Analyzing Austin Riley

Austin Riley is really, really good at hitting baseballs a long way. It’s why the Braves took him 41st overall in 2015 (thank you Craig Kimbrel and BJ Upton). A big strong kid from Mississippi, the Braves convinced Austin to forego a commitment to Mississippi State with a slightly overslot deal of 1.6 million. Now considering the allotment for the 41st pick was $1,506,400, 1.6 doesn’t seem like that much extra. Riley wasn’t a huge reach, as he was fairly highly thought, but what you may not know is that Atlanta was one of very few teams that actually viewed Riley as a hitter. That’s right. The kid averaging a homer every other game was almost universally panned as a future pitcher, due in large part to a low to mid 90’s fastball and a lot of baby fat. So how did we get to this point?

Before hitting 9 homers in his 1st 18 games, before getting off to the 2nd greatest start to a career in Atlanta history (never forget what Jeff Francoeur did in July of 2005), Riley was just a big kid with mammoth power and a lot of questions. He wasn’t a good defender at 3rd, despite playing SS for his high school team, and there were legitimate worries about his ability to make consistent contact. High velocity in particular tended to give Austin fits early in his development. Fast forward to the present and it’s fair to say those concerns are no longer valid.

Looking at Riley’s season line from a year ago, one could be forgiven for harboring doubts about Riley’s hit tool. He struck out at a nearly 30% clip, not a death knell in today’s game but certainly not a number to inspire confidence. Spring Training did little to alleviate those concerns, with Riley striking out seemingly every at bat. Enter one seemingly small adjustment: hand placement.

If you go back and look at Riley’s batting stance a season ago, you’ll notice he carries his hands high and tight, close by the ear flap on his helmet. This created a slight bat wrap, the head of his bat pointing slightly to the pitcher. Simply speaking, this made his swing slower, making it much more difficult for him to catch up to the high velocity common in today’s game. It wouldn’t have ruined him as a prospect, but continuing as he was would’ve resulted in Mark Reynolds type numbers: lots of homers, lots of strikeouts, and a low average. At the start of the season in Gwinnett, it looked like more of the same for Austin. A few weeks later, however, you could start to see a change in Riley’s swing.

He lowered his hands a bit, moving them away from his head and lining them up more with his neck. This eliminated the bat wrap, and put his hands more in line with his load. It’s a small change, but it carries large ramifications. Any extra time is helpful when you’re talking about making a decision in 3/10ths of a second. Without that extra motion of bringing his hands down and back, Riley has been able to limit his biggest weakness as a hitter. This allowed him to cut his strikeout rate by a staggering 10% in AAA. More contact for Riley equals more home runs. More importantly, it creates a far more valuable prospect.

For Atlanta, Riley’s emergence has been a God send. His injection into the lineup has transformed this team into an offense to be feared. He’s provided a whole new dynamic for opposing pitchers to navigate. With him in the lineup, there are very few places that can’t make pitchers pay. And while these early numbers aren’t sustainable, his talent with the bat can’t be overstated. Even as the power numbers regress, his walk rates should rise quite a bit. Simply stated, Austin Riley is, and will remain, and integral part of Atlanta’s postseason hopes.

As impressive as the offense is though, it’s the other strides that have made this rise to prominence possible. When drafted, Riley was soft around the middle and seemed destined for 1st. He’s worked extremely hard at molding his body and turning the baby fat into muscle. Thanks to this, he’s become a much better athlete than originally thought. While he’s never going to be Billy Hamilton, Riley is no longer a detriment on the basepaths.

Most impressive of all though, are the defensive improvements. There are no longer any questions about Riley’s ability to stay at 3rd. His arm has always been a plus, but now he has the lateral agility needed to be an above average defender as well. That athleticism has already served him well in left field, despite no experience before this season. He’s not going to win any awards out there, but he’s not going to hurt us either.

So what does all this mean long term? It means the Braves have yet another high impact piece on their hands. It means the Braves have yet another potential rookie of the year. They’ve got another piece of the championship puzzle. And it means they’ve given fans yet another young stud to rally around. And it means that these Braves aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

92 thoughts on “Analyzing Austin Riley”

  1. Nice write up, D-Money. Austin Riley is less than a god but more than a man.

  2. I have been pro Riley for a while. But, I think there is at least a 20% chance he ends up like Mark Reynolds (maybe with a little better glove). The scouting reports have to go around and come back around and when that is implemented, we will know more.

