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Spiegel: Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez & The 'B-Hack'

By Matt Spiegel--

(CBS) The battle of wills in an at-bat is the essence of the game, a distillation of the unique baseball struggle.

Who's going to concede?

Cubs manager Joe Maddon's lips could be read during the fifth inning in Miami on Tuesday night, as he watched Kyle Hendricks face Giancarlo Stanton with the bases loaded and no one out.

"Don't give in, don't give in," Maddon said.

Hendricks didn't. He kept the ball down, teased the low and outside corners, then eventually got Stanton to chase a slider for strike three.

Hendricks didn't throw something more trustworthy but also more hittable. He didn't go to an elevated fastball to be sure to catch more of the strike zone. He didn't give Stanton what he kept waiting for.

The batter's fight against concession is a bit more subtle and certainly more counterintuitive.

You will do more if you try to do less.

A power hitter with a big, long swing usually gets to the big leagues on the strength of it. It made him a star in high school, got him drafted and catapulted him through a farm system with a home run's trajectory.

Suddenly major league arms, with relentless velocity from starter to closer, expose weakness.

This was Anthony Rizzo in San Diego, circa 2011. He couldn't hit a big league fastball.

So what do you do?

A lot of guys stay dug in, stay doing what they know to be successful and let what Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer calls "false bravado" keep them from making necessary adjustments.

If you're Rizzo, you work on it. You develop the "B-hack."

This is what Maddon called it with us this past Tuesday during his weekly appearnace on the Spiegel and Goff Show. The "A-hack" is Rizzo's standard swing and approach. With two strikes, the B-hack appears. Against left-handed pitchers, the left-handed Rizzo uses it for most every count in every plate appearance.

For the B-hack, Rizzo chokes up, as much as two inches. He moves in toward the plate even more, offering less of a comfortable target. His hands move toward his body and a little higher, closer to a swing-ready position. The big front leg kick timing mechanism lessens to a toe tap.

The results are obvious.

His two-strike OBP and OPS have gone up every season. His strikeout percentage has gone down.

And Rizzo now destroys left-handed pitching. Rizzo has the highest OPS (1.210) of any hitter in baseball against lefties. That's as remarkable a statistic as you'll find at this point of the season. The best guy against lefties is a lefty himself, who had an OPS of .624 against them as recently as 2013. Rizzo's hitting .436 against lefties.

Overall this season, Rizzo's hitting .321 (11th in MLB) with a .444 on-base percentage (third) and 1.016 OPS (fourth).

I remember asking Rizzo early last season about the challenges of facing left-handers and what he was doing about it. He spoke of accepting that it was something he was going to have to work on for his whole career. The problem wasn't going anywhere, so he just wanted to relax and do what he could from one at-bat to the next.

That's a level of calm acceptance that "false bravado" would only obstruct.

According to Fangraphs, Rizzo's overall contact rates are up, his swing percentage is down and his swing-and-miss percentages are down. Most of those numbers are at a career best in 2015.

So why don't more hitters go to the B-hack? Because ego is a bitch. You have to have the right makeup to accept the truth and make changes with sober honesty.

Like Rizzo in 2012, Javier Baez was humbled last season, striking out 95 times in 229 big league plate appearances. Cubs hitting coach John Mallee visited with him in winter ball and worked with him extensively this spring on quieting down his two-strike mechanics.

Like Rizzo, Baez has moved in on the plate, adjusted his leg kick, moved his hands back and tried to speed up his overall process overall.

He's on a tear in Triple-A Iowa right now, and a second chance at the top level isn't far away. I have strong doubts, based on how long it took for him to load up his swing last year. Pitch recognition wasn't even the issue, because Baez had to commit before the ball even got in the air.

But at least he's trying. More strikeout-prone, low-OBP sluggers should do the same.

Matt Spiegel is a host on the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on weekdays. Follow him on Twitter @MattSpiegel670.

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