Anthony Rizzo A Poor Man's Joey Votto?

Anthony Rizzo A Poor Man's Joey Votto?

Editor's Note: Just the other day I had a discussion on Twitter, which included the notion that Anthony Rizzo is developing into a poor man's or actually poor team's Joey Votto.

So I asked AJ to take a look and either debunk or confirm my crazy thought.

So Loxas Boss asked me to compare these two guys. And before I even start, let's talk about a few obvious similarities between these two blokes.

They both play above-average defense at first base. And they both have a similar approach at the plate, an approach that goes beyond just pitch selection: unlike an Adam Dunn or a Chris Davis, who I view as more "grip it and rip it" type hitters, Votto and Rizzo both give up a bit of power to keep their strikeout rates low.

OK, now I'm going to look at the K rates and ISOs for Dunn, Davis, Votto, and Rizzo to see whether or not I'm full of shit:

  • Dunn: 28.4% K, .256 ISO
  • Davis: 30.4% K, .243 ISO
  • Votto: 18.5% K, .226 ISO
  • Rizzo: 19.1% K, .174 ISO

Since 2012, 16 qualifying first basemen have ISOed at least .180 (recall that ISO = SLG - AVG, basically slugging minus singles). Of that group, just 6 have struck out in fewer than 1 in 5 plate appearances (20%): Edwin Encarnacion (surprisingly awesome stats actually), Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Freddie Freeman, Joey Votto, and Anthony Rizzo.

(ASIDE: If you really wanna play "guy that looks like another guy", Rizzo and Freeman should be your round one. They were born about a month apart and have nearly identical walk rate, k rate, and ISO at this point in their careers. Freeman's overall line looks much better due to about 60 extra points of BABIP.)

So who's better right now, Rizzo or Votto? The similarity between the two sets of numbers for the month of April might surprise you.

  • Rizzo: ..283/.407/.457, 16% BB, 16% K, .174 ISO, .310 BABIP
  • Votto: .280/.438/.462, 20% BB, 18% K, .183 ISO, .324 BABIP

Cool, right? Loxas may have a point here. Of course, Rizzo will have to continue to outhit his career numbers to keep his line this good, while Votto is more likely to get even hotter from where he is now. Observe their career lines:

  • Rizzo: .242/.331/.415, 10.7% BB, 19.1%K, .174 ISO, .273 BABIP
  • Votto: .313/.420/.539, 15% BB, 18.5% K, .226 ISO, .358 BABIP

Clearly the two do share some skills. Considering their power, neither player whiffs quite as much as comparable players. And Rizzo has a good eye (Votto has a great one).

It's interesting that the same statistic leads to Rizzo's falling short in comparisons to both Votto and Freeman, and that's batting average on balls in play. And it's too simplistic to simply write this off as a case of Rizzo being unlucky, and Votto and Freeman both having somehow gotten a rabbit's foot up into their respective asses.

Let's look at batted-ball types: line drives, ground balls, and fly balls for each batter. And let's also tack on the percent of each hitter's fly balls that have turned into home runs.

  • Rizzo: 21% line drives/43.4% ground balls /35.7% fly balls, with a 13.2% HR/FB
  • Freeman: 25.5% line drives /38.6% ground balls /35.9% fly balls, with a 14.8% HR/FB
  • Votto: 25.3% line drives / 41.4% ground balls / 33.2% fly balls, with a 18.9% HR/FB

Of course, there's probably some bias in how these numbers are reported: if a ball falls in for a hit, it's more likely to be called a line drive than a fly ball. There's probably at least a little bit of bad luck, too. And there's probably some skill in here as well.

What's the safest way to interpret all these numbers? I think we can say that Rizzo *could* force his way into the conversation as one of the best-hitting first basemen in MLB this year. The underlying skills, for the most part, are there. And with slightly better luck, he doesn't need to change anything. It could be that Freeman and Votto are better hitters than Rizzo, but the eye and the power are there -- just needs more balls to hit grass instead of glove, one way or another!

Does that clarify anything at all? I certainly hope so.


  • of something, but in spite of everything. They've given us little other than hope, and that in alarmingly short and intermittent bursts. But when they win, oh, when they win...


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    • Adam LaRoche is the comparison that I've found most effective so far. While not a completely fair exercise given the ages comparing their numbers over the past four seasons is eerily similar. But I suppose I've always been bearish on Rizzo's ceiling offensively. The emerging evidence suggesting we've entered a period of "peakless" production from players doesn't help me see that power explode beyond the 25 HR level.

    • In reply to Gunther Dabynsky:

      It's eerie how similar Rizzo and Freeman are by basically every measure except BABIP. Freeman has squared up a few more balls than Rizzo has so far.

    • I'm just happy to see him back where I thought he would be. I just wonder if he will be better off near upper half of line up now or still 5/6?

    • Just wondering how you evaluate Rizzo's defense as above average. I'm not arguing to the contrary, just curious. I looked at Fangraphs and in the player stats they have a category called "Def" -- Rizzo had a negative value last season and has one again so far this year.

      Is there a defensive stat you use that shows he's above average?

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