Anthony Rizzo: Jumping the Gun

It’s completely understandable as to why the Padres were so eager to bring up their prized 21 year old, lefty, slugging first baseman.  At this time last season they were sitting atop the NL West and making an unexpected and almost improbable run that had most experts scratching their heads.  This season, they reside in the basement with little chance to repeat 2010’s success while the rest of baseball is staring at Adrian Gonzalez who leads all of MLB with a .347 average and 62 RBI.  So what better way for the franchise to save face than to promote Anthony Rizzo, the biggest chip coming back in the Gonzalez deal and a guy who’s been tearing the cover off the ball down in Triple-A.  It all sounds great and it’s probably a positive move for the franchise, but over-eager fantasy owners are probably jumping the gun with their waiver claims.

Obviously sample size plays a big part in evaluating Rizzo’s level of production since the call-up.  The kid has only appeared in 9 games and has just 36 plate appearances to his credit.  Out of the gate, he looked spectacular, going 3-for-7 with a home run and 4 walks.  All three of his hits went for extra bases and, while people weren’t forgetting about the loss of A-Gone, they were certainly feeling better about their future.  Patience at the plate, a solid batting eye, and tremendous power potential — this kid had star-quality written all over him.

But then reality set in as Rizzo managed just one hit, a measly single, over his next 20 at bats.  He did manage another 4 walks, but was also punched out 8 times.  His BB% of 22.2% looks great for a rookie, even for such a small sample of plate appearances, but the 40.7 K% is starting to overshadow the positives and looking like maybe he isn’t quite ready for the big leagues just yet.

When Jason Catania unveiled Rizzo in a recent Mining the Minors piece, he pointed out that Rizzo was “crushing the PCL from day one” and that, “even in a hitter-friendly league (.805 league-wide OPS), Rizzo’s bat stands out.”  Absolutely correct.  A .715 slugging percentage and 1.159 OPS would certainly grab anyone’s attention.  However, in looking down the rest of the names that adorn the upper tier of PCL hitters, you’ll see that there are another 15 players with an OPS over 1.000, another 19 batting over .330, 9 more slugging over .600, and another 26 with an OBP greater than .400.  So while yes, Rizzo gets some props for sitting second on that list across the board, it really does need to be taken with a grain of salt.  He’s been crushing the PCL, but so have a lot of other guys — Wily Mo Pena, Bryan LaHair, Eric Young, even Cody Ransom has phenomenal PCL stats.  Doesn’t always mean it translates to the bigs though, does it?

Then, as Catania also notes, there’s the park factors for Petco to factor in.  By almost 40%, that ballpark suppresses home runs from left-handed batters.  While that statement is a truth we all know, it is not something on which we can place current blame for Rizzo’s tortoise-like start.  The last five games have all been on the road, and while Minnesota’s Target Field is playing like a pitcher’s park, Rizzo had three games at hitter-friendly Coors Field in which he did virtually nothing.

Now sure, we can throw blame on his atrociously low .200 BABIP and say he’s been unlucky to start, but again, I point to the 40.7 K% and the fact that he’s also sporting a 56.3 GB%.  No power-hitter is going to catch fire banging balls in the dirt at that rate.  Not to mention, his contact rate right now is pretty weak (66.1%).  When pitchers do get him to fish outside the zone, he’s just missing altogether.

But believe me, I’m not here to run down Rizzo, by any means.  I happen to like the kid plenty and own him, myself, in a pair of keeper leagues.  He should eventually develop into an outstanding hitter in the majors, but fantasy owners hoping to strike gold right out of the gate are fooling themselves if they think that they’ve latched onto a 20 HR guy this season.  It’s going to take him some time to develop and I would not recommend just leaving him in your active lineup and waiting for the power to come.  Keeper leagues, he is a bench stash.  Re-draft leagues, I don’t see why he has to take up a spot on your roster in lieu of a more productive veteran.  Yes, it’s nice that the Padres don’t have very strong alternatives and should keep Rizzo in the regular lineup, even against the tough lefties, but until he gets more seasoned….a lot more seasoned…he is going to be a drain on your fantasy team’s production.



