Before Friday night’s game against the Minnesota Twins, three position players were tied at the top of the Yankees fWAR leaderboard with 0.6: Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, and Anthony Rizzo. Sure, it was just about a dozen games, but that tells you the kind of start Rizzo has had this season — one that continued earlier today when he went yard again.
The lefty-hitting slugger was slashing a cool .326/.423/.581 with three home runs and a 179 wRC+ after his two-homer outburst on Thursday. Still, he was putting up some really nice numbers even before that game. Rizzo’s BABIP is higher than ever, at .314, and there are two main reasons for that. The first one is that he is murdering the ball and showing the perfect batted-ball mix, and the other one has to do with the shift restrictions.
Not only is Rizzo hitting the ball hard more often than ever at 55.3 percent, but his batted-ball data is gorgeous: he is hitting 28.9-percent line drives, 26.3-percent groundballs, and 44.7-percent fly balls. The more liners and fly balls, the better, because those are the types of batted balls that inflict the most damage and earn hitters the best results. Line drives are very hard to field and fly balls have the better chance to go for home runs. We are still not at the stabilization point for virtually any of the stats we mentioned here, but 52 plate appearances are not nothing and we can see Rizzo is very much locked in.
Rizzo is also rocking a career-high 94.3-percent Z-Contact% (contact on pitches in the zone), which is also very impressive. Not even in his prime years with the Chicago Cubs did he have a Z-Contact% that high. For those who might be in the “he hasn’t faced anyone of note” camp, the argument loses credibility when you realize he has gone up against Shane Bieber, Aaron Nola, Logan Webb, Joe Ryan, and a few nasty relievers. He is still getting the job done, regardless of who he is facing.
Now, the shift restrictions have also had a role in Rizzo’s BABIP increase and, therefore, his offensive production. We only have to take a look at some of his non-homer hits so far this season to understand how he has earned some extra hits to boost his BABIP and average and to have renewed hope that some balls will keep falling throughout the remainder of the season.
Some of those batted balls either would have been easily caught by the shift or would have at least been closer plays with the shortstop shading towards the other side of second base or the second baseman in short right field. All things considered, we might be about to witness Rizzo’s best season yet as a Yankee, and that’s excellent for a lineup that could really use all the consistently reliable offensive performers it gets.
Rizzo had a .224/.338/.480 line with 32 home runs and a 132 wRC+ last year. As impressive as that was, the way he is hitting the ball currently and the shift restrictions have augmented his ceiling. That’s a nice prospect for a 33-year-old corner infielder who was supposedly entering the decline phase of his career a couple of years ago.
Even if Rizzo can perform at last year’s level, Yankees fans will probably take it. However, he seems poised to finish with better numbers across the board. His performance so far has been nothing short of amazing.
Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all cited statistics were active as of the beginning of play on Friday, April 14th.