When you really look at what it means to be the Most Valuable Player I don’t know how Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley isn’t the choice.
With the Atlanta Braves clinching their fourth straight NL East title we start to reflect on the biggest contributions that led them here.
And it all starts with Austin Riley.
Coming into the 2021 season we knew what we had at the top of the lineup with Ronal Acuna Jr. Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, Marcell Ozuna, and Travis d’Arnaud.
Ozuna and Acuna for different reasons ended up not being a part of their second-half surge, and TDA really was absent for a lot of the year.
The Braves had to have someone else step up in the absence of those key contributors.
Braves: Riley to the Rescue
You’re all aware of what Riley did this season, but let me just quickly break it down. He slashed .303/.368/.532 with an .899 OPS, 33 home runs, 105 RBI, 90 runs, and 176 hits in 157 games played.
After combining for 0.0 WAR, according to FanGraphs, in his first two seasons — Riley has 4.1 WAR in 2021 and a wRC+ of 136 (100 is league average).
That’s the second-highest wRC+ among all third baseman in baseball and he also has the second-highest Offensive WAR among third baseman — only Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians ranks higher.
His overall WAR takes a hit because FanGraphs ranks his defensive WAR as -6.6, but anyone who watched Riley every day this year (especially in the second half) knows he played Gold Glove-caliber defense.
What I love the most from Riley is he was pretty consistent all year. We’ve seen him have hot flashes in his first two seasons, but in 2021 he sustained that production pretty much all the way through.
June was his only down month when he slashed .238/.281/.362 with a .643 OPS. But here is what he did in the other months:
That’s really incredible considering we had Jake Lamb on the team in the Spring as a potential backup plan for Riley in case he didn’t prove he could get the job done.
Braves: Why Riley Should Win NL MVP
I’ll start by telling you why he won’t win MVP. Most voters are going to look at the wRC+ and WAR numbers, see that he ranks 12th and 15th in those categories, and then move on.
It also doesn’t help that he has a teammate who virtually put up the same numbers as him in Freddie Freeman.
Juan Soto, Bryce Harper, or Fernando Tatis Jr. will win the NL MVP.
But let me tell you why that is wrong.
It’s the yearly debate with the MVP award, does it go to the most valuable player (as the award is aptly named) or the best player in each league?
If you believe it’s the best player, then Soto probably deserves to win the award.
But if we’re talking most valuable, and somebody who led their team to the postseason, it has to be Riley.
For all I talked about before, and because Riley went head-to-head against another MVP candidate in Bryce Harper with a spot in the postseason on the line and dominated.
I know you can’t pick an MVP winner based on one series, but it was a pretty loud statement for Riley as he led the Braves offense in a sweep over the Phillies to clinch their fourth straight NL East title.
In Wednesday’s game, he was 2-3 with a run and 3 RBI. He got the Braves on the board in the first inning with an RBI single and then put the game away late with a 2 RBI double in the 7th.
And then in Thursday’s game he hit a homer to make it 2-0 and added insurance late once again with an RBI single in the fifth to make it 5-0.
Four hits, a home run, and 5 RBI in the biggest series of the year to send your team to the postseason — if that isn’t valuable I don’t know what is.
And oh, by the way, Harper went 0-11 in the series with 5 strikeouts.
Again, Riley won’t win the NL MVP, but he was certainly the MVP of the Braves this year and stepped up when they desperately needed him to. Thanks, Austin, you da real MVP.