After coming over to New York at the trade deadline in 2021, and then signing a two-year contract that offseason, it was a foregone conclusion that a healthy Anthony Rizzo would be the Opening Day starting first baseman for the Yankees in 2022.
And for the most part, Rizzo was everything the Yankees could have asked for this season. After opting out of his previous contract after the Astros eliminated New York, he then re-signed with the Yankees early this offseason and once again looms large as a top-of-the-order bat and solid gloveman for New York at first base in 2023.
2022 Statistics: 130 G, 548 PA, .224/.338./480, 132 wRC+, 2.4 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: first year of a two-year, $34 million contract (with a club option for 2025)
If Rizzo could have replicated his first half of his 2022 season in the second balf, he’d almost certainly be boasting an A+ grade for his campaign. That said, he still earned his A- grade for the Yankees.
Rizzo came out of the gates with his hair on fire, clubbing nine home runs in his first 21 games. Though he slumped a bit in May, he rebounded in June, mashing 10 more dingers that month. He capped his early season power surge with a three home run game against the Orioles on April 26th, the first time in the veteran’s big league career he accomplished that feat.
Injury reared its ugly head for Rizzo in the second half of the season. He fought his way through back spasms for a while, but at the end of August he finally went on the injured list due to the ailment. Then, things got weird and a bit scary. After receiving an epidural injection, Rizzo began experiencing terrible headaches. Eventually, a blood injection near the site of the epidural cleared it all up, but Rizzo missed considerable time due to the injury and then the effects of treatment.
All told, across the board, Rizzo’s second half lagged behind the first half of 2022. His ISO fell from .274 to .222, his slugginglost 50+ points (.498 in the first compared to .444 in the second), and his wRC+ dropped from 138 to 122. Admittedly, his second half was still more than acceptable. The numbers referenced above are nothing to sneeze at. And his mere presence on the field meant there was a left-handed power bat in the Yankees lineup, a valuable asset for a club whose power came almost entirely from the right side of the dish.
Defensively, the story is more complicated. The metrics do not love Rizzo. His Outs Above Average ranked in the 18th percentile across baseball. Per FanGraphs, 2022 was the worst defensive season of Rizzo’s career. And Baseball Reference dinged him to the tune of -1.1 dWAR. But despite all that, Rizzo really does pass the eye test at first base. Moreover, defensive metrics at first can be tough to decipher. Our own John Griffin wrote about this in the context of Rizzo earlier this season.
After re-signing this offseason, Rizzo is penciled at first base for his age-34 and 35 seasons. While the aging curve comes for everyone eventually, there are a couple of reasons to be optimistic about Rizzo’s bat moving forward. First, some underlying data from 2022 suggest that Rizzo still boasts a robust skill set. Last season, his average exit velocity, hard hit percentage, and whiff percentage were all above average. His barrel, strikeout, and walk percentages were comfortably above average, alongside his expected slugging percentage. And his maximum exit velocity was elite, ranking in the 91st percentile.
Moreover, a rule change for 2023 will impact Rizzo offensively. New restrictions on the shift mean that defensive alignments against Rizzo will look different. In 2022, he was shifted against over 80% of the time. Moving forward, he should only be seeing two defenders on the right side of second base, with restrictions on how deep the infielders can play against him.
The Yankees might have to manage his balky back in 2023, but if Rizzo can replicate his 2022 season, let alone improve on it, no one will complain. A lefty power bat who brings veteran leadership and a championship pedigree is nothing to sneeze at, especially if half the Yankees infield next season ends up being manned by a new generation of youngsters.