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Anthony Rizzo is out of his early-June rut

The barrels are back and the swing decisions are better for the slugger the past few weeks.

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

A few weeks ago, my colleague Peter wrote about Anthony Rizzo’s neck injury and subsequent slump at the plate, particularly in regard to his xWOBA trends. With a decent sample size since then, it’s an opportune time to take stock of his month as a whole and follow up on Peter’s astute observations. As he highlighted, Rizzo had a -3 wRC+ in the first 16 games of June, and his wOBA strike zone chart tells all.

No hitter can be successful when they don’t hit strikes. Rizzo was compromised on the inner half because of his temporary bad habit of opening up his hips early leading to an inevitable rollover or pop-up.

Rizzo turned it around sharply at the plate in the second half of June, notching 10 hits in 34 at-bats dating back to the doubleheader against Boston on June 18th including three extra-base hits. After uncharacteristically struggling mightily with swing decisions, Rizzo is back to his eagle-eyed plate discipline. He walked more than he struck out in the second half of June and posted a 146 wRC+.

His results were a byproduct of his poor swing decisions in early June – slashed exit velocity and nosediving line drive rate indicated that Rizzo wasn’t getting his A swing off. Rizzo has a big swing and hard contact is his standard. His average exit velocity jumped back up to 92.9 mph in late June, an outstanding mark that signifies the result of an adjusted process. Part of this is as simple as swinging at pitches he can drive, and laying off those he can’t.

A useful barometer for Rizzo’s success is his elite ability to keep his hands inside the ball at the point of contact. In the few weeks he struggled, as Peter said, Rizzo flew open with his front side more than usual in a very un-Rizzo-like swing hitch that threw his hands off-balance when accelerating toward contact. Peter picked a telling swing from June 14 on a hanging Justin Verlander slider that Rizzo pulled off of and flied harmlessly to shallow right field. Here’s a more precisely executed slider from Mariners’ ascendent starter George Kirby on June 20 that Rizzo keeps his head on, lining it the other way for a base hit despite the excellent location.

It’d be absolutely impossible to make contact with that backdoor slider, let alone hit it hard, if the front hip opens at all early. Rizzo has calibrated his hips and hands after being desynchronized for the first half of June. It’s impressive for a left-handed power hitter to take a balanced swing at this pitch and line it to left field, and that’s what makes Rizzo better than a typical boom-or-bust power bat.

His hands are back to working precisely and his more balanced control of the strike zone shows that approach change paying off on swings in the strike zone. Here’s his wOBA chart from June 18th-30th.

That’s much more typical for Rizzo — owning the inner half and bottom of the strike zone. The results are there, but more importantly the process is there. Rizzo is taking more balanced swings at pitches he can drive, providing a salve to his strikeout rate, barrel rate, and exit velocity.

Peter also brought up Rizzo’s hard-hit percentage as the counterpoint to his xWOBA: his plummeting barrel rate and sapped power told the story of his poor swing decisions. Rizzo went the first 18 games in June without recording a barrel. Yeah, that’ll get you to a -3 wRC+.

He’s certainly righted the ship fairly quickly: the Yankees need him to hit for power with the absence of Aaron Judge and the struggles of Giancarlo Stanton. Rizzo has to pick up the slack, something he’s done time and time again in pinstripes. He’s carrying a balanced approach and better results into the midseason respite of the All-Star Break.