    Moving the hands down makes his swing surprisingly like Bob Horner’s. Hold a toothpick by your right side, swing it 24 inches, and send a ball 400 feet.

  3. Not among the finalists for Kimbrel. Among a second tier of suitors for Keuchel. Assuming nothing here changes, it’s back to the trade table.

    Ever’body buckle up, we’re heading into our second trade deadline with Alex Anthopolous in the driver’s seat.

  4. Put him side by side with Troy Glaus. Like a mirror image. Swing, body type, everything. I’m not worried about the Reynolds potential anymore, hes far more athletic than Reynolds ever was. I’m dead set that he’s another Troy Glaus

  5. Glaus had a career peak of a 8.1 fWAR season. Eclipsed 3.5 fWAR 5 times. We’d be so lucky if Riley could match Glaus’ peak, which also happened very early in his career.

  6. Troy Glaus was a beast for Anaheim. I’d take his production from Riley for the next 6-7 years 100 times out of 100

  7. At this point, I’m just cheering for Chicago to keep throwing crazy money and Kimbrel goes there. I wish Cutch got injured next week.

    I’m disappointed. I don’t trust Jackson enough.

  8. people forget how good he was early in his career. had a 5.8 fwar season i believe. you give me a troy glaus to go along with acuna, ozzie, and pache next year? im more than happy

  9. @13 That sure is the truth, ain’t it? Gotta root for someone else to beat your division rival so that they stay weak enough for your team to have a chance ALL BECAUSE the powers above won’t spend.

    I think there’s a word that describes it. Starts with a P. It’s kind of like PATH and ETHIC fused together, but means really inadequate.

  10. #15

    I think Rob is suggesting that, with McCutcheon out for the season, the Phillies may go in on Kimbrel to offset that loss. Too bad they let Alterr go a couple of weeks ago.

  11. Yeah, sorry, I was vague. Wish they wouldn’t be interested in reacting to his injury.

  12. @17 And what do you think I thought?

    @18 You weren’t vague, and neither was I. We basically have to root for someone else to outspend the Phillies to keep them from getting Kimbrel (ie. keep our rival weak).

    Now why is that? Because the Braves are no where close to offering as much as these other teams.

    What I said before surely makes sense now.

  13. 19 – Yes, they didn’t appear to be in on 1 or 2 high end signability guys, but rather a whole slew of marginally tough signs, which could make sense given the consensus weakness of the draft. I really like what they are doing today as well assuming most wind up signing.

  14. @draft talk
    Braves saved millions on Day 1 to spread those millions out on Day 3! It’s different than what Bridges and his crew did, but no less brilliant!

    @Dylan
    The comp to Glaus is spot on and he’ll be remarkable for us if he can maintain that production for 7-8 years. However, when he becomes the Braves version of Troy Glaus, he can kindly get off Suntrust’s lawn.

  15. I’m very interested to see what Kimbrel signs for since I can assume that it wouldn’t have cost any more for us to sign him. I don’t think this is a situation where the player doesn’t want to play for us and we’d conceivably have to offer more.

    But if they have $15M to spend, I agree with Dusty that $12-13M to Kimbrel for give me pause. In my mind, I had hoped that Kimbrel would take a 1YR, $10M deal, especially since he’ll be missing 2+ months, and then go back out for free agency. But that assumes that he can control whether or not the team offers him a QO. But I’ve read nothing that says that’s a provision that can be written into a deal.

  16. Whereas Bauer and MadBum make $12-$13 this year so taking them on at the end of June would cost $6 million or so (and prospects).

  17. It appears the Braves are throwing some serious money at some sign risk guys today. I suppose there’s the risk that you could end up with a significant amount of unspent pool money, but you could also stagger your negotiations with these picks in order of their risk of not signing. So if you get towards the end of the list, you just decide to throw money beyond the comfort level of the player to make sure you end up with at least what you would have gotten in the earlier rounds. This will be interesting to see how it plays out.

  18. Also I may be wrong, but I don’t think you can be offered a QO twice in a row. There is also a provision for in season acquisitions, which I would think Kimbrel and Keuchel qualify for as to make a QO the player must have been on your roster all year.

  19. The newest CBA changed the QO and yes, it can only be offered once. And yes, in-season acquisitions cannot be offered a QO so the team doing the trading needs to be sure that the return is worth the loss of a comp pick, should they’d have chosen to give a QO.

