Braves: FanGraphs has Austin Riley taking a slight step back in 2022

Braves Austin Riley

In covering FanGraphs positional rankings so far, I’ve agreed with pretty much all of them, but I can’t get behind how they view Austin Riley. The Braves came in tenth in the power rankings, which was carried by Riley, who FanGraphs projects to accrue 3.6 fWAR. Here’s what they had to say about the Braves’ third baseman:

Riley drew some down-ballot MVP support in 2021, only a year after posting a below-replacement season. Yes, baseball is volatile, but it’s not supposed to be this volatile. Really, though, last year was partially a pleasant surprise and partially Riley finding an offensive level that always looked likely in his prospect days. His batted ball data tells you what the eye test would have anyway: he has top-of-the-charts power and a knack for elevating the ball.

We’re expecting more of the same from him this year, along with more walks as pitchers avoid him and he adapts to the way he’s pitched. The main weakness in his game at this point is on the defensive end, but he’s looked sharper there as well, and there’s a chance that this is the year Riley puts it all together – plate discipline, power, and defense – and leaves the consistency questions behind him.

Last year, Riley racked up 4.2 fWAR, so it’s really not that big of a step back. And to be fair, if he were to take regress a little at the plate, it wouldn’t be so surprising. Nobody ever pegged him as a .300 hitter when he was in the minors, which is one of the many things Riley accomplished last season. A slight drop in batting average is expected, but I’m a firm believer in Riley becoming a perennial 40 home run threat. He had 33 last season; I’m expecting at least seven more in 2022.

I also disagree with FanGraphs’ assessment of Riley’s defense. In the first couple years of his career and at the beginning of last season, it was shaky, but he made incredible strides to end last season, and there’s no reason that shouldn’t be sustainable. If Riley is even an average defender, according to FanGraphs, then he should end the season with much higher than 3.6 fWAR.

Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

 

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