Anthony Rizzo Jumped the Game Plan

It would’ve been the thrill of his life to play in his first-ever World Series game, but I don’t think Anthony Rizzo’s going to be telling many stories. Though just being there is an achievement in and of itself, Rizzo finished the game 0-for-4, and he popped up against Corey Kluber three consecutive times. Rizzo is a fly-ball hitter, but he’s not a pop-up hitter. Kluber made him uncomfortable. He made the lot of them uncomfortable. The Cubs were defeated, and I’m sure Rizzo doesn’t want to talk much about it.

But don’t confuse a lack of discussion for a lack of remembrance. Rizzo might not have been successful on Tuesday, but he did pick up on a tell. And he brought that information with him into Game 2, a somewhat sloppy affair the Cubs took 5-1. Rizzo, in the first inning, doubled home Kris Bryant while facing Trevor Bauer. By WPA, it was the most important play of the game, and even just in the moment, it got the Cubs on the World Series scoreboard. Rizzo’s two-strike double was a big one, and had it not been for the night before, it very well might not have happened.

Flash back to Tuesday. Against Kluber, Rizzo hit three straight pop-ups. How’d Kluber manage that? Maybe you’ll pick up on a pattern. Here’s the first one:

Kluber’s pitch of the evening was the front-door two-seamer. That’s what generated the first pop. Here’s the second one:

Now you’ve probably gotten out ahead of me, but, whatever. Here’s the third one:

Rizzo popped up three times against Kluber. All three times, he popped up against a two-seam fastball around the inner edge. Kluber had that pitch dancing, and, oh, by the way, Trevor Bauer apparently learned his own two-seam fastball from Corey Kluber. Bauer was the Game 2 assignment, and Rizzo went to work against him quickly. Their first-inning showdown lasted seven pitches, and now here’s the fourth of them:

What do you know — a pop-up, foul, against that front-door two-seamer. Rizzo must have had an idea. He must have had an idea even before the game started. The Indians were likely to make Rizzo prove he could beat that pitch. Getting back to the at-bat, Rizzo fouled off the fifth pitch. The sixth was no good. That set up a 2-and-2 count. And that set up the run-scoring double.

The pitch: an inside, two-seam fastball. The pitch itself was executed pretty well, but Rizzo still lined it into the corner. Bryant came all the way around, aided in part by Lonnie Chisenhall. The Indians wanted to make Rizzo hit the fastball inside. Rizzo almost immediately pulled it off, and it didn’t just happen. Here’s a boring story: Good Hitter Makes Adjustment. But, wait, why is that boring? Anthony Rizzo made an adjustment on the fly! He did it in the World Series! He did it and guessed properly what Trevor Bauer was going to throw!

It’s actually pretty difficult to analyze swings from ordinary television feeds. The angles are all wrong and we don’t see enough frames per second. So I can’t walk through this quite like I’d like to. But something I’ve mentioned before is that I like to examine a player’s follow-through, because a follow-through can indicate what’s already taken place. You’re with me? Here is Rizzo after the first pop-up. I want you to look at his hands.

rizzo1

Rizzo finished pretty high. But, hey, this wasn’t a two-strike swing. The others were two-strike swings, and Rizzo chokes up. So let’s look at those. Here is Rizzo after the second pop-up.

rizzo2

He looks almost identical. As he should; Rizzo’s swing is Rizzo’s swing, right? Here he is after the third pop-up.

rizzo3

I bet you’re getting bored. It gets worse! Here’s Rizzo now after that fourth pitch from Bauer, the one he popped foul.

rizzo4

I promise the setup is worth it, I think. What about the double? Here’s Rizzo in the process of hitting the double.

rizzo5

The hands. Look at the hands! The background offers some good reference points. You see the padded green bar, over the advertisement? In the earlier swings, Rizzo’s hands were overlapping the bar. In the last swing, they’re clearly lower. After Rizzo slugged the ball that would go for a double, he finished his swing lower than he usually does. He finished his swing lower than he had finished a swing three pitches before. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of what I mean.

rizzocombined

After the fourth pitch of the at-bat, Rizzo’s hands wound up above the E in T-MobileONE. After the seventh pitch, you see Rizzo’s hands in the middle of the upper half of the E. The change in the follow-through means there was a change in the swing, and the follow-through basically tells you what it was. Rizzo generally swings with a pretty good uppercut. He finishes high, as part of his plan to get the pitch elevated. But he wasn’t having any success applying that swing to the inside two-seamer. He kept getting underneath it, so he decided to level his swing out. Instead of his arms taking his hands almost above his head, Rizzo’s arms just brought his hands around his chest. He made himself flatter through the baseball, and he wound up with a ringing line drive. The Indians didn’t think Rizzo would be able to get to that pitch. Rizzo responded, and he did so in a matter of seconds.

It’s just our luck that Fox had slow-motion replays of both those swings against Bauer. So here they are, with the foul pop first:

And the double:

Even here, nothing is obvious; if I showed this to my mother, she’d probably say they look like almost the same thing. And they *are* almost the same thing! But for the subtle differences. In the successful swing, Rizzo finished lower. He had his shoulders more level. And it looks like Rizzo had his right arm slightly bent, indicating that he tried to shorten up. It’s the same player trying to hit the same pitch, but the player in the second clip looks like he was looking for that pitch. The player in the first clip just looks like he was responding to it. It seems to me, Rizzo anticipated that the seventh pitch would be another front-door two-seamer. So he applied a somewhat customized swing, and Bauer was made to pay for one of the pitches he actually threw pretty well.

According to what I can find in the records, the pitch Rizzo hit for a double was the second-most inside pitch he’s turned into a hit all year. It’s behind only a broken-bat grounder from last week, that was hit too softly for anyone to make a play. That was more of an excuse-me hit. This one was stung with authority, at a time the Cubs needed it. You don’t think of Rizzo as being an inside-pitch hitter, given how close he stands, but he turned the Indians’ plan against itself. If only for one moment, Rizzo made the right guess and the right tweak, and the Cubs were off and running.

In other words, Good Hitter Makes Adjustment. You can keep Anthony Rizzo down for only so long.

We hoped you liked reading Anthony Rizzo Jumped the Game Plan by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Daniel King
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Daniel King

Nice article! I like it. It’s hard to find much that was good or interesting about yesterday’s game…