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Yankees 2021 Roster Report Cards: Anthony Rizzo

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After coming to New York at the trade deadline, Anthony Rizzo didn’t quite live up to expectations, but helped stabilize the play at first base.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

On July 29th, the New York Yankees traded Kevin Alcántara and Alexander Vizcaíno to the Chicago Cubs for Anthony Rizzo and cash considerations. Despite being a rumored target of the Boston Red Sox, Rizzo’s addition to the Yankees made a world of sense from New York’s perspective. Not only would he fill in for the frequently injured Luke Voit and be an automatic upgrade over the other options the team ran out at first base, but he was also a clear defensive upgrade at the position and provided a left-handed bat that the organization was desperately searching for.

Rizzo immediately burst onto the scene with a massive series against the Miami Marlins immediately following the trade deadline, but a bout with COVID-19 and a slide in offensive performance down the stretch ultimately put a hamper on Rizzo’s brief tenure with the Yankees.

Grade: B-

2021 Statistics (with New York): 49 games, 200 plate appearances, .249/.340/.428, 8 HR, 8.0 BB%, 14 K%, 113 wRC+, -2 OAA, 0.5 bWAR

2022 Contract Status: Free agent

On the whole, Rizzo’s performance for the Yankees was fine, I suppose. His 113 wRC+ is certainly above average and his strikeout rate held steady in comparison to his career numbers, but his walk rate took a bit of a dive (his career rate is 11 percent) and his offensive production for the entire season was the worst its been since 2013 (2020’s shortened season notwithstanding).

Rizzo’s Statcast data paints a troubling portrait of a player staring down the barrel of a decline. While his whiff percentage and strikeout percentage remained consistently great, his hard hit and barrel percentages were average at best. Looking at the trends, his barrel percentage has been falling relatively steadily every year since 2018, and his hard hit percentage has mostly followed suit.

Diving deeper, Rizzo saw the highest zone percentage—which indicates the percentage of pitches he saw in the strike zone—of his career this season, but posted the lowest zone contact percentage of his career. In terms of his batted ball profile, his groundball percentage was the second highest of his career, which is not great for a player that ranks in the 19th percentile when it comes to sprint speed, while his line drive percentage was by far the lowest of his career. In fact, his 23.9 percent line drive rate is four percentage points lower than his career mark.

Aside from down seasons in 2013 and the shortened 2020 campaign, Rizzo has proven to be an excellent hitter over his 10-year career, posting a 129 wRC+ in that time. For a team that desperately needed offensive production from a position long held to be the home of offensive powerhouses, though, it’s a little disappointing to see a stark drop-off in production. While it’s certainly not as bad as some of the other drop-offs the team experienced this year, it’s still substantial enough to force the team to think hard about extending him an offer to return this offseason.

It wasn’t all bad for Rizzo, though. His approach at the plate—namely, his ability to avoid striking out—was sure to be a welcome sight for fans that believe this team strikes out too much; by virtue of hitting from the left side, his bat helped bring a bit of balance to the lineup (though the effect of this balance has been overstated). He also played much better defense than Voit, Chris Gittens, and the other multitude of options the Yankees used to field the position. While he certainly wasn’t the best overall, he also wasn’t the worst; hence, the middle-of-the-road, B- grade.

I’ve been a fan of Rizzo for a long time, so I was thrilled when news of the trade that brought him to New York came down the pipeline. The simple truth of the matter, however, is that the Yankees simply needed him to be better down the stretch. His solid defense—which ranked in the 92nd percentile according to Statcast —was a welcome sight, but his bat left us wanting more. Only time will tell if he’ll get another opportunity to earn his pinstripes.