  20. I’ll take this moment to remind folks that in the offseason, during the height of the We Must Have JT Realmuto Or The World Will End fiasco, Miami was asking for Ozzie Albies AND Austin Riley, and folks from the Braves side were countering with Riley+a top shelf starting prospect.

  21. Glaus is a ceiling for Riley; there’s still a pretty wide range of outcomes. He’s clearly going to have a better career than famous busts like Dallas McPherson and Brandon Wood and Andy LaRoche (and Andy Marte) and Mat Gamel, who couldn’t really put the hit tool together at the major league level. I don’t think it’s clear yet whether he’ll hit like Dean Palmer or Ben Broussard or Maikel Franco or Brandon Inge or Tony Batista or Morgan Ensberg or Vinny Castilla or, if everything works out just right, Troy Glaus.

    The one thing that’s pretty clear is he’s a major league ballplayer: he’s got serious power and good enough defense. (In other words, he’s got the two tools Chris Johnson didn’t have.) So, one year he could hit .240 with 25 homers and be a one- or two-win player, and one year he could hit .280 with 40 homers and be a five- or six-win player. Kinda the same as Dansby, except Dansby has less power and more defense, but similar range of outcomes.

  22. The Braves have drafted another Acuna. I can guarantee that. James Acuna in the 29th round.

  23. This team really only has one glaring hole, and that’s the bullpen. I wouldn’t hesitate to commit all of my resources to that when it’s the need. Sign Kimbrel for 3-4 years @ 15m per.

    The starting staff is good enough if they’re working under a budget. If nothing else, they can always sweeten the prospect pot a bit to get the trading partner to pick up some of the tab on the SP they’d be getting in return.

  24. I don’t care if they sign Kimbrel or make a trade, I just wish it’d happen sooner rather than later. It’d be nice to see them acquire a solid reliever here in early June, not on July 31 at 3:59 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Kind of wish the trading deadline was still June 15 (which it was before 1987.)

    Also, I am really not feeling the hype for Bumgarner. Can’t quite understand why people keep drooling for him, you’d think it was still 2016 or something. His ERA is over 4 this year too, in probably the most pitcher-friendly stadium in the country (AT&T Park). I’d honestly be more excited to see the Braves acquire a solid reliever than him.

  25. Anybody holding out any hope that the front office will made any worthwhile additions to this team (yes, even at the trade deadline)…well, good luck with that. I don’t know where your optimism on that comes from.

    Also, if the team’s payroll is “inflexible,” that means that Liberty Media is definitely keeping AA under their thumb, and it’s not just AA enacting some sort of weird plan. I mean, anybody with a brain (read: nobody at Talking Chop) already knew that, but that’s further confirmation of that.

    This team is on their own and they’ll have to live and die with what they currently have (or I guess what they can call up from the minors).

  26. @35 Do you not consider last year’s trade additions worthwhile? Because that seems like an obvious source of hope for folks.

  27. The bullpen is 16th in MLB and was 22nd a month ago. Minter, Sobotka, and Dayton are all performing remarkably well at Gwinnett. Remove a few subpar pitchers from the bullpen and add some great arms, and this bullpen looks mighty strong.

  28. Absolutely, Ryan. I think the reaction to the bullpen situation is far more psychological than actual. If you think the bullpen is bad, then every blown lead is emblematic of your belief, whereas if you think the bullpen is solid, then blown leads are just things that happen to even the best bullpens from time to time. Every serious analysis of bullpens has decided that closers are overrated (vis-a-vis public opinion.) We do not have an outstanding bullpen at the moment. We also do not have a dumpster fire. Average bullpens have the illusion of swings from good to bad which is just natural variations in performance. I’m optimistic. That doesn’t man Kimbrel would be a bad addition: as many have pointed out, a reliable closer makes everyone else better. But it is unrealistic to expect any bullpen to have an ERA much below 4. If they pitch 4 innings every day, they’ll give up a couple of runs on average every time out. Expect that, and keep batting.

  29. Until ownership changes this is a medium ceiling medium floor franchise. Nothing more or less.

    The Braves will never win a World Series under Liberty Media, I’d literally bet my life on it.

    I’d bet a finger on the fact they won’t win a playoff *series*, again.

    We’re just not playing the same game.

