Anthony Rizzo's slowed reaction time on hotshot A's liner was highly worrisome

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees
Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees / Dustin Satloff/GettyImages

Yes, former top pick JJ Bleday's line drive, ticketed for first base in the opening frame of the Yankees' Wednesday showdown with the A's, was hit plenty hard. But it should've been caught -- and probably would've been caught by Anthony Rizzo last May.

The potential inflection point in Rizzo's career came about 11 months ago, when Fernando Tatis Jr. attempted to return to first base awkwardly and caught the Yankees first baseman's head flush. Rizzo played fairly consistently until Aug. 3, 2023, then was shut down in early September due to the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. Why he was allowed to continue to play as his numbers receded (.917 OPS in May, .538 in June, .457 in July) is anyone's guess. It's a question that still deserves asking daily, one season later.

Thus far in 2024, Rizzo's skills have appeared somewhat diminished at the plate, but potential lingering effects have really shown up in a stark defensive slump. It would be only natural for Rizzo to still be grappling with reactivity issues. After all, that was what he reported himself offensively last summer, stating at the time of his IL trip, "Over the last few weeks, you just start going to different checklists of mechanics, timing, consistently being late. Why am I being consistently late? I’ve made these adjustments plenty of times in my career. I just didn’t forget how to do this all of a sudden."

Though the slugger's home run ended up being the difference in Tuesday's contest, and represented an important step forward, Wednesday's first inning presented a tough-to-stomach step back, one which dulled any positive momentum. He had trouble reacting to a hotshot line drive to first base, far more dangerous than not perceiving the depth of a throw accurately. Rizzo had little time to find the baseball, and as you can tell from the video, did so at an awkward time, once it was already past him.

Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo scared us with dulled reaction time

Rizzo has made three errors to begin 2024, though one was taken away from him by an official scorer's decision one week after it had initially been committed.

The ball was scorched; there's no denying that. But that's what made Rizzo's attempt to process it so worrisome. Bleday's liner went 108.6 MPH, which could've been quite damaging if it had struck body instead of glove. According to the metrics, it would've been caught 90% of the time by an average first baseman.

Rizzo, it seemed, was likely to transition into being said "average" first baseman as the aging curve accelerated.

So far in 2024, he's been something worse, and it seems fair to wonder exactly why (even if we likely know the answer already).