The Unexpected, Expected Anthony Rizzo Approach

After witnessing the lengths to which Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants went in attacking Yoenis Cespedes‘ weak spot in the National League Wild Card play-in game, the natural progression was to wonder whether they’d do the same for any of the Cubs’ best hitters in the Division Series.

Say, Anthony Rizzo sure has had a miserable postseason so far. After going 0-for-6 in last night’s 13-inning thriller, the Cubs’ first baseman is 0-for-13 this postseason with three strikeouts and no walks, hit by pitches, or even sacrifice flies. Almost makes me wonder if the Giants aren’t exploiting some hole in his swing the way they exploited the whole in Cespedes’ swing.

First, Rizzo’s weakness:

rizzo

That’s slugging percentage on the left, looking just at swings, and overall runs above or below average on the right, looking at the outcome of all pitches. They tell the same story either way: it’s tough to beat Rizzo on the outer-half. Your best bet is coming up and in. The problem with that is the reason these heatmaps look the way they do in the first place: Rizzo crowds the plate like no other. Come up and in, you run the risk of putting him on with a hit-by-pitch. But as long the pitch finds the catcher’s glove, coming inside on Rizzo was the only real way to limit damage throughout the regular season.

Bumgarner and the Giants pitched to the heatmaps against Cespedes and neutralized him. They’ve neutralized Rizzo, too, but not by pitching to the heatmaps:

anthony-rizzo

Not only have the Giants not pounded Rizzo inside, they’ve barely come in at all. Almost everything Rizzo’s seen has been low-and-away, a 50/50 mix of fastballs and breaking balls, almost identical to what he saw during the regular season. He’s just not hitting them.

Not that it makes anything better, from a fan perspective, I’d rather this be the case of a player for whom I’m rooting, rather than there being some obvious flaw of which pitchers have decided to repeatedly take advantage. Cespedes looked helpless in the Wild Card game, and there was no reason for the Giants to change anything until Cespedes looked anything other than helpless. Rizzo hasn’t looked helpless. He’s just gotten beat. Good hitters get beat sometimes. Good hitters come out on top sometimes, too. Great hitters, even more often.





August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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johnforthegiants
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johnforthegiants

It’s true that the Giants have been pitching Rizzo mostly low and away, but it’s much more low and away *outside* the strike zone than it was in the regular season, and for some reason he’s swinging at them anyway. Also, there’s only one four-seamer in the low-away quadrant of the strike zone, the target for four-seamers is either high and away or low and inside.