Yankees first baseman’s struggles reaching a boiling point

Jun 6, 2024; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo (48) reacts after being hit by a foul ball during the third inning against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

New York Yankees 1B Anthony Rizzo continues to slump amidst a frustrating season for the 34-year-old veteran. The first baseman’s struggles have gone largely unnoticed throughout this season due to the Yankees’ dominance as a team. However, his lackluster offense of late has become a problem that the team may soon feel the need to address.

Anthony Rizzo is in the midst of a brutal slump at the plate

May 23, 2024; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo (48) follows through on an RBI sacrifice fly against the Seattle Mariners during the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
May 23, 2024; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo (48) follows through on an RBI sacrifice fly against the Seattle Mariners during the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Rizzo is currently in the midst of a 7 for 57 slump, good for a .123 batting average, with zero home runs, two RBIs, and a measly .335 OPS in that span. The last time he hit a home run was almost an entire month ago on May 10th against the Tampa Bay Rays.

On the season, Rizzo is managing just a .228 batting average, with seven home runs, 25 RBI’s, a .633 OPS, and a woeful 85 WRC+, becoming a massive black hole in the Yankees lineup. Entering play Friday, Rizzo had accumulated -0.1 fWAR this season, the 12th-worst mark in all of Major League Baseball.

Yankees 1B advanced metrics paint an even uglier picture

A deeper dive into Rizzo’s advanced metrics demonstrates just how much the first baseman has struggled this season. The 34-year-old’s once-productive bat has now slowed down dramatically. Rizzo ranks poorly in many offensive categories per Baseball Savant, including:

xWOBA: .291 (20th percentile)

xBA: .237 (28th percentile)

xSLG: .351 (20th percentile)

Avg. Exit Velocity: 86.4 MPH (14th percentile)

Bat Speed: 68.3 (8th percentile)

Barrel %: 4.7% (19th percentile)

Hard-Hit%: 32.5% (15th percentile)

Additionally, Rizzo’s discipline at the plate has been almost non-existent, carrying a Chase % of 36% (11th percentile), and a BB % of just 5.8% (20th percentile). Simply put, Rizzo has statistically speaking been one of Major League Baseball’s least-productive offensive players in 2024.

The once-trustworthy defensive first baseman has now taken a step back

mlb: kansas city royals at new york yankees, anthony rizzo
Jul 22, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo (48) reacts after striking out against the Kansas City Royals during the third inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Rizzo, previously a four-time Gold Glove Winner, has also taken a step back defensively in 2024. This season, he has accumulated zero Outs Above Average (OAA), well behind his six Outs Above Average in 2023, and zero Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), also well behind his 2023 mark of three Defensive Runs Saved.

Rizzo’s struggles can be traced back as far as last season

The three-time All-Star’s struggles go beyond just this week, this month, or even this season. Rather, Rizzo’s prolonged slump can be traced all the way back to late May of last season.

On May 28th, 2023 in a game against the San Diego Padres, Rizzo was involved in a rather odd collision at first base with Padres OF Fernando Tatis Jr, with the right hip of Tatis Jr. appearing making contact with Rizzo’s head and neck area. Rizzo would miss the Yankees’ next few games with a neck injury, and return on June 2nd, 2023.

Since that day, Rizzo has totaled 450 plate appearances, to which he has managed a porous slash line of .207/.284/.299, with just eight home runs, 34 RBIs, 13 doubles, and a 70 WRC+. Of 176 players with at least 450 plate appearances in that span, Rizzo ranks 174th in RBIs, 170th in WRC+, and 171st in fWAR (-1.0). Given the timing, it begs the question of whether or not Rizzo’s rapid decline in production has anything to do with the collision or is simply the result of a veteran player entering the late stages of his career.

Yankees’ hot-hitting prospect could soon threaten Rizzo’s playing time

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers, ben rice
Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Rizzo’s seemingly long leash as the Yankees’ everyday first baseman could soon reach its end barring an unprecedented turnaround. Earlier this week, C/1B Ben Rice, the Yankees 12th overall prospect, was promoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after hitting 12 home runs with a .893 OPS in 49 games with Double-A Somerset.

Rice has gotten off to a fast start in Triple-A, boasting a .636/.692/1.636 slash line with three home runs and seven RBI’s in three games with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. If Rice continues to impress, there’s a chance he could soon take over the everyday first base duties for the Yankees later this season.

Even as Rizzo’s struggles continue, the Yankees have been able to weather the storm. At 45-20, the Yankees have the best record in the American League and are just behind the Philadelphia Phillies (44-19) for the best record in all of MLB. Given their title aspirations, Rizzo will need to turn things around sooner rather than later, as the team is less likely to be as patient with him as they were last season, especially with a player like Rice ready to take his spot.

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