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July 26, 2011

BP Unfiltered

Is Rizzo The New Choi?

by R.J. Anderson

Buster Olney tweeted this nugget over the weekend:

Rival evaluator on Anthony Rizzo:"My concern(for SD) is that he is Hee-Seop Choi. Any fastball that starts with a '9' is a problem for him."

Quotes like these are used to spice up rumors and reports because they work well. On the surface, this is an interesting comparison, one with potentially huge ramifications, but dig a little deeper and a degree of skepticism rises to the top. Whenever an anonymous source s quoted, you have to consider the endgame for that person. With the term “rival evaluator” being used here, it could very well mean a front office type within a National League West organization—and those fellow would like nothing more than to devalue the Padres assets.

Rizzo’s struggles in the majors this season (a .143/.282/.265 line in 117 plate appearances) only help to validate the possible truthfulness of the claim. The amount of advance scouting information available to major league pitchers trumps that available to minor leaguers, therefore it is possible that word spread fast about Rizzo’s struggles, and thus pitchers swarmed him with 90-plus mile per hour fastballs whenever they could.  Thanks to Mike Fast and PITCHf/x data, some questions about Rizzo’s performance against 90-plus mile per hour fastballs can be gathered and presented in a timely manner.

Before getting to the data, I feel that I must apply the usual caveats. This is a small sample size and shouldn’t be used to evaluate Rizzo’s true ability to hit fastballs of any speed. Consider this simply an evaluation on what Rizzo did while he was in the majors—a fact check of sorts—and nothing more. Because it’s difficult to justify attributing credit for a walk or strikeout to one pitch, instead, the focus will be on batting average, slugging percentage, and peripheral stats that display Rizzo’s ability to make contact and recognize balls from strikes.

Type

Fastball 90+ mph

Fastball <90 mph

Number

186

73

BABIP

.158

.400

SLGBIP

.263

.800

Ball%

41%

34%

Called strike%

13%

16%

Foul%

19%

23%

In play%

10%

14%

Swinging strike%

16%

12%

Do note that the batting average and slugging percentage components are for the balls put into play only—hence why it’s BABIP and not straight-up BA. Rizzo made less contact with faster heaters, but also took more of them for balls. These numbers are meaningless without comparing them to a baseline, so here are the league-average totals for the 2011 season:

Type

Fastball 90+ mph

Fastball <90 mph

Number

170,860

75,855

BABIP

.323

.332

SLGBIP

.493

.531

Ball%

36%

36%

Called strike%

18%

22%

Foul%

19%

16%

In play%

19%

20%

Swinging strike%

8%

6%

It appears that Rizzo did swing and miss more often than the league-average rate, and did lack the success on 90-plus mile per hour fastballs that the rest of the league has (when they put the ball into play), but the sample size is too small to draw any conclusions. Even if you go back to the scouting reports about Rizzo, the most damning thing about his swing is this:

The Bad: Rizzo's power came at a cost, as he became frequently pull-conscious and saw his strikeout rate go up significantly. One scout who has seen Rizzo throughout his career put it best by saying, “I've seen him hit for average, and I've seen him it for power, but I am left wondering if he can do both.”

This was the analysis at Sox Prospects:

Swing: Rizzo uncoils from an open stance that he closes down upon the pitch’s approach to home plate. While his swing is long, it is quick through the strike zone and to the point of contact. Rizzo’s swing is free and easy as he generates what seems like effortless plus batspeed. With a path through the zone on an upward plane, he produces excellent lift that he has been honing since entering the Red Sox organization.

And this from Baseball America:

Scouting Report: Rizzo generates plus power with strength and leverage. He drives the ball well to the opposite field and last season began pulling pitches for home runs. With his willingness to use the entire field and his patience, he should hit for a solid average and draw some walks, though he needs to refine his two-strike approach.

And Keith Law:

At the plate, Rizzo has a simple, easy stroke that generates mostly line drives, although he's showing more ability to stay back and drive the ball out to right.

And Jonathan Mayo:

He's exactly what you want from a first baseman, with plenty of power from his left-handed bat. There is some swing-and-miss to his game, but he should continue to improve his plate discipline

There doesn’t appear to be anyone who honed in on a potential flaw in his swing while Rizzo was a prospect. The numbers do bear that he had some troubles while in the majors, but it is a small sample size and he is just 21-years-old. Choi, by comparison, didn’t have Prospectus looking for answers until he was 25. Maybe all of the prospect analysts and all of the Padres scouts and evaluators missed something with Rizzo so easily spottable by a rival evaluator, or maybe, and more likely, it’s just too early to be jumping to conclusions.

