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July 26, 2011
Is Rizzo The New Choi?
Buster Olney tweeted this nugget over the weekend:
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.
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:
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:
This was the analysis at Sox Prospects:
And this from Baseball America:
And Keith Law:
And Jonathan Mayo:
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