Deep Dive: Anthony Rizzo’s clutch double in Game 2 of 2016 World Series
Let’s chalk Game 1 of the 2016 World Series up to nerves.
The Cubs had not appeared in a World Series game since 1945 and ran into Corey Kluber, an Indians pitcher coming off two strong performances in the ALCS. They came into Game 2 still in search of their first run in the series after being shut out the night before.
Losing two on the road would put pressure on the team to win all their games at Wrigley Field, or be forced to return to Progressive Field for two do-or-die games. Every game of the World Series is pivotal, but Game 2 put a different kind of pressure on the Cubs.
In the first inning, with Kris Bryant on first base after a single, Anthony Rizzo stepped to the plate against Trevor Bauer. Rizzo struggled through the first seven games of the Cubs’ run for the ring. He slashed only .077/.200/.077 through 30 plate appearances before breaking out in Game 4 of the NLCS with a huge home run at Dodger Stadium.
After his sluggish start, Rizzo finished the NLCS with three multi-hit games. He led the Cubs in average, on-base percentage and slugging during the World Series (min 20 at-bats). His at-bat against Bauer gave the Cubs their first run of the 2016 World Series and highlighted just how locked in Rizzo was.
Bauer has always been a methodical pitcher in his approach to hitters, even going so far in recent years to say exactly how he is approaching a specific hitter. His approach to Rizzo centered on throwing hard stuff up and in on Rizzo’s hands in 2016. Rizzo’s slugging percentage in this section of the strike zone was more than 200 points lower than any other part of zone in 2016.
The problem for pitchers wanting to target Rizzo’s weakness is the small the margin of error. A few inches down from Rizzo’s up-and-in cold zone is a middle-in hot zone, where the lefty slugs nearly .600.
Rizzo took Strike 1 over the plate and then let a curveball bounce in the dirt for Ball 1. The next three pitches were in the exact zone Bauer was targeting — up and in. Rizzo fouled all of them off before letting another curveball bounce in the dirt for Ball 2. Then Bauer unleashed a 2-2 two-seam fastball that missed just slightly below the targeted up-and-in zone. Rizzo choked up, turned on the pitch and hammered it 104 mph to the right field wall.
Bauer had a plan and just missed one pitch. And the on-fire Rizzo took advantage.
Another component of Rizzo’s RBI single was equally as impressive. Kris Bryant scored from first base, highlighting one of the most underappreciated aspects of his game: baserunning. From 2015 to 2017, he led the Cubs in a self-explanatory Fangraphs metric called baserunning runs above average. His 7.1 runs above average in 2016 remains the highest total of his career.
During the first four years of Bryant’s career, he was the fastest player on the Cubs (as measured by Baseball Savant’s sprint speed) twice and remained in the top three during each of those seasons.
In Game 7 of the World Series, Rizzo drove in Bryant on a similar play. Bryant reached nearly 20 mph or roughly 29 feet per second in that mad dash to the plate. For comparison, Nico Hoerner’s average sprint speed in 2019 was 28.7 feet per second. Bryant scored in Game 2 without a throw to the plate, but his jump off the bat and Cubs third base coach Gary Jones’ read that the throw from right field came into second base allowed Bryant to convert his speed to the Cubs first run of the World Series.
- Byron Buxton was the fastest baserunner per Baseball Savant’s sprint speed metric in 2016, running 30.8 feet per second on average (min 10 opportunities). Mookie Betts led the league in Fangraphs baserunning runs above average in 2016 with 10.6 runs (among qualified hitters).
- The average double was hit 97.4 mph in 2016. Rizzo drove in the Cubs first run of the World Series with a 104 mph double. His hardest hit ball of the year was a 113.5 mph single on July 9, 2016 against Pirates reliever A.J. Schugel.