2021 Braves Player Reviews – Austin Riley

In Austin Riley‘s 3rd MLB season he finally lived up to his potential, and then some. The 24 year old won the NL Silver Slugger award at 3rd base, finished 7th in the NL MVP race, and was named to the All-MLB 1st team.

The potential was on display at AA Mississippi and AAA Gwinnett from 2017 – 2019, as he put up .321/.391/.570 and .286/.353/.525 BA/OBP/SLG% lines respectively. Riley hit 27 homers in 465 at bats at Gwinnett, and the power had already translated pretty well at the Major League level. Austin hit 26 homers in his first 462 MLB at bats over 2019 and 2020. However, he combined to post only a .232 batting average.

Austin was awarded 6.1 WAR by Baseball Reference, good for 8th in the NL. I was surprised to find that Riley was rated 10th in the entire NL in Defensive WAR, at 1.5. Fangraphs calculates Riley at only 4.2 WAR, seeing him as a below average fielder ( -7.0 UZR.) We are pretty good these days at quantifying offensive value; I think we are still a ways away on quantifying defensive value.

One thing we don’t have to estimate is that Austin finished 2021 at .303/.367/.531, adding 33 homers in 590 at bats, and 107 RBIs. With this offensive output, the Braves really only needed Riley to make the routine plays in the field, which he did relatively well. His .965 fielding percentage was good for 3rd in the league at 3rd base. He also spent a lot of time standing out in short right field against left-handed batters.

Based on his work at Gwinnett, I would have been thrilled if Riley had hit .265 this season. It remains to be seen if he can maintain a .300 average. I will conclude by saying that not every 24 year old who’s had success hitting in the minors will pan out, but it’s the way to bet.

Author: Rusty S.

Rusty S. is a Braves Journal reader since 2005 and an occasional innings-eater. It was my understanding that there would be no expectations.

30 thoughts on “2021 Braves Player Reviews – Austin Riley”

  1. For those who are just utterly desperate for baseball news, and who speak Spanish:


    According to the pal who sent this to me, Eddie Rosario had a parade back in his hometown. In the interview, he (apparently … second hand info, since I don’t speak Spanish, alas) says he had been close to signing a new contract before the lockout, but declined to say with which team. He also said he prefers to stay with the Braves but is looking for a “good contact.”

  2. Thanks for the write-up. Awesome job.

    I’ve never totally understood how Fangraphs evaluates defense overall. Austin had a +13 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) last year. That was best among 3B. The Fielding Bible ranked him #2 among ALL 2B in baseball defensively. I tend to go with the Fielding Bible since that is all they do.

    Austin’s BABIP was .368 last year so I don’t think he is a true .300 hitter. However, the power is real and he’s a great young player. I think he’s still improving too. I fully admit I was wrong about him.

  3. Riley was also one of the few constant positives throughout the entire year. Early in the season, I recall, it seemed that Riley had become more selective at the plate.

    I went to a very chilly April game in The Bronx where he worked 2 walks, got a single & put the game away with an oppo shot (his 1st of the year) on a 3-1 count. I remember thinking, “Boy, that’s not a Riley I’ve ever seen… hope he keeps that up.”

    Lucky for us, he kinda did.

  4. I think he was exactly what Statcast thought he was as a defender last year. Started out poorly and shifting helped him gain confidence and defense soared 2nd half.

  5. @5
    Also, Baseball Prospectus evaluated each defensive analytic utilized across the board, Statcast’s OAA, Fangraph’s WAR, Bref’s DRS, etc., and determined that Statcast’s defensive rating for infielders was the best tool and it wasn’t particularly close. BP won for OF defense.

  6. I fully admit I know nothing about statcast……but, whatever the reason, it was nice to see Austin improve defensively.

    @7 Did they include the Fielding Bible? I use them almost exclusively when ranking defense.

  7. @6
    Not sure. Dansby was in the 82nd percentile in OAA, which is really good. He still gets hurt by a below average SS arm.

  8. @10
    DRS has been wildly inconsistent of late, and doesn’t seem to match with many eye tests, especially in the infield. Statcast had Dansby at +6 OAA in 2020. For me, they have the most funding and IF defense is much easier to assess so I’m putting all my $ on Statcast nailing IF defense, and BP backs that up. I think they have their work to do with their OF metrics.

  9. @11 I don’t know, I think I will stick with the Fielding Bible. That’s all they do, assess defense.

  10. That’s like sticking with Pablo Sandoval for pinch hitting, because that’s all he does.

    (Sorry… I have no idea whether the Fielding Bible is great or awful. But just because it’s the only thing you do is weak evidence whether or not you’re any good at it.)

