Any reason to be concerned about these two Braves stars?

dkb220818040 nym vs atl

The Braves are off to one of their best starts to a season in franchise history, building a 6.5 game cushion in the NL East.

Ronald Acuña looks like the best player in the National League again. Sean Murphy has played like an MVP in his first six weeks as a Brave. Matt Olson is up near the top of the league in homers. Spencer Strider is among the frontrunners for the NL Cy Young, and Ozzie Albies has returned with vengeance after missing most of the 2022 season. The stars on the Braves are showing out, except there are a couple of key contributors that have produced some worrisome results thus far in 2023.

Austin Riley has finished inside the top-seven of the NL MVP voting in each of the last two seasons. He’s blossomed into one of the best offensive players in baseball, but his first 37 games have left a lot to be desired. Riley is hitting just .246 with six homers — good for a 101 wRC+, which is just about league average.

It hasn’t been terrible, but this isn’t the same guy Braves fans have come accustomed to. He’s striking out in over a quarter of his at-bats. He’s only barreling 42% of the balls he puts in play, and his xwOBA, xSLG, and xBA are all around the middle of the pack. Those aren’t the numbers the Braves are expecting from a player that just signed the most lucrative contract in franchise history eight months ago, and his struggles really date back to when he signed that extension last August.

In Riley’s last 95 games since signing that extension, he’s hitting just .233 with 15 homers, good for a .730 OPS and 104 wRC+. That’s not necessarily a small sample size, so it is fair to wonder if he will ever produce again like he was prior to getting paid, but I’m nowhere close to hitting the panic button.

For most of Riley’s career, he’s been a streaky player. When he’s hot, he might be the best offensive player in baseball. But when he’s cold, it’s not always pretty. We’ve seen him get a little pull heavy and miss some pitches that he normally crushes, leading to mediocre results. But on any given day, he could get hot, and his season numbers will balloon over a month long stretch. It feels like just a matter of time before he gets going.

The other star player that’s off to a forgetful start is A.J. Minter. He boasts an unsightly 7.50 ERA over his first 18 innings, but again, I’m nowhere close to panicking. All of Minter’s peripherals point to some severe position regression. He’s still generating a ton of swings and misses as well as striking out batters at a high rate.

Minter’s also not getting hit hard often, and when he does, it tends to be on good pitches. His control has been worse than it was a year ago, but I don’t expect that to continue over a larger sample size.

This remains one of the best left-handed relievers in the game. Which is why, despite his sluggish start, FanGraphs still has him as the second-most valuable reliever out of the Braves bullpen this season, accruing 0.4 fWAR, thanks to a 3.20 FIP and 3.51 xFIP. Better days are in Minter’s future.

Baseball is a long season, and even the biggest of stars struggle, sometimes for lengthy periods. But if there are two guys I’m confident will figure it out, it’s Riley and Minter. They will both be critical pieces to the Braves run at another World Series in 2023, and I expect them to thrive in their roles.

Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire


Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: