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The extremes (and downsides) of Anthony Rizzo’s changes are showing

The slugging first baseman has looked quite different this year, mostly for the better, but his recent slump has shown the downsides of his new approach.

MLB: New York Mets at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Rizzo has been a different player this season for the Yankees. He’s still been good, and he’s still been Anthony Rizzo, but his mentality at the plate is quite a bit different than it has been in the past. His altered plate approach has helped Rizzo suit himself for his new ballclub, and it’s propelled for the most part, but it’s carried with it some downsides that have shown themselves over his recent slump.

For most of this year, Rizzo has hit for big power, thanks in part to a career high in fly ball percentage. This has subsequently resulted in a career-high ISO, at the cost of a modest reduction in his on-base skills. For the most part, this has played to his benefit, as he’s enjoying one of his best seasons at the plate in years, thanks to a significant power surge geared in part towards taking advantage of the short porch at Yankee Stadium. Recently, however, we have seen the extremes of the changes he’s made, along with the inevitable consequences that come with them.

Perhaps the most notable and tangible change Rizzo seems to have made in 2022, is a shift to a more power-focused approach at the plate. The first baseman has swatted 28 home runs in just 113 games, propelling him to a .260 ISO, which would be the highest mark of his career. Inevitably, we have also seen an increased strikeout rate (19.1 percent), and drop offs in the contact and on-base departments (.223 BA/.338 OBP). As mentioned, these changes have been largely fruitful for Rizzo; his 134 wRC+ is second best on the Yankees and the best number he’s put up since 2019. Much of the cause behind this shift is due to Rizzo hitting the ball in the air more than ever. His 50.3 percent fly ball rate is a significant career high.

Unfortunately, as with most things, if there is reward to be had, there is also some risk involved as well. You get something, you must give something. Rizzo is striking out more than he ever has this season, 19.1 percent of the time. And there is likely some correlation here, as swings conducive to fly balls tend to be conducive to whiffs as well.

Recently, we have been seeing these exact downsides play out for Rizzo at the plate. In August, the lefty is hitting to an 86 wRC+, slashing .194/.280/.373. That’s not what you want out of your first baseman in any form, but perhaps most notable in this slump has been his strikeout rate. This month, Rizzo is striking out nearly a third of the time with a 32 percent rate. To go along with the theme, he’s also hitting even more fly balls than he was before, doing so at a 53.5 percent clip.

There is also the added factor of a general shift in his approach at the plate this month too. Rizzo was one of the few Yankees not to buy into a more aggressive mindset at the plate at the beginning of the year, maintaining fairly consistent swing rates compared to the past. But this month, Rizzo has increased his swing rate from 44.2 percent to 51.6 percent. This has also inevitably led to an increase in his swing rate on pitches outside the zone by over 7 percent. Partnering these newfound tendencies with his recent increased struggles making contact is certainly not an ideal combination for Rizzo or the Yankees.

This is not cause for serious concern over Rizzo. His 86 wRC+ in August is bad, but nothing jaw-dropping over just a month’s sample. It would take either a much longer, or much deeper, slump to force us to worry that Rizzo was having more than just a rough go of it at the plate for a bit. That said, Rizzo has looked quite a bit different than in past years, selling out a bit for an uptick in power, which has suited him well for the most part, but it’s also likely going to entail occasional slumps that look like this. The Yankees just need to hope that he can return to the happy middle ground that he has enjoyed for much of this year as they enter the most important times of the season.