Something interesting came up today as Anthony Rizzo hit another two homers to become the Cubs’ all-time leader in homers in April by a left-handed batter. Yeah, they have small-sample meaningless stats for everything! But all those home runs are cool despite his crap average. At the conclusion of the game, Rizzo had a slash line of .200/.277/.506, buoyed by the fact that most of his hits so far have gone for extra bases. And it is because of that crappy average and high slugging percentage that some folks feared that he would become Adam Dunn.
Dunn actually also had a fairly productive night on the South Side, bringing his early season line to .128/.200/.308 because he just loves striking out. If you compare Rizzo and Dunn, their strikeout rates are really alarming, except that Dunn is worse this year than any other except his first season as a White Sox. But if we know anything from studying baseball all these seasons, it’s that small sample sizes mean next to nothing right now. We’re still in the month of April and it’s seriously not time to panic about anything. However, let’s still explore the notion that Anthony Rizzo will become Adam Dunn.
First off, we simply don’t have enough data on Rizzo at the MLB level to make any broad conclusions on what kind of player he will become. We do know he has incredible power (Baseball America in 2011 rated him at a 65 power tool) and that he can make pretty solid contact with pitches. What we can tell from Rizzo’s small sample so far (only 615 plate appearances including tonight, which is about a full season’s worth for most everyday players) is that he doesn’t walk as much as Dunn, and also strikes out less. In fact, if you look at Dunn’s career line before he came to Chicago, he was a very productive hitter. Despite the mega-suck in Chicago, Dunn has a career OPS+ of 124, which is awesome. There are numerous ways to get to that OPS+ number, and it’s entirely possible that Rizzo can do it too, without striking out as much and despite not walking as much. Therefore, it is not exactly an insult to hope that Rizzo becomes Adam Dunn on offense, depending on context.
However, the main difference between the two gentlemen here is their defensive ability. Anthony Rizzo has been universally praised for his defensive prowess and glove work, and you can regularly see him doing the splits to stretch for throws from his fellow infielders. He has above average range at his position and makes plays look easy. It’s very difficult these days to find a first baseman who looks good at his job, but Rizzo is having success at the corner and that’s a plus. If you look at Adam Dunn, whether he was in corner outfield or first base, he was atrocious at defense. So advantage Rizzo here, and counterpoint one to Rizzo = Dunn.
I would definitely wait a while before setting up any comparables between Anthony Rizzo and other players, be they Adam Dunn or otherwise. There simply isn’t enough data for now. If anything, we hope that Rizzo can emulate Dunn’s ability to draw walks and get on base, and that he can get to consistent 40-homer power. Despite his faults, Adam Dunn has had a good career and it wouldn’t be the end of the world to watch Anthony Rizzo become Dunn on offense. Just as long as he continues to field his position well, that is.