  11. Mike Shildt
    in an attempt to get his future rebuilt
    will head On Field Ops for the Commish
    profanities assumed, can this sorry dish.

  12. Here is my drastic proposal for speeding up the game (and potentially allowing starters to pitch deeper into games). Reduce the balls needed to walk to 3 from 4 but as a trade off, say that the 3rd time you foul off a pitch with 2 strikes, it becomes a strike out. I’m flexible on how many pitches you can foul off, but I think you could find the right number where the trade off evens out the pitcher/hitter advantage.

  13. If you really wanna speed up the game, don’t let the hitters step out of the box and tromp around after every pitch.

    Watch replays from the 1960s or 1970s and it’s amazing how quickly the games fly by — you’ll notice that very few hitters spent much time out of the box between pitches.

    I understand that tempo & game length are issues for casual fans, but… and this is just me… long games don’t really bother me at all. It’s fine. It’s baseball.

  14. 10% of pitchers take an average of 30 seconds in between pitches, while the average floats around 20-22 seconds. Elapse the 20 seconds on the clock and it counts as a ball. Pitchers will then be forced to adapt. Robbie Ray is a prime example. I clocked him last year on 15 pitches and he averaged 36 seconds in-between pitches.

  15. I am in complete agreement with both 17 and 18. Just enforce the rules and don’t let batters call time. Actually, batters stepping out or calling time should be like mound visits. Each team gets 5 per game and that’s it. Umps can have discretion when someone fouls a ball off there foot or breaks their bat. The pitch clock is a must as well.

    I still sort of like my idea as I think it would force the action a little as hitter would have to focus on trying to hit fair balls rather than fouling off a bunch of pitches and pitchers would have to be in the zone more often so as not to walk everyone. You could have the effect of even more walks and K’s but I think that would sort itself our a bit after an adjustment period.

  16. I’m not sure I see why the narrative is that the hardcore fans don’t care about game length and only casual fans care about game length.

    I love baseball. It’s the greatest game on the planet. I would consider myself to be a devoted fan, above all other sports and passions. The game is too long. Bottom line. Too much standing around. Too much time in between pitches. Play ball.

    RE: Ryan’s comment on pitcher pace.

    And it’s not just on the pitchers. It’s the action/reaction concept to this. The hitter takes his time, so the pitcher takes his time. The pitcher takes his time, so the hitter takes his time. It’s like spouses that “compromise” on expenditures only for them to go broke because they both got what they wanted. The commissioner needs to tell the hitter to stay in the box and the pitcher to stay on the rubber, and let’s go.

  17. A pitch clock isn’t the answer unless you mandate that the batter is not allowed to step out as it is about to expire. Both sides spend too much time screwing around, you have to restrict them both. I think if you address that one issue (get the next pitch thrown NOW) , the amount of time saved will shock everybody. Like ububba said, you just don’t see that stuff in games from long ago.

  18. @21
    Definitely. However, batters won’t be stepping out near as much if pitchers stop stalling. But yes, there’d also have to be a limitation set on the batter.

  19. The pitch clock in the minor leagues applies to the batter, too. Whoever is most responsible for the pitch not being thrown in 20 seconds is penalized. Umpires also have to not give batters time to make this work.

  20. I heard a radio interview with a just-retired Bernie Williams years ago — and he was a bit like a modern Mike “The Human Rain Delay” Hargrove when it came to slowing down each at-bat to a snail’s pace.

    He said that all he was doing was making the pitcher annoyed by stepping out so much. All the shenanigans he went thru was about getting into the pitcher’s head and making him think too much. He was dictating the pace, not the pitcher, and he felt that it worked for him in the end.

    And, crucially… as long as they let him do it, he’d do it as much as he could.

  21. @25

    That is just how desperate I am for even a sniff of Braves news. I hope the translation I heard is correct, even though I admit it still doesn’t qualify as news.

  22. It’s a pretty reasonable deal… Riley could maybe get more in arbitration if he feels he can maintain his 2021 gains, but not too terribly much more, and that deal mitigates some of his regression risk. On the other hand, the Braves only buy out one free agent season so they may not feel they’re getting enough team control for their investment. And of course, the new CBA could completely change the calculus on either side.

    (Of course, if the Braves’ standard for a reasonable pre-FA extension is the Acuna/Albies deals, they’ll never sign anyone.)

  23. @27 @28 Riley has 4 arb years, might have to add a little meat on the bone for him. I have it at 6/70 going 4,8,13,14,15,16 (still under Ronnie’s 17) but you could play with the first 3 years to keep it team friendly in the short term (rosario and Soler contracts still pending offers). Of course, all of that is dependent upon the CBA too. Austin might magically only have 3 years arb and free agency after that if the players win that piece and then the price goes up.

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