When the Yankees passed on trading for Matt Olson and passed on signing Freddie Freeman, there was some disappointment and frustration in many Yankee-centric circles. Anthony Rizzo was the consolation prize. But his start to 2022, featuring a league-leading nine home runs, has halted that idea in its tracks. Behind this torrid start is something that should seem simple when it comes to a lefty hitter who plays at Yankee Stadium: pulling the ball.
This year, Rizzo is pulling the ball at a career high 56.2% rate, well above his average of 42.1%. He’s also paired this with hitting the ball on the ground less than normal: 32.3% compared to 39.4% for his career. What’s surprising about this, in a good way, is that he hasn’t sacrificed going the other way. He’s at 21% oppo, compared to 21.9% for his career. He’s not hitting the ball up the middle nearly as much–22.6 vs. 35.8–but that hasn’t hurt his production at all.
Let’s take a look at his 2022 spray chart, via Baseball Savant, of course:
All the power is to the right side. And that tracks in the numbers. Rizzo is sporting a .698 wOBA to right field, along with a wildly ridiculous .800 ISO to his pull side. Last year’s numbers there were strong–.402 and .371–but this year’s are otherworldly. This goes back to that lowered ground ball rate. In 2021, Rizzo’s average launch angle to right was 8.8. This year, it’s 14.1. Both years have the same average exit velocity–91.1–so that change in angle is definitely helping boost production.
Logic would dictate that Rizzo is likely doing damage on inside pitches, going with them and pulling them. But that isn’t the case, at least when it comes to home runs:
He already has three home runs on that middle-out portion of the zone, one more than he had there all of last year. In fact, 2021 saw Rizzo hit just four homers on the outside portion of both in and out of zone. He’ll likely eclipse that soon, don’t you think? This is likely a result of how close Rizzo stands to the plate. He’s been able to get the barrel on those outside pitches and drive them to right or right-center, with great results. His doubles show an entirely different process, especially compared to 2021, below:
Somehow, he had no doubles on the inside part of the zone, and just one in the low/in out of zone portion. Given how close he stands to the plate, this makes sense. What he’s done with homers this year–hooking them from the outside–he did with doubles last year. This year, his four doubles have all come on inside pitches:
Now, this could be noise, but it could also be a result of good bat control on Rizzo’s part, which wouldn’t be a stretch at all.
Regardless of the reason, and regardless of how reversed it seems to pull the outside pitches for homers and the inside ones for doubles, Rizzo is having a ton of success pulling the ball so far in 2022. We always hear about going up the middle or to the opposite field as ‘a nice piece of hitting’ but the same can be true for pulled balls. In the early going this season, Anthony Rizzo is proving that.