In the fall of 1998, Slammin’ Sammy Sosa became the first Chicago Cub to win the NL MVP award since Andre Dawson in 1987.

16 seasons later, the Cubs still haven’t had a player take home baseball’s most prestigious offensive hardware in the new millennium. It’s the franchise’s longest MVP drought since 1911-1929, and they’re the only NL Central team to not win one in the last five seasons.

Safe to say the Cubbies are due.

And that’s where a tall, smooth swinging, lefty first baseman enters the picture. His name is Anthony Rizzo.

The soon to be 26-year-old has started the 2015 season off in blistering fashion, ranking in the top six offensively in the MLB based on weighted runs created plus (wRC+).

Not familiar with wRC+?

FanGraphs states it best:

Weighted Runs Created (wRC) is an improved version of Bill James’ Runs Created (RC) statistic, which attempted to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs.  In Runs Created, instead of looking at a player’s line and listing out all the details (e.g. 23 2B, 15 HR, 55 BB, 110 K, 19 SB, 5 CS), the information is synthesized into one metric in order to say, ‘Player X was worth 24 runs to his team last year.’ Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) is park and league adjusted, allowing one to compare players who played in different years, parks, and leagues.”

For now, that’s all you need to know, but if you’re interested in learning more head here.

We need wRC+ because Sammy Sosa and Anthony Rizzo played in two completely different leagues. During Sosa’s time, players hitting 55 home runs was a common occurrence. Today, those kinds of numbers are a rarity.

Back in ’98, Sosa posted a wRC+ of 159, which means he created 59% more runs than a league average hitter. That year Mark McGwire led the league with a wRC+ of 205. Cool beans, right?

Sort of, because in 2001, arguably Sosa’s best year, he posted a wRC+ 186, or 86% more than a league average hitter. The only two players that season to post higher were Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi.

Notice anything about those names?

At one point or another, all of them were linked to steroid accusations, making it important that wRC+ is league adjusted. During this time, offensive numbers ballooned substantially.

If we dismiss Sosa due to possible steroid use, Andre Dawson would be the last Cub to win an NL MVP. In 2014, Rizzo surpassed Dawson’s MVP season by a wide margin based on wRC+, 153 to 124.

As Rizzo approaches his 26th birthday, he approaches something Sammy Sosa didn’t do until his age-29, MVP season. On Sunday, Rizzo reached a wRC+ of 187 on the year, passing Sosa’s all-time best before June of his third full season. Rizzo currently sits at 188, good for sixth in the MLB and 3rd in the NL.

Of course, wRC+ changes on a game-to-game basis, but let’s backtrack a bit.

Last season was easily Rizzo’s best year in his young career. He put up a wRC+ of 153, numbers most young players would kill for. Not bad for just turning 25.

Sosa was in the league for 18 seasons, and he put up 153 just four times. The first time was 1998 – when he won the MVP award.

This isn’t about Sammy Sosa though. It’s about Anthony Rizzo. It’s trying to truly understand how great he is at just 25.

Last Monday, CBS Sports ranked Rizzo the number one hitter in the NL Central – ahead of former MVP winners Andrew McCutchen and Joey Votto. That alone speaks volumes about his incredible value. Another interesting comparison: Rizzo put up a wRC+ right in line with Votto’s and McCutchen’s at 25.

Rizzo has benefitted greatly from a rapidly maturing approach at the plate. Below is a chart that tracks his plate discipline, and as you’ll find out, he’s vastly improved.



2014 League Average

































In summary, all those percentage signs mean Rizzo is swinging at fewer pitches outside of the zone (O-Swing%) and more pitches within it (Z-Swing%). But most of all, he’s swinging at fewer pitches in general. And Rizzo’s making way more contact both outside (O-Contact%) and inside of the zone (Z-Contact%) – which leads to a significant cut in his swinging strike rate (SwStr%).

Bottom line: There’s very little swing and miss in Anthony Rizzo’s game.

Finally, at 38%, Rizzo has seen the fewest pitches thrown to him in the zone (Zone%) in the MLB. It’s obvious pitchers aren’t comfortable throwing him anything near the plate. Which is why he’s drawn so many walks in 2015 – because the pitchers are the ones giving in, not Rizzo.

When comparing Rizzo’s 2015 discipline numbers to Votto’s at 25, we see that Rizzo has the better profile by a wide margin in some categories. That’s pretty goddamn impressive when you consider Joey Votto has already had a phenomenal career.

I don’t know if Rizzo will walk away with the MVP award this season, next season, or even the following season. But eventually, he will.

No matter when it is, Anthony Rizzo is absolutely the best offensive weapon the Cubs have had since the Sammy Sosa days. And it would only be fitting that he’s the first Cub (sorry Kris Bryant) to win an MVP since Sosa.

More telling is that Rizzo has already established himself as one of the best players in the league, something that would have seemed rather optimistic when he was in the minors.

But now, as his plate approach continues to evolve, he’s set himself up to be involved in the MVP discussion for a long time.