There was undoubtedly heavy disappointment in the Bronx when the New York Yankees did not walk away from the offseason with one of Freddie Freeman or Matt Olson to man first base for them in 2022. While the two ultimately did find their way onto new rosters, it was a familiar face in Anthony Rizzo who returned to hold down that side of the infield.
Acquired from the Chicago Cubs at last year’s trade deadline, Rizzo’s Yankee slash went .249/.340/.428/.768 while ISO’ing .192. That came in fairly identical to his Cubs production from the first half of 2021, while also representing a slight increase from his 2020 output on the North Side. Steady production, but likely underwhelming when you look at it through a pinstriped lens given what the alternatives have the potential to offer on both sides of the ball.
Instead, the re-signing of Rizzo has very much been a boon to the Yankees thus far in 2022. As of this writing, he’s off to a start that includes eight home runs and a .403 ISO. Obviously, the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium plays to his strengths as a left-handed hitter, which becomes even more of an advantage when one notices that he’s at a 60.9 percent pull rate. That represents easily the highest of his career to date. However, there’s one additional development that has really allowed Rizzo to get off to the start that he has in the new year: barrels.
From 2016 to 2019, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more consistent player than Anthony Rizzo. It seemed as though he was always a lock for a .280 average, a .380-ish on-base percentage, and a wRC+ lingering in the 130-140 range. But even at his height, Rizzo was never a tremendous barrel guy. His best Barrel% seasons came in 2016 & 2017, where he was at 9.2 and 9.3 percent, respectively. This landed him in the 75th percentile in 2016 and the 73rd in 2017. From there, it was a sharp decline to the point where he sat in the 39th percentile in 2019 (6.8 percent).
While Rizzo did bring that rate back up a bit in the last two seasons, there were certainly questions, brought on by the tail end of his Cubs tenure and his second half of 2021 in New York, as to his power potential moving forward. Nagging back injuries seemed to be a pretty strong indicator that Rizzo’s power, even if present, would not be quite as consistent as we saw in his breakout seasons. And while his keen approach at the plate guaranteed solid K/BB figures, the power side looked poised to represent a significant shortcoming in his offensive approach.
And yet, here we stand in 2022. As Rizzo prepares to hit the century mark in plate appearances for the year, his Barrel% currently sits at 15.6 percent and in the 89th percentile. That output essentially represents double his rate in any of the last few seasons and the nature of such a percentile rank indicates how obviously elite that is. Mix in Rizzo’s characteristically low strikeout rate (14.1 percent) and characteristically strong walk rate (12.0 percent) with park factors and the high Barrel% and you have a player who very much deserves to retain the elite moniker that he’s carried for most of his career.
Since the focus is the Barrel% increase in itself, here is Rizzo’s percentage over the course of his career. Of course, the sharp increase in 2022 is the most notable element here. And perhaps somewhat obviously, it is important to note the super small sample that only most of the month of April has provided.
Anthony Rizzo Barrel Percentage” width=”2560″ height=”1440″ />
Rizzo may not average this high of a Barrel% for the entirety of 2022. But there remains a pretty strong chance he is, at the very least, able to post higher numbers than we’ve seen over the past couple of seasons and maybe even the prior ones.
That boils down to pitch selection more than anything.
Rizzo has always been a patient hitter. His career K% sits at 15.7 even with a couple of higher rates early in his career, and he’s at 11.0 percent on the walk side. The Swing% is holding steady at right about his career average (47 percent), and he has been a touch more aggressive inside of the strike zone (66.7 percent rate thus far is his highest since 2018). And his Chase% has been fairly minimal to this point, with a 25.7 percent mark that puts him below his career average. There’s always been that layer of patience in his approach.
Perhaps the most important factor in driving up his Barrel%, though, is how choosey Rizzo has been in terms of pitch selection. While Rizzo’s actual Swing% has gone down significantly against offspeed and slightly vs. breaking pitches, it’s actually gone up a touch against the hard stuff. Notice in the above graph where the most significant change has occurred in Barrel%. It’s against those two pitch types where he’s demonstrated considerably more patience, especially against the offspeed stuff. An even stronger argument in favor of this patience contributing to the Barrel%? The chase rate:
Anthony Rizzo Chase Rate” width=”2560″ height=”1440″ />
That’s a hefty decline in Swing% (52 percent down to 45 percent), a hefty decline in Chase%, and a significant rise in Barrel%. Don’t sleep on the benefit of relying on the pull side, especially playing home games at Yankee Stadium. All eight of Rizzo’s homers have come to the pull side, and he possesses a hard hit rate a shade under 40 percent to that side.
At this point, it’s probably fair to assume that you can shift Rizzo. But if he gets an offspeed pitch, it probably won’t matter.
Photography by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)