Anthony Rizzo has become one of the best players in the National League. Rizzo was 10th in MVP voting in 2014 and last season he finished fourth on the BBWAA’s ballot for the Most Valuable Player in the NL. And Theo Epstein thinks his first baseman is a “sneaky MVP candidate” for the upcoming season according to a report from the Washington Post.
David Ross feels Rizzo is overlooked in the conversation of the best players in the game. After a strong first half that resulted in his second straight trip to the All-Star Game, Rizzo finished the season with a .278/.387/.512 slash line that included 38 doubles, three triples and 31 home runs for a .899 OPS. Rizzo set career highs in hits (163), triples (3), runs scored (94), walks (78), OBP (.387), stolen bases (17), RBI (101) and of course hit by pitches (30).
Rizzo finished fourth in the National League in on-base percentage behind only Bryce Harper, Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt. According to the Washington Post, Rizzo is fourth in OPS (.905) over the last two seasons behind Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen. And Rizzo has hit the second most homers (63) in the NL since 2014.
David Ross told Barry Svrluga that the “makeup of this team revolves around him.” Rizzo calls himself “the young veteran” and can relate to every player in the clubhouse.
“The makeup of this team revolves around him,” Ross said to the Washington Post. “He can relate to me … probably one of my best friends on the team. But he’s also attached to those young guys. He’s been a Cub for a long time, and you look at him and the example he sets and the way he acts around them every day. He’s the young veteran. That’s what he calls himself, and it works, because he can go both ways.”
The Cubs became unofficially became Rizzo’s team on July 10, 2014 in a game against the Reds in Cincinnati, a moment that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have called a turning point for the organization on more than one occasion. Epstein told the Washington Post that was “a galvanizing moment” and while most of his current teammates were not around to see it, that day “still lingers.”
The Cubs were the punching bag in the NL Central for Rizzo’s first two-plus years with the team. Aroldis Chapman uncorked a couple of triple-digit fastballs over Nate Schierholtz’s head. And then he brushed off the barking from an extremely unhappy Cubs’ bench.
Rizzo took exception to Chapman and the Reds, who owned the Cubs at the time, in between innings, dropped his glove and challenged the entire Reds’ bench. Rizzo was tired of being kicked around and that is the moment many feel the Cubs became Rizzo’s team.
Rizzo gets a lot of credit for helping turn the culture around in the clubhouse. No more of the horrendous ‘loveable losers’ moniker, now it’s all about winning. Rizzo talks to the young players when they are called up and lets them know what is expected of them.
Anthony Rizzo is the second longest tenured player on the Cubs’ roster, only Travis Wood has more time with the team than Rizzo. With the way Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber burst onto the scene last season, he’s often overlooked, as Ross pointed out, by the national media. But without a doubt, Rizzo will play a major role for the Cubs this season if the team is able to reach its ultimate goal.