Braves 2020 Player Review: Austin Riley

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7 games into the season, Austin Riley was carrying a .371 OPS. He had collected 2 hits, was having bloody awful luck with a .071 BABIP, and had struck out 8 times.

The dog days of August came round and for the next 26 games, Riley was brilliant. He carried an .886 OPS with 5 doubles, 2 triple, and 6 HRs.

Last stretch, from September 5th through 25th, Riley relapsed, carried a .609 OPS with only 1 HR and 2 doubles in 82 plate appearances.

Austin Riley, Overall

Overall, Riley finished with a .719 OPS. Hardly what fans wanted to see out of him as a full-time starter, but not a full on failure. In August, we saw what Riley has done so well in his professional career and that is making adjustments to the competition. When Riley is going well, he’s a barreling machine that utilizes all parts of the field. When he goes south, it’s a tunnel vision nightmare where he worries too much about the inside part of the plate that his hands get tied up and he’s late on everything.

The Hangup

Unfortunately, the worry is justified. Riley has shown, to put it bluntly, that he cannot catch up to a fastball. Here are some eye-popping stats:

  • Only 1 of Riley’s HR was on a fastball, and it was only thrown at 93.5 MPH. The rest were 83 MPH or below.
  • In 35 PAs against velo 94 MPH or above, Riley was 3 for 30 (all hits singles) with 5 walks and 8 strikeouts.
  • Velo absolutely dominated him in the playoffs. I’ll not provide you with the stats as I’m sure you can recall (however his big HR was on a Blake Treinen 98 MPH fastball).

His swing has been criticized for being too long for 5 years (here’s looking at you Keith Law), and it looks to be an accurate assessment. I don’t have the answer for Riley, but I feel like it’s a swing adjustment that helps him find the RCF gap more (like this?).

Austin Riley’s Defense

Baseball Reference thinks Riley is Chris Johnson post-extension reincarnated with -8 Defensive Runs Saved on the year. Fangraphs rankings also detest Riley. However, Statcast ranks him average and that’s what my eyes told me for 2020. He’s got the making to be a solid 3B with quick hands and a very strong throwing arm, but lacks range and seems to struggle coming in on the ball. I’ll stick with average overall.

Austin Riley Baseball Savant Rankings

In all bat to ball ratings, Riley is above average.

  • Exit Velo, 82nd Percentile
  • Hard Hit, 69th Percentile
  • Barrell %, 64th Percentile

However, when it comes to contact:

  • K%, 42nd percentile
  • Whiff %, 27th percentile
  • Outs Above Average, 36th percentile

Put mildly, if the Braves want Austin Riley to be successful, he’s going to have to make more contact and figure out how to get to a fastball.

No matter what, no one will take this away from him.

Author: Ryan Cothran

Ryan is the site editor and manager of Braves Journal. Follow him on Twitter.

22 thoughts on “Braves 2020 Player Review: Austin Riley”

  1. @1
    I don’t think it’s a realistic scenario for him to play Winter ball (although, with a 60 game regular season, I guess anything is possible), but I do think Riley fixed a problem from 2019 and created a problem in 2020. He spent the entire 2019 offseason working on slider recognition and he looked pretty disciplined against sliders in 2020. However, that concentrated effort took away his ability to hit velo and that will be exploited until he readjusts. IMO,
    if he can find right to right center field, he can be fixed.

  2. Yeah, I think he’s actually a fine defender (and Keith Law graded his 3rd-base defense as a 60), but there’s no way to describe his season as anything other than a disappointment. The hope was that Riley would be able to adjust to his struggles against major league pitching from the second half of last year, but instead he demonstrated more convincingly than ever that he doesn’t have the bat speed to succeed as a major league starter. So he’s got the bat of a supersub, but he can’t play up-the-middle defense.

    Unfortunately, he looks like a tweener to me. My quick comparison, unfortunately, is the late Andy Marte, another guy whose greatest strength was age-relative-to-league, and who was simply never able to adjust to major league pitching.

  3. Riley murdered the fastball in 2018-19. After two weeks in the majors last season he was exposed to major league off-speed, and he was not able to adjust.

    IMO he made an over-adjustment to hunt off-speed, and it’s slowed his bat down. The problem right now is that Riley is guessing way too much and not taking what the pitcher is giving him.

