For years, critics cried about the Yankees‘ lack of left-handed bats to balance the lineup. Turns out what they were really missing was an old Italian to sit on the porch all day.
Anthony Rizzo, fresh off a third-place finish in the 2022 Offseason First Base Race (according to Yankee fans and rivals), has opened the season looking like an energized version of his immediate post-2021 trade deadline self.
You remember that Riz that nobody beat, right? He arrived from Chicago and energized the Bombers in a hotly-contested, well-pitched road series in Miami, then returned home and tested positive for COVID almost immediately. Then, for the rest of his season, he was treading water, sitting in the same slightly-above-league-average OPS+ range that doomed him to also ran status in 2021-22’s abbreviated free agency cycle.
But now, given the keys to the Yankees’ kingdom for at least one year at a far lower acquisition cost than Freddie Freeman or Matt Olson, he’s outpacing his chief competition for the role. Rizzo punctuated his early difference-making with a three-homer game on Tuesday unlike any other in league history.
While his detractors will use the Yankee Stadium of it all to discount Rizzo’s three-homer game with the shortest combined distance in MLB history … that’s also why his return to the Yankees was so crucial.
This is where they play their home games (and, of course, where the road teams also play, and can take advantage of the short porch if they so choose). And, so far in 2022, this is where Rizzo fits like a glove, made of Italian leather.
Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo rides shortest 3-homer game to victory vs Orioles
Did Rizzo’s homers owe a debt of gratitude to the stadium’s dimensions? Of course. Was his third, hooking, spinning dinger one of the weirdest homers we’ve seen? Absolutely; even Rizzo couldn’t get a feel for it.
But does his impact, relative to the rest of the league, currently outpace Matt Olson and Freddie Freeman, the two high-profile first baseman who overshadowed him this offseason? Absolutely.
It’s not something the Yankees can count on for the remainder of the year. Both Olson and Freeman are in their primes, slugging from the left side for two of the National League’s best lineups.
But Rizzo, 32, is also firmly in his prime, something the rest of the league seems to have forgotten. Add in the perfect roster/stadium fit and the intangibles/adjustments he’s able to make mid-game (watch Jomboy detail his Tuesday night escapades perfectly), and you’ll realize Rizzo is far from a consolation prize — for this Yankees team specifically.
Where would the Bombers be if they hadn’t acted quickly on Rizzo while being strung along by Freeman’s camp? They’d be down their most important player outside of Aaron Judge, and the biggest change between the snoozeworthy 2021 Yankees and the pitching-and-defense-and-oh-yeah-three-homers 2022 edition.
It’s early. But so far, this team looks like more of a famiglia than in recent years.