  30. Oh yeah. He’s good for about one of these a day.

    Chief, you know I can search comments through WordPress back-end, right? I think I’m gonna make a new daily comment segment.

    Like this one on May 5th, 2017: “Allard,not Swanson and absolutely not Albies is our top prospect. I haven’t waivered on that and have said so for a long time.”

  31. Or, on March 27th, 2018:

    “Our rotation is more than suspect. So is our hitting.”

  32. From March 29th, 2018:

    “Flozuki lasted 2 innings. Go Barves.”

    Flozuki combined for 684 PAs.

    Alright, I’ll be done for the night.

  33. About the same as 50 other people here daily thinking the Braves will spend or sign Kimbrel.

    I don’t believe any of us are paid for our baseball organization running acumen. LOL.

  34. There are fair weather fans and then there’s Chief. He is a bad weather fan. If there isn’t bad weather he creates a storm. A few weeks ago they were going to be a 75 win team, now they won’t win a playoff series and definitely won’t win the world series. Realistically I don’t see the Braves as a World Series team this year, but things do appear to be trending up.

    Speaking of storms, anyone know the status of tonight’s game?

  35. Braves will most definitely have to add if they expect to be a World Series contender and even then it’ll take a good amount of luck to be the Dodgers. Still..last year was supposed to be a lost year, yet the team won 90 games. This year, the lack of movements made everyone predict that the team was going to finish in 3rd or 4th place. Yet…here we are, with a win tonight, the team will once again be on pace to win 90 games and will be able to keep this awesome core together for a LONG time.

    We as fans should be happy.

    Welp…never mind. Craig Kimbrel is a Cub.
    😡😡😡

  36. NESN broadcast just said that the Cubs have reached an agreement with Kimbrel. Haven’t seen it confirmed anywhere.

  37. Kimbrel to the Cubs – a team with supposedly less money than us. What really pisses me off is the obvious need matched with the obvious candidate at a price that can’t possibly hurt the club.

    Because our bullpen is adequate and performing adequately is no reason not to seek improvement. The only team AA has been willing to work with is the Orioles who were selling at cut rate prices last year. I can believe that avoiding FAs is Liberty’s fault but trading should be AA’s domain and a trade could be made that is revenue neutral. You just have be willing to say “yes” and have a desire to improve the team.

    The only money they’ve given out since Donaldson has been for absolute cut rate contracts. Markakis, McCann, Acuna, Albies all signed for pennies.

    Speaking of Donaldson, $23M doesn’t sound like much of a price tag, if the Braves make a QO and get a draft pick. Even if Donaldson accepts a QO, it will be about $5M less than this year’s salary. Donaldson is likely to perform at least up to his contact value. And next year, he’ll either be available at a discount or will bring back a profitable piece. That was NOT $23M in true spending.

    What do you want to bet that AA has been raked over the coals by Liberty for the Gausman trade, even though it was a steal for the Braves, because we ended up with $9M in dead money anyway.

    If any deal requires us getting Acuna/Albies value in exchange then Chief is absolutely correct. We will never get over the top. It’s not enough for ANY part of the team to be adequate and perform adequately.

  38. @Roger
    I wanted more this offseason, too. It didn’t happen. I had 0 interest in seeing Markakis again. I wanted the Braves to sign Cutch…some relievers, maybe even trade for Kluber…and fake traded Inciarte 568 times.

    None of that happened but AA locked up 2 core players for a decade and the team is still winning, ran the gauntlet on their west coast trip, and has a pretty doggone easy schedule for the rest of the season.

    What I’d suggest is just a little more patience. The time will come for a significant move..and it could be in a month if Braves are kicking ass.

  39. What do fans at SunTrust chant now when the Braves bullpen is in the midst of another pitiful meltdown?

  40. I’ll reserve slightly a little more judgment to see what Kimbrel signed for. There have been times where we’ve been underwhelmed with seeing what a player signed for, and there have been times where we’ve been surprised that player got that much (the 6th year for Corbin rings a bell).

  41. The US government instituted a travel ban to Cuba. That wouldn’t be a problem except Mrs. Copenhaver and I were taking a cruise to Cuba on Saturday. No more.

    If we wanted to fly into a midwestern city and see as many ballparks as easily as possible, where should we go? Thanks, folks.

  42. “Kimbrel’s deal is a three-year pact, Rosenthal reports. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman has the dollar figure at $43MM”

    Well, hard to blame the Braves too much. The Cubs blinked.

