First baseman Anthony Rizzo been recalled by the Padres, and the hype machine is in full effect. Rizzo, acquired in the trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez to Boston, should feel no pressure trying to replace a hometown kid who is one of the best hitters ever to don a Padres uniform. Nor should he suffer any ill effects from playing half his games in San Diego rather than Tucson.

I have compared Rizzo to Adam LaRoche; it is meant as a compliment, because LaRoche is a good ballplayer. He isn’t great, but by definition, most guys aren’t. And yet, if that’s all Rizzo ever becomes, he risks being viewed as a disappointment.

Fair? Not really, but when folks say things like, “I predict a regular Rizzo season to somewhat resemble this: .275/.350/.550, 35 HR, 110 RBI, 90 R, 35 2B, 5-10 SB,” what are we to do?

A career full of that line ends in Cooperstown. You know how many players in MLB history have posted a career .275 ISO over any appreciable amount of time? Using 3000 PA as a cutoff, there have been 10:

  1. Babe Ruth, .348
  2. Mark McGwire, .325
  3. Barry Bonds, .309
  4. Lou Gehrig, .292
  5. Hank Greenberg, .292
  6. Ted Williams, .290
  7. Albert Pujols, .290
  8. Ryan Howard, .289
  9. Jimmie Foxx, .284
  10. Jim Thome, .281

If a “regular Rizzo season” ends up being .275/.350/.550, then the Red Sox didn’t get enough for him. Single season? Hey, LaRoche hit .285/.354/.561 with 32 home runs one year; it happens. However, the possibility that Rizzo morphs into Sammy Sosa with better OBP and SLG (Sosa’s career line is .273/.344/.534) falls somewhere between slim and none.

But yeah, no pressure. Just go out there and hit like a Hall of Famer.

Did Gonzalez receive this much attention when he replaced Ryan Klesko at first base? If so, it escapes my memory.

I’m thrilled that Rizzo jumped out to a great start at Triple-A with his new organization. I’m less thrilled about the recency bias that appears to be creeping into evaluations of the young first baseman. Consider his track record to date:

Year(s)    PA   BA  OBP  SLG  BB%   K%
pre-2011 1216 .284 .354 .469  9.5 20.4
2011      232 .365 .444 .714 11.6 20.7

Rizzo doesn’t turn 22 until August, and it’s possible that he has attained a new level of mastery. At the same time, we can’t ignore the larger body of work (84 percent in this case).

We love to dream. We love to hope. I’m no different from anyone else in that regard. Neither, I would imagine, is Rizzo. But is it reasonable to expect sustained greatness from him based on a 2 1/2 month sample? Is it reasonable to think that he could be a better slugger than Manny Ramirez, or Ralph Kiner, or Mike Schmidt?

Or is all this talk nothing more than madness and frenzy? Are we just experiencing a collective Rizzomanic episode?

Enjoy the buzz. And if Rizzo turns out to be more like LaRoche and less like Thome, try not to hold it against the guy. Most players aren’t great, and it usually isn’t their fault.

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19 Responses »

  1. Great post, Geoff. Puts this situation in context very well.

    I still expect Rizzo to hit for the cycle tonight. And then serve drinks in the Gaslamp till last call.

    He can wait until tomorrow to finalize that stadium deal for the Chargers.

  2. I’m enjoying all the buzz right now, at the same time, I’m not expecting much from Rizzo on his first year in the Majors. I just hope he can handle all the pressure, and expections on his first year. If not, it might break him long term.

  3. Man, I’d be very happy with his pre-2011 line and the increased BB% he’s shown this year. Petco will crush his power relative to Tucson, but if he can get on base at that rate or better, he’s going to be fine. Of course I don’t expect him to do it right out of the box at 21, but in a couple of years when he’s had time to mature and get used to playing big league ball, those would be fine numbers in Petco

  4. just be better than hawpe … please.

  5. The season is lost, they should just keep him in AAA until September.

  6. @GY – I have suggested that Rizzo may hit something like .270/.350/.450, I would prefer more… but being realistic this seems reasonable. For comparison, Laroche’s career numbers are: .267/.337/.478. Most of the Rizzo mania is due to the “extreme” lack of production by the current Padres. The general consensus is that he can’t be worse than what we have. If Rizzo plays 4 months and sees 350 ABs and puts up .250/.320/.450 this season with 10 hrs and 45 RBI, this won’t be a disapointment to me.

    Another reason why fans may have insane expectations on hitters is that the reality of the new era of baseball may not have quite set in. We became used to 40 plus homeruns by many MLB players for years.