

One other thing: Rizzo needs to play less than he did in 2015. That’s not a knock of any sort, but it needs to be said. He played 160 games this year, despite being hit by 30 pitches, despite his second-half sag, despite the high-intensity (and often high-energy) way he plays. He’s a big, thick guy. He gladly throws himself around on the field, lunging over railings and climbing tarps for foul popups, stealing bases, catching inside fastballs with his triceps. He needs more days off, and the Cubs just weren’t able to give them to him this year. In 2016, Kris Bryant and/or Jorge Soler and/or Kyle Schwarber could get some training at first base, in the hopes of allowing Rizzo to get off the field more often.

As has been well documented, Rizzo worked out with Joey Votto in the offseason after Rizzo’s frustrating age-23 showing in 2013. Votto was a late bloomer, so the two can’t be perfectly equated in terms of career arc and aging curve. It was at age 26 that Votto broke out and won the NL MVP, though, and Rizzo just turned 26 near the end of August. It’s possible, yet, that he’ll grow into another Votto. If he wants to be that guy, though, and not just the 2016 version of peak Sean Casey, it’s going to mean recommitting to patience at the plate, and a willingness to take time off and stay fresh.

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It seems like his hitting coach was tinkering with his swing in order to get more contact, and it backfired. Late in the season, his fielding also suffered, which lends credence to your argument about fatigue.
Very good analysis of Rizzo and tiring. All we heard about Maddon was the way he was going to utilize players at various positions to give everyone some rest. I think Rizzo (and Bryant, to a little lesser extent) suffered late because of how much they played. Maddon probably needed till August to get the roster he wanted and trusted, but still wouldn't give these guys an occasional day off. Perhaps next season, Schwarber can spell Rizzo at first and Baez can give Bryant an occasional break at 3B. But their failures in the post season, along with Arrieta's tiring, is what doomed the Cubs.