  43. @53 – Off the top of my head, you could probably do 2 Chicagos, Milwaukee, and Minnesota pretty easily. If those teams happen to be at home.

  44. the ump missed two strike calls just before the HR against Gasman….he still sucks, though.

  45. He needs to be reminded that this isn’t Baltimore anymore. We try to get people out here in Atlanta. Gausman throws continuous batting practice

  46. @60 we have better starters than this on the team (Touki) and in the minors. The Gausman experiment needs to be over.

  47. I liked 2018 Kevin Gausman much better than the sequel. Hope he can get out of this, but I’d say he’s on a one baserunner leash in the third.

  48. Gausman dropped a pitch to become a 2-pitch starter.

    ….ain’t working. How about a 2-pitch reliever?

  49. @71 I wondered as well if Folty and Gausman’s struggles in any way effect the Braves’ pursuit of Keuchel.

  50. That’s like 8 straight hits. For goodness sakes, at least throw at somebody to stop the hit parade

  51. @53. Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh are easily doable in a weekend. Cincinnati isn’t too far from them either. Or you can easily add St Louis to the Chicago trip

  52. THEY WOULDN’T GO 3YRS FOR 43 MILLION!?! REALLY!?!? WTH?!

    I’ll watch the team because I like the players. I won’t buy the merch, or anything else that’ll line Liberty’s filthy corporate pockets though. I hate this ownership!!!

  53. @Stu’s link

    In a mock draft on 6/7/2018, Collazo and Cahill had Langeliers going 4th and Shewmake going 5th. Both of them had less-than-stellar 2019 college seasons, and we drafted them 9th and 21st.

  54. Considering how little he will pitch this year, Kimbrel signed for, say, $12M this year, then $15.5M the next 2 years. Call me crazy, but I don’t hate passing on that. If you truly prorate this year (he’s already missed a third of the season, and most likely won’t step on a mound within at least a week), then it’s more like $9M this year, and then $17M the next two. That’s high, no way around it.

  55. It’s these games where a pitcher is just getting completely tagged — even his outs are noisy or are on run-scoring plays — that I step off the boat with FIP. Ya know, yeah, I guess pitchers truly only have control over walks, strike outs, and home runs, but not really. When you have this infield defense, even this outfield defense, you have a lot of control over whether or not your batted balls become outs.

  56. Could you imagine if someone on this website said at the beginning of the year that Teheran would outpitch both Folty and Gausman 1/3 of the way through the season.

  57. I’m a little late here because I gave up on the game being played, but this is the same as last night. How many walks did Gausman give up? Zero. Bad strategy against the Pirates. You have to force them to take walks. If you stay around the plate too much they’ll hit you to death. And, as yesterday, all the worst damage came after two outs (then five straight hits). The Pirates are a reverse-strategy team. You have to give them some crap to swing wildly at and create soft contact.

    But all of this is moot since the Braves have only scored one. Fried had a 4-run inning and the team won. Gausman has had a 5 run inning and will likely lose. Big difference between scoring 12 runs and 1 run.

    I still think this team has a game calling issue. Pitch calling and target setting seem to be issues. Maybe Langoliers will be the magic Realmuto could have been.

  58. Ya know, if Kimbrel’s asking price was 6YR/$100M, then he pretty much got his rate, just obviously not the term. 3 years minus 2 1/2 months and $43M is pretty close.

    If I’m a player, I’m definitely pissed that I was told during the arb years that I’d be looking at these years where it would seem like I was being paid back for getting short-changed early on, but now it’s being re-branded as “we’re not paying you for past performance or when you’re past your prime”. Players must feel like it’s a bait-and-switch.

  59. @88 Our players have given the team a lot of monetary gifts (McCann, Acuna, and Albies) and they’re sure not being rewarded.

    I’ll agree that Swarzak has had a pretty good run, but any team with Blevins is not going very far.

  60. @85 We are really looking at almost vintage original Julio. His K-rate is the highest of his career and his HR rate near the lowest. If he could cut his walks in half, he’d likely be an All Star and be looking as good as Soroka. I said a couple of days ago that I think Julio has pitched past the “create some value” level and now is pitching at the “keeper” level. My guess is, unless something drastically changes, that the Braves will pick up his option for next year.

    I sure would rather see the Braves make a trade sooner than later. MadBum/Smith or Boyd/Greene would look really nice in Braves uniforms.

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