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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site,, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at

10 Responses to “Anthony Rizzo: Jumping the Gun”

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  1. Mickey says:

    9 games. 9.

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  2. Anthony Rizzo says:

    It’s been nine games. Cut me some slack, Mr. Bender. In a few weeks time, my K% will be hovering around it’s normal ~20%.

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  3. DShaffer says:

    If Rizzo was in a decent situation and owners were looking for help in deep mixers or NL only leagues, I would say take a chance on the kid earning a roster spot this season. As we all know though calling the SD situation decent would be the epitome of a euphemism. The truth is Rizzo’s new home in San Diego might as well be considered Elm Street, because it is going to haunt him for the foreseeable future. The Madres weak line up and Petco’s pitcher friendly confines will keep the first baseman’s fantasy value lower than his actual ability no matter what his talent level becomes. If you’re an owner looking for help this season I just don’t see the SD factors facilitating the kind of expedited learning curve Rizzo would need to become a contributor this year.

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  4. Brad Johnson says:

    In late May, I wrote a piece for THT titled “Promoting Anthony Rizzo is a bad idea” which is making me feel pretty smart. Except my conclusion was that as a player he’s ready to go (at least to the point where he probably learns more as an MLB regular). It’s the organization that isn’t ready. They had a chance to get value for Hawpe and Blanks that Rizzo could still block.

    Here’s the link in case anyone wants to look back.

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  5. DShaffer says:

    That was a good read…thanks for the link.

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  6. TheBigDawg says:

    With Kyle Blanks hitting at triple-A, the Padres might not be too patient with Rizzo. This might just be their opportunity to build Blank’s trade value.

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  7. mcbrown says:

    Say it with me three times: small sample size, small sample size, small sample size.

    If we want to draw inferences from a small sample, let me throw something else at you: 0.200 BABIP. By the various xBABIP methodologies floating around and using his actual batted ball profile I see an xBABIP of around 0.320-340. That would be an additional 3 or so hits expected in this small sample, and if he had 3 more hits so far his actual batting average would be “acceptable” at 0.259 and there would be no hand-wringing over his performance so far.

    As for his walk and strikeout rates, it’s not just a small sample size issue but an apples-to-oranges issue. His K% looks poor next to his BB% because fangraphs calculates K% over at bats and BB% over plate appearances. When you look at the absolute numbers it paints a different picture – he has walked 8 times and struck out 11. Combine that fact with his swinging strike rate of only 13.2% (hardly alarming for a batter of Rizzo’s profile) and a different picture emerges – one of a cautious rookie taking a lot of borderline pitches (both balls and strikes) while he gets used to the higher level of competition.

    If he had gone 0 for 36 with 0 HR and 20 K’s to start, would we really be able to conclude anything different than if he had gone 18 for 36 with 5 HR and 5 K’s? No, of course not. There is not a single statistic he has accumulated in this small sample that has reached any level of significance. I wouldn’t expect Rizzo (or any rookie) to light the world on fire for the rest of the season, but neither have I seen any reason to believe he isn’t ready for Major League pitching. Quite the opposite, actually – he seems to be handling it just fine so far.

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    • mcbrown says:

      Sorry, using his xBABIP we should expect another 2 hits, not 3, giving him an expected batting average of 0.222 (6 for 27). Not great, but also not alarming in such a (say it with me) small sample size!

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  8. It’s 30ish% K/PA. The high walk rate skews his strikeout clip (FG calcs K% as per AB, which is silly). Still high, but it’s not 40% high

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  9. Captain_Oblivious says:

    It’s worth pointing out that Rizzo’s struggles have come entirely on the road. He has a 1.463 OPS @ Petco. He’s going through an adjustment period – the lifestyle, MLB pitching every night, new ballparks and batter’s eyes, etc. Plus his recent struggles have likely got him pressing a bit at the moment. He’ll be fine.

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