During his lengthy run as a member of the Chicago Cubs, Anthony Rizzo became an incredibly well-rounded offensive presence. Unlike other first baseman in the league who took a feast-or-famine approach with them to the plate, he was a guy who was perfectly fine working deep into at-bats, taking his walks and even choking up when behind in the count.
Now in his first full season with the Yankees, Rizzo is still certainly capable of doing all those things, but where he’s really thriving is with his power stroke. Through 66 games, the three-time All-Star already has 19 home runs, putting his previous career-best mark of 32 very much within striking distance.
Rizzo hit 32 in a year three times with Chicago, in 2014, 2016 and 2017, frequently depositing balls into the right-field bleachers at Wrigley. This season, while still remaining well above-average in both walk and strikeout rate, he’s hitting the ball hard, ranking in the 88th percentile in xSLG and 81st in barrel rate.
Before I delve into the numbers, you have to just put it out there right away: Rizzo is obviously taking advantage of playing his home games at Yankee Stadium and it’s lefty-friendly dimensions; 12 of his 19 home runs have come at home this year.
Cubs: Anthony Rizzo is hitting the ball in the air more than ever before
So what’s changed (besides playing in the Bronx)? He’s gotten onboard the launch angle train. Last year, Rizzo set a career-high, hitting the ball in the air 27 percent of the time. This year, he’s added a full 10.3 percent to that mark, going with a fly ball approach in 37.3 percent of his trips to the plate. That’s led to a subsequent downturn in his ground ball rate and the increase in power numbers.
Looking at the big picture if you’re New York, things are obviously going well. They’re an MLB-best 50-17, riding big-time power production from the likes of Rizzo and Aaron Judge, along with Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres. Most thought Rizzo was on the decline near the end of his Cubs tenure, but now, we’re watching him slug at a rate we haven’t seen since he helped end the Cubs’ World Series drought back in 2016.
Oftentimes, a drastic change like this can be traced back to an organizational approach. The Cubs, a team known for striking out way too much and relying on power to score runs up and down the lineup, likely enjoyed the grind-it-out approach Rizzo brought. After all, they had plenty of guys who could hit the ball out of the yard, but few who seemed willing and able to control the zone and stay patient.
New York, meanwhile, it looking to drive the ball out of the yard – and, like I said, it’s working. The Yankees lead the league with a .770 team OPS and .443 slugging percentage. Their strikeout total ranks in the bottom-third of all 30 teams (unlike the Cubs, who rank eighth currently) – and things are firing on all cylinders.
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At this point, if he’s healthy, Rizzo has a real shot at not only topping his career-high in home runs, but obliterating that mark for a team that looks to be a very serious World Series contender.