Over Yonder Rizzo?

Scratch that title…reverse it.

Hello world! I am honored to be a small part of the Chicken Friar community as a staff writer. Look for me to give my takes on a variety of topics as they relate to the San Diego Padres. I have a particular interest in the organization’s minor league system, but I’ll cover major league topics as well. I look forward to adding to the discussion of all things Padres and to connecting with you, the readers of this site.

For my first article, I wanted to focus on one of this offseason’s most interesting debates: Who’s on first…Anthony Rizzo or Yonder Alonso?

When the Mat Latos trade went down, my gut reaction was: WHAT? NOOOOOOOOOOO! Immediately after (a shot or two), I scoured MLBTR’s report on the trade to find out what sort of players we received. The first name I came across was Yonder Alonso. As I looked over his stats at Baseball-Reference, I couldn’t help but ask myself…why in the world did we trade for Anthony Rizzo, Sr. when we already had Jr.?

Honestly, I saw a tremendous amount of similarity in their performances, only Alonso was a couple of years older. Both guys put up excellent MiLB offensive numbers. They both seemed to possess solid gloves. Their prospect rankings were remarkably close. The major differences between them were that Alonso had played some outfield, and he had put up good numbers in his initial major league at bats.

The differences, in my mind, weren’t enough to justify adding Alonso to the mix for Latos. Where was that stud middle infielder we so desperately need? I also found it hard to believe that Josh Byrnes and Co. had seemingly given up on Rizzo so quickly. Including Alonso in the deal seems a clear signal that Rizzo’s days are numbered. Don’t get me wrong, Alonso’s MLB numbers are great, no doubt, but the sample size is nearly as small as Rizzo’s. I had a hard time justifying how Rizzo could be judged so negatively while Alonso seemed to be getting glowing reports, yet both were just scratching the surface in terms of MLB at bats. And, their track records were close as well.

Not long after, I starting doing some research on the numbers, fully intending to prove to myself and anyone who’d listen that Anthony Rizzo deserved the starting gig at 1B and needed to be given the opportunity to show he could figure out major league pitching. I scoured Baseball-Reference as well as Fangraphs to collate some data. I was able to fairly evenly compare their performances at the different minor league levels. The biggest factor in this analysis was finding seasons with similar at bats, to keep the playing ground level. Here’s what I came up with:

Rizzo 19 200 10.9 17.0 0.125 0.348 .295/.371/.420 0.791
Alonso 22 175 11.9 14.9 0.194 0.329 .303/.383/.497 0.880
Rizzo 20 414 9.6 21.4 0.217 0.297 .263/.334/.481 0.815
Alonso 22/23* 206* 13.7* 12.8* 0.151* 0.308* .281/.380/.432* 0.812*
Rizzo 21 356 10.4 21.5 0.320 0.369 .331/.404/.652 1.056
Alonso 23 358 8.3 17.1 0.175 0.339 .296/.355/.470 0.826
Rizzo 21 128 13.7 30.1 0.102 0.210 .141/.281/.242 0.523
Alonso 24 88 10.2 21.4 0.216 0.387 .330/.398/.545 0.943
Rizzo 11.2 22.5 0.191 0.306 .258/.348/.449 0.813
Alonso 11.0 16.6 0.184 0.341 .303/.379/.486 0.865

*these numbers cover two partial seasons at that level for Alonso. I combined the two and used averages for those seasons.

For the last chunk of the table, I calculated overall averages of these selected seasons just to get an idea of where I expect their performance to gravitate towards. Granted, when looking at an average, extreme numbers tend to skew it. There is one data set for each player that might skew those averages. Rizzo’s AAA performance was sky high, as the league is a hitter’s league. But, I’d also say that Alonso’s MLB numbers are much higher than he can expect to maintain, so maybe it all evens out in the end?

As the comparison shows, Alonso is clearly the better hitter. While their BB% in these selected seasons averages out very close, it’s the K% that separates Alonso: 5.9 percentage points better. He clearly makes more contact with the ball and his BAIP average for these seasons is an impressive .341. In general terms, it seems that Rizzo hits for slightly more power, but not by a significant amount.

So, I was on a mission to prove a case for Rizzo, but the numbers seem to point to Alonso being the superior player, and it seems he should be at the top of the depth chart come spring.

However…I had an epiphany.

I was thinking about this article and the numbers while I was walking my 6-month old son to sleep for his nap (because, really, there’s nothing else to do at that point), when it hit me: the age factor.

It might seem obvious or insignificant at first, but when you stop to think about it some more, age is an important statistic in baseball. Granted, Alonso is only two years older, but that’s like 10 human years when it comes to baseball. Rizzo is practically replicating Alonso’ s performance, only he’s doing it against similar competition and he’s two years younger. Imagine a seventh grader playing on the freshman team…it’d be impressive, wouldn’t it?

That’s why, at the end of the day, I’d go with Rizzo. You know what you get with Alonso: solid production on both sides of the diamond. But…how much more room does he have to improve? Rizzo, on the other hand, is just beginning to grow into his body and is just beginning to mature as a player. If he’s putting up similar numbers  but is younger, I’d go with youth because there’s a chance he can get even better. Granted, it’s a bit of a gamble, but I think if you run Rizzo out there for a full season, you’ll get at least the production of Alonso, but you might get even that much more, especially as time goes on.

So…the question is…who would you choose?


Tags: Anthony Rizzo Yonder Alonso

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