It’s only April 26th and Anthony Rizzo has had only a little more than 10 percent of the PA he’s going to get this season, but he’s off to a good start by anyone’s estimation. He currently ranks in the 96th and 95th percentiles in xwOBA and xSLG respectively, so he’s clearly been squaring the ball up, and his results-based numbers are in line with the advanced measurements. (We’ll take a .382 OBP and .571 SLG every day of the week and twice on Sunday.)
Although it’s far too early to draw conclusions about Rizzo’s final numbers, there is reason for optimism. For starters, he was one of a few Yankees that performed below expectations last season so it was important for him and the team that he get off to a good start. Far more importantly, what he’s been doing in the batters may indicate that he’s made some changes in his approach – for the better.
*Rizzo has pulled 54.3 percent of his batted balls – his career average is 42 percent and he’s never had a season with a higher than 43.2 rate.
*His chase rate is the lowest of his career and is his lowest since 2017.
*He’s swinging at the first pitch he sees less often than at any point in his career by a pretty good margin.
In most cases, we can pull the small sample size card, but in Rizzo’s case, that might be premature. Rizzo is a veteran hitter and those results certainly look like the result of a changed approach or philosophy in the box. Particularly with regards to pulling the ball, often lost in discussions about the friendly confines of Wrigley Field is that the right field foul pole is farther away from home plate than in any other MLB Stadium. A far cry from the reachable with a nine-iron foul pole in YS III. Maybe I’m being optimistic, but when combined with the other numbers, Rizzo may have decided his first (half) season in pinstripes could have been better if he used the surroundings to his advantage more.
If you want even more optimism, Rizzo’s batting average on balls in play so far in 2022 is 63 points lower than his career average. So despite the consistent hard contact he’s been making, his numbers haven’t received a boost from good luck or the baseball Gods of randomness.
I wrote the Anthony Rizzo preview for Pinstripe Alley in the preseason and I predicted that although the hitter that terrified NL pitchers last decade is long gone, we Yankee fans were going to see a better player than we saw last year in Rizzo. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t think he’s going to continue to post a 181 OPS+ for the rest of the season – he didn’t just turn into Juan Soto. But I do think the sample size so far in 2022 – and specifically what appear to be conscious decisions and changes – are confirmation that we can expect a much better player than the Yankees had in 2021.
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