Anthony Rizzo is back! No, not like the term "back" you see on Twitter dot com. Instead, he is actually back in the lineup from an injury, and he made his presence felt in his first game back in a 12-8 Yankees win against the Milwaukee Brewers. He went 3-for-6, scoring two runs and hitting a 368-foot home run with an exit velocity of 94.7 MPH. It only had an xBA of .190, too, but we won't talk about that.
Nonetheless, the Italian man is back just in time. With just 15 regular season games remaining and a division and postseason spot still needing to be locked down, there's nothing more important to the Yankees than bringing back players from the injury list.
But what makes Rizzo so unique? Why do I think he's one of the most integral pieces of the Yankees roster? There are a few reasons, some of which are more obvious than others.
First, he's left-handed. That's not the most complicated answer to throw out because it's obvious, but a hitter that can smack a baseball over the fence from the left batter's box is a tremendous asset. Especially when you have Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton batting second and fourth in the lineup, it gives the Yankees a threat that other teams can't just look past to get to the more dangerous power hitter, especially when Rizzo is on a heater.
In 118 games and 495 plate appearances over the 2022 season, Rizzo has hit very well. He's slashing .229/.341/.500 with an OPS+ of 137, which is 37 percent above the average. His fWAR sits at 2.7, which ranks 10th among all first basemen according to FanGraphs. The only players above him with less than 135 games at least are Luis Arraez (seventh) of the Minnesota Twins, who is currently fighting for the batting title in the American League with Judge and Xander Bogaerts, and DJ LeMahieu (eighth). The rest of the players have played most, if not all, of the games for their team all season.
So, Rizzo is not only a left-handed top-of-the-lineup batter, but he has been one of the best first basemen in the entirety of MLB. Missing him in the lineup may have taken more of a hit than many fans initially thought. One interesting thing about Rizzo's statistical profile is his low defense ratings. Per DRS, he sits 14th among all first basemen with a -3, and according to OAA, he sits 11th with a -2 rating. These numbers are slightly shocking for someone that is lauded because of his defensive abilities (many of which we've seen make themselves apparent on the diamond). Of course, baseball defensive metrics still have a way to go in terms of accuracy, but when players with low ratings consistently make plays like this, it's hard to trust them fully.
For the Yankees to succeed, they need Rizzo in the lineup. It gives them that left-handed bat that can hit for contact or power. But it also gives them more positional flexibility. LeMahieu can focus on splitting duties at third and first instead of being at just one, which I'm sure he doesn't mind anyway.
All of this also means less Marwin Gonzalez in the lineup, which depending on who you ask, could be a good or bad thing. Aaron Boone has plenty of options to play with as the season winds down, especially if Rizzo can keep performing at the level he has all season. This stretch is the most important of the season against some very beatable teams, and the Italian man that wears 48 will be vital to winning the division and securing a bye in the postseason.