Austin Riley had a much desired breakout campaign for the Atlanta Braves in 2021. Riley found an approach at the plate to his liking and stuck with it. As a result he finished the 2021 season seventh in NL MVP voting. The 2022 season saw more of the same at the dish, although to a slightly lesser extent. In the end, it was enough to earn Riley the largest contract in Braves history.
How Riley established himself as an elite bat
The 2021 season did a number of things for young Austin Riley. Not only did it solidify his place at third base with the Braves, but it also established Riley as a threat other teams pitching staffs’ had to plan for. This production at the plate also left many around the league wondering if Riley could do it again in 2022.
Not only did Riley back-up his 2021 performance, he once again played a significant role in leading the Braves to a fifth straight division title and maintaining the Braves as one of the deepest lineups in baseball. As they say the best ability is availability, and Snit penciled Riley’s name into the lineup card 159 times in 2022.
Overall, Riley slashed .273/.349/.528 which was a tick down from his 2021 line of .303/.367/.531, but still a very solid 2022 campaign. However, he did set a career high in home runs with 38.
Riley ranked among the elite hitters in the big leagues on the statcast leaderboards. He ranked in the 95th percentile or better in: average exit velocity, hard hit percentage, xwOBA, xSLG, and barrel percentage. His 2022 season saw plenty of peaks and valleys as is the case for most major leaguers not named Mike Trout. But all of baseball may not have seen a more productive stretch than the one Riley put together in the month of July.
- fWAR (2.6)
- Slugging percentage (.885)
- wOBA (.563)
- wRC+ (270)
When it was all said and done Riley’s 2022 season was a big success. It produced a 5.5 fWAR , 142 wRC+, .878 OPS, .378 xwOBA, and .531 xSLG.
What to expect from Austin Riley in 2023?
Riley has pretty much shown us what type of hitter he is going to be. If he wants to progress even more at the plate he could benefit from cutting on his strikeout rate (24.2%) to say below 20%, and bumping up his walk rate (8.2%) to above 10%.
Ultimately, if Riley wants to make the jump from the 5.5 fWAR he produced last year, it is going to have to come from an improvement on defense. Despite what the broadcast may try to tell us, Riley was a poor defender last season. Riley finished 2022 with a -7.8 UZR and -6 OAA some of the worst marks in the big leagues. That being said, all reports indicate Riley has worked on his defense a substantial amount throughout his career. The Braves absolutely believe in his work ethic or else AA wouldn’t have given him the big contract extension. Ron Washington puts him to work on a daily basis with his infield drills.
No one is asking him to go out and compete for gold gloves with the likes of Nolan Arenado at third base. But if he can make some improvements in the field that would go a long way into turning Riley into one of the very best position players in all of baseball.