Sunday, July 3, 2022

Cubs’ Core No More: A Look At Baez, Rizzo, Bryant & Schwarber In 2022


Cub fans may never want to relive late July of 2021 ever again, as the team said farewell to Cub greats Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and others. Fan-favorite Kyle Schwarber was already gone by that point, having played the entire 2021 season away from Wrigley Field (Schwarber was an All-Star in 2021, adding salt to the wound of many fans).

The July 2021 trade deadline was a flurry of activity for the north siders and signaled the official end of the Cubs’ championship window which thrilled fans from 2015 through the first half of 2021. The Cubs’ core of Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber won a lot of baseball games for the Cubs and will forever go down as legends on the field for a generation of Cub fans. Parting ways with them was not easy, but inevitable given that they all had expiring contracts and would soon be in demand across the league via free agency.

The Cubs could simply not retain them all, despite attempts to do just that.

All former Cubs have new homes in 2022 but have had different levels of success thus far. Some have adapted quickly to their new teams and are making an impact, but others are still in “wait and see” mode. Let’s quickly check in with these former Cub greats and see what exactly we’re missing so far in 2022.

Anthony Rizzo, New York Yankees

Grade so far in 2022: B+

Rizzo, traded by the Cubs on July 29 for prospects Kevin Alcantara and Alexander Vizcaino, is in his first full season with the Bronx Bombers, having re-signed in New York over the offseason on a modest two-year, $32 million contract.

Rizzo, a three-time All-Star with the Cubs, had one of the hottest starts of anyone in the league and was murdering baseballs in April for the Yankees. Rizzo hit nine home runs and drove in 21 men in his 21 April games, hitting .273 with a .391 on-base percentage and .675 slugging percentage.

However, May has been a different story for Rizzo, as his May batting average is down to .146 and he has just one homer this month with only three runs batted in. His .512 May OPS (On-base percentage plus slugging) is a long way off from his April OPS of 1.067.

The solution for Rizzo is simple: play more games in New York.

At home, he has a .288 batting average and an OPS of 1.064 so far in 2022 (18 games). On the road, however, Rizzo is hitting a paltry .153 with an OPS of just .621 in 16 games. Fans should expect his home numbers to come down, in time, with more at-bats, but should expect his road numbers to increase for the same reason.

Rizzo clearly will enjoy sitting in a Yankees’ lineup that features mashers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, among others. A fourth All-Star game appearance is not out of the question for the soon-to-be 33-year-old, provided he can recapture some of his form from April.

Javier Baez, Detroit Tigers

Grade so far in 2022: D

It hasn’t been a good month and a half for the new Tigers star shortstop. Just check out his Statcast page on Baseball Savant. 

Hint: the blue buttons are bad, and Baez’s page is loaded with them.

Javier Baez inked a massive contract with Detroit for six years and $140 million over the off-season and will make over $20 million a year until 2027 when he’ll be 34-years-old.

But for right now, the 29-year-old is not living up to his end of the bargain in his new hometown. Baez is hitting just north of the Mendoza line at .210, well down from his career average of .263. He has just two home runs as a Tiger and just 11 runs batted in. He has not attempted a stolen base so far in 2022, despite attempting 23 a year ago (he was successful on 18 of them).

His OPS is just .576 which is below league average and his strikeout-to-walk ratio remains a problem, as Baez has just five walks to his 26 strikeouts in just 111 plate appearances.

A closer look at his statistics reveals more problems, too.

Baez has the third-worst O-Swing Percentage (Outside Swing Percentage, or “chase rate”) which measures plate discipline and looks at how a player identifies balls and strikes. If you chase pitches outside the strike zone, you are more likely to miss them or produce weaker contact. Baez’s 47% O-Swing Percentage is just behind Tim Anderson (50.4%) of the White Sox and Avisail Garcia (48.6%) of the Miami Marlins. This puts Baez in the lowest percentile in all of baseball.