Big thanks to Mike Fast and Marc Normandin for research assistance

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

Related Content:  Mike Rizzo

11 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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monkey

Maybe it's just me, but I read the scout's quote and am left wondering; do pitchers not throw in the 90s in the minors? It seems people just got over-hyped about a 21 year old hitting in a high-offense environment. I agree in the long term he will be ok

Jul 26, 2011 12:22 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member R.J. Anderson
BP staff

I suppose the thinking is that pitchers in the majors might tend to throw a higher rate of 90-plus mph pitches than in the minors, or perhaps more quality pitches, in terms of location and movement--although that isn't necessarily being hinted at.

Jul 26, 2011 12:50 PM
 
Matt Kory

Two things, Ben. Well, three. First, I enjoyed this. So thanks.

Second, I understand this was mostly a thought exercise but always consider the source, i.e. I wouldn't put much stock into what Buster Olney says in this theater. I'm sure he's a nice person and all but there has been entirely too much silliness from him over the years to take what he has to say in regard to talent too seriously. Just my opinion of course.

Third, and my only issue with what you wrote, I suppose in some ideal total-value-based world a rival evaluator would get some utility out of attempting to devalue Rizzo, but in practice, I just don't see how it's really possible. Say the Diamondbacks GM came out and said, "Rizzo has eighty-seven holes in his swing and I wouldn't give a pre-chewed piece of gum for him." Would that really alter Rizzo's value? And even if it did, more importantly, would it really matter to the Padres? The Padres are not going to trade Rizzo. They can't. They've got too much invested in him now. One way or the other Rizzo will remain with San Diego long enough that his play on the field will have the ultimate impact on his value, not what some faceless evaluator says to Buster Olney.

Sorry to go on and on about this.

Jul 26, 2011 13:07 PM
rating: 1
 
Matt Kory

For some reason I thought Ben Lindbergh was the author of this piece. My apologies, R.J.

Jul 26, 2011 13:08 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

I wish I could claim to have come up with this idea, but it was all R.J.

Jul 26, 2011 13:29 PM
 
BP staff member R.J. Anderson
BP staff

Ha, no biggies.

Jul 26, 2011 13:36 PM
 
BP staff member R.J. Anderson
BP staff

Re: Devaluing Rizzo

I agree with your thoughts. The Padres shouldn't care what a rival says, and I don't believe it effects them much at all. What it might effect is the public perception around Rizzo, but little else--I doubt too many teams are going to take that quote and keep it in mind if they have the chance to acquire him down the road.

Perhaps I should have used "discredit" in place of devalue, as I do believe the D-Backs, Dodgers, Rockies, and Giants evaluators are more likely to nitpick a Padres player rather than say, "Oh, that Rizzo could be something else." If you replace devalue with discredit in my original sentence, then I believe we're on the same page. Am I right?

Jul 26, 2011 13:34 PM
 
BP staff member R.J. Anderson
BP staff

And I don't believe it AFFECTS them much at all either.

Jul 26, 2011 13:48 PM
 
Brian Cartwright

With Rizzo putting in play 10% of the 186 fastballs of 90+ mph, and 14% of the 73 less than 90 mph, that's a sample of only 19 and 10 batted balls with which to attempt a babip comparison. After regressing with about 1000 league average balls in play...

What I do see is that Rizzo's swing and miss rates at both groups of fastball speeds are twice the league average (16/8 of 90+, 12/6 of <90). He needs to make more contact on fastballs of any speed.

Jul 26, 2011 14:04 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member R.J. Anderson
BP staff

Brian,

One thought I had was to compare Rizzo's whiff rates on fastballs to similar hitters--a similar group of big guys who fan and hit for power. Obviously I didn't break that out here, because as you allude to, the sample size is incredibly small, but I do wonder if that would give us a better baseline than the league-average marks. My guess is, those guys would whiff more often on fastballs overall, and more on the higher velocities.

Jul 26, 2011 14:06 PM
 
Brian Cartwright

The sample size on batted balls is incredibly small, thanks in part to his excessive whiff rate, but the pitch counts are at decent levels.

I don't know how much value a comparison to similar style hitters has, as if Rizzo wants to stay in the major leagues his competition is major league quality hitters, especially those who play his position. So yes, start with MLB average, then maybe MLB average first basemen.

Jul 26, 2011 14:24 PM
rating: 0
 
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