Anthony Rizzo has undoubtedly been a important part of this Yankees lineup, but there has been a lot of contrast in his production over the course of the first two months of 2022. In April, the Yankees’ first baseman was one of the most productive players in baseball, putting up a 206 wRC+ and hitting nine home runs, the most in the sport, in just under 100 plate appearances. Now, in the first few weeks of May, Rizzo’s wRC+ sits at 77. His season total still sits at 146, an excellent mark, but that contrast is worth looking at. The odd thing is that not a lot has changed about the way or the quality with which Rizzo is hitting the ball. Instead, this month Rizzo seems to be playing into his tendencies more than ever, and opposing defenses are taking advantage.
So far in 2022, Rizzo is pulling the ball much more than he ever has in his career. He’s doing this 55.1 percent of the time, over seven percent higher than any full season of his in the majors. As a result, opposing teams are shifting against the first baseman more than ever as well, doing so a bit over 86 percent of the time. This would be the highest rate at which Rizzo has seen defensive shifts, and a significant high water mark outside of the shortened 2020 season.
These things on their own aren’t inherently bad things, but the combination makes logical sense, and it’s one that may be hurting Rizzo particularly. As a likely consequence of this combination, Rizzo has a BABIP well below his typical number, with a mark of .213 this year in comparison to a .281 figure over the course of his career.
Interestingly, Rizzo’s quality of contact has not taken much of a hit as the season has progressed. In fact, New York’s first baseman is having one of his best seasons as far as average exit velocity and hard hit rate go. This is something that has stayed relatively consistent as the calendar turned from April to May as well. The same rings true for his BABIP, and the percentage at which he was shifted against.
In May, however, an important change is that his ground ball percentage has gone up in comparison to April. Teams play a fairly traditional shift against the slugger with three infielders on the right side, and one just to the left of second base, with the outfield playing pretty much straight up.
This makes his increased groundball rate even more important to consider. In essence he has begun to hit even more into the shifts opposing teams are so often deploying against him.
On top of this, in April when Rizzo was hitting the ball, he was making it count. Close to a third of his fly balls went for home runs, which of course is not very sustainable, but neither is the four percent rate he’s had so far in May. Put all of these things together, and you have Rizzo slugging .309 in the month of May, less than half of his .675 April mark.
Anthony Rizzo’s batted ball profile has been more predictable than ever in 2022, and defenses are taking advantage of it. To start the year, he was hitting the ball over the fence often enough that it didn’t matter all that much. Of course, hot stretches always come and go, and Rizzo’s total season performance has still been quite good even by his standards. But now that the home runs have slowed down and the ground balls have increased, some of the negative consequences of his approach are beginning to show.