When he does make contact, it is coming at weaker-than-normal levels for Baez, as he has just a 35.4 hard-hit percentage (a “hard-hit” ball measures 95+ mph off the bat, per Statcast). Baez had a 45% hard-hit rate a year ago, to put that into context. Here, Baez is in the 30th-percentile among all major league hitters. He is below the 25th-percentile in other Statcast data figures such as Expected Batting Average (.227), Expected Slugging Percentage (.388), and Expected Weighted On-Base Average (.282).

What do all these stats truly mean? In a nutshell, Baez is not hitting the ball well, both in real-life, observable statistics and also in Statcast-predicted outcomes.

Maybe he is pressing in the first year of his massive free-agent contract and maybe he is still finding his rhythm after recently returning from the Injured List, but whatever the case is, it has been a poor six weeks for the former Cub great.

Kris Bryant, Colorado Rockies

Grade so far in 2022: C

Quick trivia (no cheating please). How many home runs does Colorado’s newest slugger have so far in 2022?

Are you surprised to hear the answer is a big fat zero!?

Bryant has just four extra-base hits so far as a Rockie, with four doubles accounting for all his power display to date, leading to a sad .351 slugging percentage. Bryant’s career slugging percentage is over .500, so things will surely improve, right?

Bryant, to be fair, has been slowed by injury in 2022 and is currently on the 10-day Injured List with a back injury. Therefore, he has just 65 plate appearances under his belt as a Rockie. We’ll cut him some slack, but Colorado fans surely were hoping for some offensive spark in the season’s first six weeks, especially from a player who signed a lucrative seven-year deal worth over $180 million over the off-season.

Bryant, now 30, should get to his normal production when he returns this week from the IL, but he’ll have to get going in a hurry if he wants to make an impact for his Rockies team, which is off to a surprising start at 17-18.

It is still within the realm of possibility that Bryant thrives as a Colorado Rockie and enjoys spending half his games in the thin air of Colorado, where the ball travels further than most stadiums.

As far as judging his 2022 success, Bryant is in the “wait-and-see” mode. At least for now.

Kyle Schwarber, Philadelphia Phillies

Grade so far in 2022: B-

It’s been a bit of feast or famine so far for Kyle Schwarber in his inaugural season as a Phillie. The feast (nine homers in 33 games) has been a joy to watch. But the famine (.189 batting average) has been hard to stomach at times.

Schwarber is truly one of the game’s biggest power threats and the definition of a “slugger.” He is in the 95th-percentile in Max Exit Velocity, per Baseball Savant, and his Barrel Percentage also rates in the 95th-percentile. Barrel percentage may be confusing to understand, but it essentially describes batted balls hit with ideal launch angle and exit velocity numbers. The harder the hit (and with the ideal launch angle) the more likely the ball will fall into play for a hit (or over the fence as a homer).

Schwarber’s Expected Slugging Percentage (.512) rates in the 79th-percentile in all of baseball and his 46.4 hard-hit percentage ranks in the 76th-percentile. Schwarber makes hard, loud contact, for all the readers who don’t care about Statcast.

Back to the famine, though.

Schwarber continues to swing and miss too often and falls victim to the strikeout. His 30.3 strikeout rate would be his worst since 2017 and is the 16th-worst in baseball at the moment. He does still walk a fair amount (12%) so his patience at the plate is not fully in question. For Schwarber, the issue remains his lack of putting the ball in play enough. When he does though, it can sometimes mean devastating things for the opponent.

As the weather heats up, so, too, should Schwarber’s bat. He should also benefit greatly (like Rizzo) from hitting in a star-studded lineup featuring Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and the sudden emergence of Alec Bohm.

So, what exactly are Cub fans missing in 2022 with their former beloved players above? Some good, some bad, and a whole lot of “we’ll see down the road” as it’s still too early to truly tell what a full season will look like for any of these players.

At least fans will always have their memories though. There’s enough there for a lifetime.

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