Before the Yankees settled on signing Anthony Rizzo to a two-year, $32 million deal this past winter, general manager Brian Cashman tried reeling in bigger options. Freddie Freeman was the most prominent one that didn’t pan out. While having him in the middle of New York’s lineup would’ve been ideal, Rizzo has proven to be quite valuable.
The left-handed hitter got a taste of playing in the Bronx last season when the Yankees acquired him at the trade deadline. So, it’s not like this is unfamiliar territory for the 2016 World Series champion. With another opportunity to call Yankee Stadium his home ballpark, Rizzo has adjusted his approach at the plate accordingly.
Although his .226 average through 522 plate appearances is among his lowest for a single season, he’s found other ways to be productive. His 136 wRC+ is at its highest mark since 2019. With 2.5 fWAR, he’s surpassed the 2.0 mark for the eighth time in his career. Most notably, Rizzo’s 32 home runs have tied a career-high. It’s a number he’s familiar with, too — he’s reached it three other times.
How he’s gotten to this point is different from previous years, though.
Rizzo’s offensive production has been consistent whether he’s at home or on the road. However, he’s had more success at Yankee Stadium while staring at that short porch in right field. The first baseman has hit 19 of his homers in the Bronx while producing a .861 OPS (he’s slugged 13 with a .800 OPS on the road).
The biggest difference when looking at his statistics? That’d be a substantial increase in fly-ball rate. Entering this season, Rizzo hadn’t finished with a fly-ball rate higher than 40.0% since 2016 (41.3%). The highest it had ever been was 43.6% in 2015. So far this year, it’s all the way up at 50.1%. Among hitters with at least 500 plate appearances, that number is third-highest in baseball.
If you’re going to hit that many more balls in the air, it’s important to execute at the plate. That’s what Rizzo has done. His 195 wRC+ on this batted-ball event is a huge increase from the two seasons prior. And after posting a 29.9% hard-hit rate on fly balls in 2021, that number has jumped back up to 38.5%.
All of the attention for the Yankees this upcoming offseason will be focused on whether or not they can retain Aaron Judge. But will Rizzo be back in the mix in 2023? The second season of his two-year deal is a player option, so we’ll see if he wants to test the open market ahead of his age-33 campaign.
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