  4. My understanding is that his success has come against fastballs under 95, and he has consistently struggled against harder stuff. Do you know where any of that is tracked?

  5. @4
    That’s what I was trying to say and you said it so much better than I did in fewer words. I still think opening up to right field will help him adjust. What do you think about Riley opening his stance a bit? Seems like an easy adjustment that could provide great benefit.

  6. @6
    I cannot emphasize enough how great Statcast is and that is where I found all of my data. Go play around over there and you’ll be amazed.

  7. When I look at Austin Riley, I see a guy who combines a bunch of very clear positive attributes (huge power, soft hands, rifle arm) with some equally clear shortcomings (too much swing-and-miss, poor speed/range). I also see a guy who’s committed to working hard at improving where he can. Riley’s never going to be a low-K guy, and he’ll never be an above-average LF, but I think he could very plausibly develop into a 30 HR, .800 – .850 OPS guy with OK defense at 3B (or passable defense in LF) in the next couple seasons.

  8. I think that Riley needs a shortened swing, particularly with 2 strikes. He is so damn strong an 80% force ball may be plenty strong enough to play. I remember batting coaches calling it “bat lagging.” When the stuff is too fast for you, drop the bat off your shoulder and have a straight forward pull.

  9. @8, that’s where I’ve been looking and I can’t seem to find it. Have you seen that there?

  10. @AAR
    •Go to Austin Riley’s Statcast page.
    •Scroll down to where you see the options: Career, Splits, Statcast, Game Logs
    •Choose Game Logs
    •After you choose Game Logs, there will be an option below for Minors, MLB, Statcast.
    •Choose Statcast

    Enjoy. You can sort by pitch type, by velo, by exit velo, by direction, by result, by launch angle, and EVERY SINGLE ENTRY HAS A VIDEO.

    Seriously, it’s a remarkable tool.

  11. @5

    Well, there’s nothing to move onto. There’s nothing worthwhile at third base in Gwinnett (at least there wasn’t in 2019) and Johan Camargo is not a replacement option for Austin Riley…because, like, he’s worse (and even if you disagree, he’s certainly not “fresh meat”). The only thing that could supplant Riley from third base is finding the big-bat lineup protection for Freeman at third base (the Donaldson/Ozuna lineup spot). In which case, Riley just moves back to left field. Barring a trade involving Riley (which isn’t out of the question), his spot in the starting lineup for next year is virtually assured.

  12. @12 thanks so much!

    So it looks like there were fastballs tracked for Riley that led to some outcome — broadly speaking, walk, hit, or out. (I’m lumping things like errors and sac flies into the “outs” category.)

    Here’s how it looks:

    Riley (FB velo 95 and above, FB velo under 95)
    BB: 8% at 95+, 9% at <95
    Hit: 8% at 95+, 29% at <95
    K: 27% at 95+, 16% at <95
    Other out: 58% at 95+, 46% at <95.

    So, when it’s over 95 mph, Riley gets on base 16% of the time; when it’s under 95, he gets on base 38% of the time.

    That’s eye-opening.

  13. Is it out of the realm of possibility for Swanson to shift over to 3rd if we could swing a trade for Lindor? (Given that Cleveland looks to tear down.) It seems a long shot and I have no idea if Swanson could transfer comfortably, but it crossed my mind the other day.

    I too think Riley looks better at defense that his numbers suggest, but he does not seem to be coming around fully with the bat. I’d hate to cut bait too soon, but it does appear that he is guessing/over thinking.

  14. My guess is Riley gets one more year to speed up his bat, unless he could be part of a trade for Bryant. Several comments above are correct; the well is dry at third in the Braves system.

  15. I think Dans loses a lot of his value if he moves off SS. His bat’s okay up the middle but a little weak for a corner, in my view, though obviously he outhits Riley.

  16. @17 and @18 – OK. Then could Lindor play 3rd? I’m dream casting here while there is a shot to get a great player (even for one year.)

  17. You guys!

    Riley seems like someone who was able to adjust in the minors if I recall correctly.
    I quite liked what I saw from him defensively and with Wash still around, no reason to think he cannot improve.
    Hope he figures it out.

    Awesome for Bethany’s husband to win a Gold Glove!

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