After a 2-7 start that landed them near the bottom of the divisional standings, the Cubs have climbed back to a 12-11 record and second place in the NL Central. The pitching has come around the offense is performing well, but Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant have not made their mark atop the Cubs’ order so far this year.
Heading into Friday’s game, Rizzo is batting .207/.363/.415 (.790 OPS, 105 OPS+), which is well below his career averages of .269/.369/.483 (.852 OPS, 128 OPS+). Bryant is hitting .232/.364/.366 (.733 OPS, 91 OPS+), below his career numbers of .283/.384/.510 (.894 OPS, 136 OPS+). Fans have expressed concern since it is not reasonable to expect the rest of the team to do the heavy lifting for an entire season.
Knowing that Rizzo has gotten off to slow starts in the past, I thought it might be useful to take a look at both hitters’ early-season splits to determine whether it is normal for them to start out like this.
Rizzo’s splits follow below, with his 2016 Silver Slugger season and the current season highlighted for purposes of comparing what he’s doing now with his most significant offensive season.
|Anthony Rizzo Early Splits (as of 4/25)|
|Mar/Apr – Career||.238||.370||.454||.826|
You will note that, overall, Rizzo has not hit well for average early in the season, even though there are a few seasons in which he outdid his career numbers (2014, 2015). Even during his best offensive year of 2016, Rizzo did not hit for average in April, although he was getting on base at a good rate and hitting for power.
Fans who are upset about his poor batting average in 2019 should remember that his performance early in 2018 was even worse, likely because of the back problems he was suffering as well as poor weather conditions.
Rizzo’s 2019 OBP is very close to his career average, and he currently leads the Cubs in walks (15). While his slugging percentage in 2019 is the worst of any of his early splits, history tells us the three-time All-Star is likely to heat up later in the year. This seems to be bearing out as Rizzo has improved to .304/.448/.609 in the last seven games.
The Cubs first baseman is also 29 years old, so I fully expect these slow starts to continue as he ages. Most people over the age of 30 are familiar with the increased propensity of injuries both new and old to flare up in bad weather, and with little warning.
Next are Bryant’s splits, with similar highlighted comparisons of this season to his biggest offensive campaigns.
|Kris Bryant Early Splits (as of 4/25)|
|Mar/Apr – Career||.281||.400||.468||.869|
As you can see, there is no precedent for an early-season power outage in Bryant’s major-league career. He has typically gotten off to a start that is very much in line with his overall numbers, except his rookie year, when he was getting on base at an even higher rate to start the season. Since there is no reason to believe Bryant is suffering from lingering effects of last year’s shoulder injury, his low numbers in 2019 could be due to a mechanical problem or simply not eating his Wheaties.
While this is the first time Bryant has had a slow start, it’s far from his worst month. In July 2015, he hit .168/.270/.368 (.639 OPS) before going on to slash .275/.369/.488 (.858 OPS). So we know he is capable of making the necessary adjustments to get out of a slump. As another source of hope, Bryant is still getting on base at a good rate, even if his .358 OBP is a bit below his career average. And with a .273/.448/.409 line in his last seven games, he appears to be turning it on.
Time will be the judge, but Rizzo’s past results and the fact that both stars appear to be heating up as the calendar changes over to May tell us not to worry about what we’ve seen so far.