Atlanta Braves Austin Riley: was he lucky or good in 2021?

Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley (27) hits an RBI double in the World Series. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley (27) hits an RBI double in the World Series. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /
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Atlanta Braves
Austin Riley of the Atlanta Braves crosses home plate after hitting a solo home run off Tony Gonsolin of the Dodgers during the fourth inning of Game 1 of the NLCS. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Infield Hits vs. Way-outfield Hits

Riley managed to get 19 infield hits in 2021… tied for 14th best in baseball… though the average number was 12.5 among qualified hitters (Freeman had 12; Albies’ speed generated 14; Swanson netted 17).

You pretty much can recall the kinds of hits we’re talking about… balls that Riley barely ticks toward third base… effectively functioning as a bunt.

This spray chart from Brooks shows that yes — he had a bunch of these in 2021.  By my count, there were 8 singles that never made it as far as third base.

Had Riley been merely average here (let’s say he loses 7 hits), his batting average would have slipped 12 points to .291.  Accordingly, his BABIP would have dropped 17 points to .351.

With a 60-point difference between his regular hitting average and his BABIP, a lot of folks would still think “lucky”.

Except that there’s a bit of a quirk in the BABIP formula.  It removes home runs from the results.

The full formula is this:  BABIP = (HITS – HR) / (AB – K – HR + SF)

Homers, you see, are not considered to be “Balls in Play“… they escape the prowess of a fielder and thus they are excluded from the equation.

I have a personal problem with that, because the highest quality stroke you can make with the bat is a homer, and as you hit more of these… well, you’re a lot less lucky and a lot more of a good hitter overall.

So those “lucky” hits Riley accumulated to pad his BABIP pale in comparison to his 33 homers.  Even if you were to exclude all 19 infield hits, for example, he still has a surplus of 14 homers above that count that BABIP won’t even consider.

So was Riley lucky or good?  HE was clearly a lot of both in many respects because he had…

  • Elite exit velocity when he’s barrel up a ball, and
  • Lousy EV when he’d barely tick a pitch for an infield grounder

… and there were plenty of both kinds of strokes from his bat last year.

For me, if you’re going to keep talking about the “luck” factor of a BABIP, you need to add back in the homers.  Again:  home runs represent a skill stroke from a hitter and if you’re going to discount a high-BABIP to luck, then you should also give the hitter the skill credit for barrelling up pitches.

Doing this (adding the homers back in) would bump Riley’s BABIPx (the “X” is for the home run X-factor… I just invented that) to .432.

Frankly, what that tells me is more about how scary-good a hitter Riley might be if he cut down the strikeouts a bit more.

Next. The Neon Deion Era. dark

Oh:  in 2020 and 2021… he did just that (down from 36% in 2019).  Get that below 20% and he’ll be a force-of-nature kind of hitter.  And that would be lucky for the Atlanta Braves.