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Jose Abreu vs. Anthony Rizzo closer than you think

Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo (44) hits double first inning baseball game against Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday Aug. 3 2014 Los

Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo (44) hits a double in the first inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

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Updated: August 4, 2014 11:41PM



In a season in which both of Chicago’s major-league baseball teams are below .500 and well behind the leaders, the silver linings have come in individual performances. The two first basemen, the White Sox’ Jose Abreu and the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, have been golden.

By traditional Triple Crown numbers, Abreu ranks with the best in baseball, hitting .304 and leading the majors with 31 home runs and 84 RBI through Sunday. Rizzo was a couple of steps behind that at .286, second in the National League with 25 homers and tied for 14th with 60 RBI.

Abreu is second in the majors in OPS — on-base percentage plus slugging percentage — at .988, trailing only Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (1.035). Rizzo is at .906, 11th in the majors.

When OPS is adjusted for ballpark, normalized to league average and put on a scale where 100 represents an average hitter, Abreu is at 170, trailing only the Angels’ Mike Trout (176) and Tulowitzki (172). Rizzo is 13th at 148, which means his production is 148 percent that of an average hitter.

A look at advanced metrics shows a closer call. At Baseball-Reference.com, Abreu is at 3.7 wins above replacement, with Rizzo right on his heels at 3.5. In the FanGraphs.com version of WAR, it’s Abreu 4.0 and Rizzo 3.6. And in the Baseball Info Solutions’ Total Runs listings at BillJamesonline.com, it’s Rizzo 91 and Abreu 78.

Why do advanced metrics see the two as so much closer in their contributions than traditional numbers or even OPS/OPS-plus?

† OPS and OPS-plus undervalue walks, and getting on base is one of Rizzo’s strengths. He has a .390 OBP that tops Abreu’s .361. Singles are counted both in OBP and slugging percentage, but walks are counted only in OBP. Singles are more valuable than walks because of their potential to advance runners, but they’re not twice as valuable.

WAR, Total Runs, Win Shares and other advanced metrics don’t start with OPS. They weigh each category in proportion to its demonstrated effect on producing runs. BIS’ Total Runs uses runs created and lists Rizzo with 80 to Abreu’s 79. Baseball-Reference, which factors in its own tweaks for ballparks and league norms, lists Abreu with 84 runs created and Rizzo with 79. Either way, it’s close.

† Triple Crown numbers don’t include defense. In Total Runs, BIS uses its runs-saved stat that starts with tracking every ball in play. Rizzo has two runs saved, but Abreu has been below league average at minus-5.

† Traditional numbers also don’t include baserunning. That not only means stolen bases, but
it means going from first to third on singles, advancing on infield outs, times thrown out on the bases and other plays. BIS finds Rizzo as a neutral baserunner, with zero baserunning runs;
Abreu is at minus-2.

Abreu still comes out on top by most advanced metrics, though by a much narrower margin than Triple Crown numbers would suggest. But both first basemen have played at an elite level, making them rare treasures on the Chicago baseball scene.



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