Anthony Rizzo has developed a reputation as one of baseball’s best two-strike hitters. His tendency to choke up on the bat and prioritize contact when down to his last strike has been talked about repeatedly as one of the reasons he’s such a dangerous hitter beyond just his ability to mash.
Even knowing how good he is in those difficult situations, Rizzo’s two-out, two-strike RBI single in Sunday’s tough loss to the Rangers was something to behold.
Wanted to take a moment to appreciate Rizzo's single from Sunday's game. His two-strike approach is really something else. Such a good piece of hitting, especially with two outs. #Cubs pic.twitter.com/tDkfIsjBi3
— Cubs Insider (@realcubsinsider) April 1, 2019
Look at the location of that pitch. It’s not just borderline, it’s far below the zone, exactly where former Cub Jesse Chavez intended for it to go. The changeup was designed to induce a swinging strikeout by tumbling into the dirt, making it impossibly low to hit.
Against many hitters, going to that location in that count is a winning strategy. Ah, but that’s not so often the case with Rizzo. The below chart represents his contact percentage with two strikes since the start of the 2018 season.
Obviously, Rizzo hasn’t had much luck against low and inside pitches because he’s still at least partly human. But he has been able to make contact with very low-middle and very low-away pitches at rates of 61% and 54%, respectively. Intuitively, those seem like impressive numbers for regions so far out of the zone they should be colored as blue as the Cubs’ pinstripes.
Comparing Rizzo’s production to that of his slugging teammates underscores just how impressive his ability to make contact with these pitches really is. Take a look at the heat maps below to see how Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, and Jávy Baez fare against those same offerings.
Báez is the only Cubs power hitter who even approaches Rizzo’s ability to make contact with pitches far below the zone. For anyone else, the decision to swing will very likely result in a strikeout. And Rizzo’s ability isn’t just unique just among Cubs. It sets him apart from power hitters around the league.
Being better than Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt, and Mike Trout at anything related to hitting is impressive. And though it’s perhaps a bit esoteric, Rizzo has managed to carve out an esteemed space for himself in terms of his ability to make contact with pitches like the one he drove up the middle for a hit on Sunday.
Rizzo’s consistent attention to being better with two-strikes has made him one of the most valuable hitters in baseball. If opposing pitchers hope to strike him out, they’re going to have to get creative and the Cubs will continue to reap the benefits.
All heat maps generated using Fangraphs.